Behind the Scenes with Jenneke Oosterhoff
What does the life of a language instructor really look like? It involves a lot more than classes, lesson plans, and office hours! Senior Lecturer Jenneke Oosterhoff gives us a glimpse of what keeps her busy beyond the classroom.
Found in translation
For starters, myriad opportunities come with being the local expert on a foreign language. The native speaker of Dutch has taught both Dutch and German at the University of Minnesota since 1998 and also coordinated the Dutch program since then. That qualification has provided diverse opportunities to share her expertise with others in the Twin Cities area and beyond—and allowed her to collect unique experiences along the way. Recent projects include recording a voiceover to a training video for Dutch-speaking employees of Twin Cities-based Medtronic and proofreading a Dutch translation of the play Sisters of Swing. And whenever the Minnesota Orchestra tours in the Netherlands, they look to Oosterhoff to translate the reviews from local newspapers. That’s not her only contribution to the music world; as a member of two local choruses, she acts as diction coach whenever the choirs tackle German or Dutch pieces.
Everyone Oosterhoff helps is in good hands. She literally wrote the book on Dutch language instruction. Actually, she wrote three books, ranging from beginning to advanced levels, and they have been used to teach the language in classrooms far beyond Minnesota since being published from 2009 to 2014. GSD Professor Emerita Monika Žagar recently wrote to let Oosterhoff know that she had even seen one of the books “prominently displayed” in both the library and a bookstore in Ljubljana, Slovenia, noting that “it is in even the smallest corner of the world.”
Another area of Oosterhoff’s research and teaching expertise is Fin-de-Siècle Vienna and its lasting impact on today’s culture. In 1999, she published her dissertation on the construction of masculinity in the works of Arthur Schnitzler, and since then she has taught several undergraduate courses on turn-of-the-century Austrian literature and culture, a subject that offers a multitude of cultural connections to today’s students’ own world.
Languages in the world
It’s no surprise that other colleges and universities sometimes contact Oosterhoff when one of their students needs certification in the Dutch language, something she can test remotely using tools like Skype. She is also part of a working group that reviews each year’s version of the Certificate of Dutch as a Foreign Language Exam (or Certificaat Nederlands als Vreemde Taal) for signs of cultural bias, ensuring that the exam is relevant to and representative of the target group taking it. That is especially important, since it is the standard test administered worldwide to certify Dutch language ability. Currently, Oosterhoff is working towards becoming a certified tester for the American Council of the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) exams in Dutch.
Making a difference through service
Oosterhoff’s service extends well beyond teaching language and culture, advising students and participating in campus-wide committees. She is currently in her first term as a board member at the Twin Cities German Immersion School, where she serves as Teacher Liaison, bridging conversations between teaching staff and the administration and fostering connections between the K-8 school and the University of Minnesota. She recently completed a three-year term as GSD’s Director of Language Instruction, which involved coordinating all of the language classes for the department—no small task! In addition, she stays connected to professional organizations in her areas of research; she was president of the American Association for Netherlandic Studies and served on the board of the Internationale Vereniging for Neerlandistiek.
A lasting legacy
The most rewarding part of her job? It has to be seeing her students and former students succeed in their careers and other pursuits. And it doesn’t hurt to hear them attribute the skills and experience they gained while studying Dutch as essential to their success. Not to mention the lasting friendship with students now living in many other parts of the globe. To name just a few:
Kellie (Holler) Soendergaard earned a Dutch minor and went on to graduate studies and later employment in the Netherlands. She says “I am 100 percent certain I would not be where I am today without Dutch.”
Eric Iverson, who earned a BA in International Relations and now lives in The Netherlands, working as a war crimes prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, says that “to learn a foreign language is to seek adventure, test your comfort zone, and unleash your potential by unlocking parts of your brain you didn't know you had.”
Caleb Hicks, who earned his PhD in Linguistics and now works at UMN’s Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, says that “Studying the Dutch language was among the most significant and personally meaningful decisions I made as college student.”
When Oosterhoff is not in the classroom, her office, or at the German Immersion School, you can find her outside. She is an active member of the Twin Cities cycling and skiing communities and puts whatever creativity that is not used for lesson plans or writing into her garden. She is the winner of the 2016 Blooming Saint Paul “Golden Bloom Award” for best residential garden in the city.