YOU’VE BEEN DESCRIBED AS ‘THE HEART AND SOUL OF DUTCH STUDIES.’
I love my program. It’s wonderful. Dutch is a small family within the University. The department is very supportive, and there does seem to be more student interest in less commonly taught languages—LCTLs, pronounced “lik-tels.” It’s a revelation to students how much fun a smaller language is. Our first-year classes have 15 students, whereas Spanish has 24.
IS IT A MYTH THAT YOU GET PERFECT 7S ON TEACHING EVALUATIONS?
I do get nice numbers, for which I am grateful.
WHY IS HOLLAND OFTEN CALLED ‘THE NETHERLANDS’?
It’s a historical term—originally, it referred to a federation of provinces, including Holland, formed during the Eighty Years’ War between the Dutch and the Spanish [1568-1648]. To be strictly accurate, the term Holland refers to two provinces on the Western coast. “Netherlands” means low lands, by the way—almost a third of the country is below sea level. As a small country engaged in a constant battle with the North Sea, Holland needed to use what it had very efficiently. When flown over, the Dutch countryside looks like this elegant gridwork of canals and meadows, polders and dikes. It’s very well-organized—that’s typically Dutch.
SAY MORE ABOUT WHAT’S ‘TYPICALLY DUTCH.’
It’s hard to say, because the Netherlands is very multicultural—there’s a large Turkish community, and many people from former Dutch colonies, especially from Indonesia. In general, though, the Dutch are very pragmatic. They’re punctual, they’ll look straight into your face, they’ll get right to the point. Americans say they like doing business with the Dutch. Yet at the same time, you don’t find as much concern about wealth and status as you do in the United States. You can trace that back to the oldest form of government in the Netherlands, in the 13th century, when the “waterships” were formed: small communities of people worked together to maintain dams and dikes, to build watermills, and to drain land so as to prevent the country from flooding.
STUDENTS SAY YOUR CLASSES ARE LOTS OF FUN. WHY IS THAT?
I try to provide a hands-on experience. I bring in cheese from the Dutch store in Hopkins—so when we talk about cheese, students can taste it. After reading about Dutch colonial history, we cooked rijsttafel at my house; it’s an East Indian specialty that’s one relic of Dutch control of Indonesia. I put together Web exercises using pictures, little sound files, and movies. Last time I visited my parents in the Netherlands, I took a video camera and made films of everyday experiences like going to the market to buy eggs.
YOU’RE CARRYING THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK TODAY. FOR CLASS?
In my advanced classes, we read literature to talk about history. We read Anne Frank as a way of talking about Holland during the Second World War. The country was occupied by the Germans from 1940 to ‘45. After the Germans bombed Rotterdam, the queen fled to England and took the government with her. The occupation divided the country—I would say a small percentage of the population actively resisted, a small percentage collaborated with the Germans, and a large, large section in the middle just stayed put—just sat it out, tried to find food. In my courses, I select literature with a special focus on the last winter—the “Hunger Winter”—to explore how traumatic it was to live through the war. I also focus in on a black page in Dutch history: the fact that among European Jews deported to the camps, the largest percentage came from Holland, including many Jewish refugees from Germany and Poland. The Dutch bureaucracy was so well-organized that it was easy for Germans to find Jewish residents and deport them to concentration camps in Poland and Germany.
YOU GREW UP IN THE DUTCH COUNTRYSIDE. WHAT DO YOU MISS ABOUT IT?
The sound of church bells. The outdoor cafes along the canals. Hopping on my bike and going to the bakery, the markets. Outside of Amsterdam, Holland is very small-scale—small towns, small shops. At the same time, there’s a growing American influence on Dutch culture, which is not necessarily a good thing. English is spoken everywhere. My students return from study abroad and say, “I never had to speak Dutch.” That’s a shame.
CLOGS AND WINDMILLS: FACT OR FOLKLORE?
When people laugh about our klompen or think they are kind of cute, they may not know they are still a very valuable work shoe especially among farmers. I once showed my students a Dutch TV show (for young children) about how clogs were tested by the European Union to verify their safety, warmth, efficiency, and so forth—with good results. As for windmills, most are not functional anymore. They are there as tourist symbols. My heart does not beat faster when I pass a windmill. It would be nice if people knew they were used to drain the lands, to pump water into the canals.
WHY DO YOU HAVE A SIGNED PHOTO OF WEATHERCASTER PAUL DOUGLAS?
One of my students brought me that. I’m always watching the weather report to see if there will be snow, for skiing. I am a skate skier. It is crosscountry, but different from the classic, “straight in the tracks” style. It’s much faster, more work, and more fun. It’s ice skating on snow. I like the speed of it—you fly. I love the Minnesota winters. People think Holland has a winter like Minnesota’s. But in Holland, snow is there two days and then a southwest wind will come in and blow it all away.
“She is the heart and soul of Dutch studies at Minnesota,” says GSD department chair Arlene Teraoka of Jenneke Oosterhoff (pictured with her skate skis in St. Paul’s Como Park).
Oosterhoff (Ph.D., Washington U) joined GSD in 1998 with extensive teaching experience in both Dutch and German, including eight years teaching international students and immigrants in Berlin (“I lost my job after German reunification when the language school where I worked was reorganized to teach East Germans computer skills and economics,” she recalls).
Oosterhoff published a book on Arthur Schnitzler and has lectured extensively on teaching, curriculum development, and Dutch literature and film.
Known for her creative teaching, her savvy use of technology in the classroom, and her tireless dedication to building the Dutch studies program, Oosterhoff is the recipient of many awards, including the Outstanding Service Award of the College of Liberal Arts.
She lives in St. Paul with her spouse, Ron Okenfuss.