From aspiring cricketer to geographer, my journey thus far.

I was born on 4 June 1995 in Parktown – a South African with Portuguese heritage. I grew up with a single sibling, my older brother Marcio, who I always looked up to. Looking back, I think it was his intelligence and ability to teach me right from wrong that I most admired. I so badly wanted to be like him.

Photograph taken after reaching my highest score in cricket – 117* in 2018.

When I started high school (Edenvale High), I really had no idea what I wanted to become or do, apart from playing cricket for the Proteas. In grade 10, I hit a growth spurt, started running in the morning and changed dramatically from a short, overweight boy to a tall and rather slender young man. I distinctly remember that my Principal came to me, one day, asking who I was. I told him my name and he was flabbergasted to find out that I was, in fact, the same student that had been in his school since grade 8. I was very timid, and all the attention was very new to me. That same year I chose my subjects: maths core, physical science, accounting and geography. Geography was by far my absolute favourite, there was no doubt. My teacher, Miss Joelene Augustine (who I still keep in contact with) had a profound impact on my life. She was certainly the best teacher I had. Apart from her teaching ability, she would always look out for me, was always kind and would also let us watch the cricket world cup on a tiny TV in the corner of her classroom during break.

In grade 11, we had the opportunity to go to Bali (yes, Bali Indonesia) on the school’s geography field trip. We organised fundraisers – I have never washed so many cars nor baked so many cupcakes in my life – but it was all good fun, and we reached our collective target. Our trip lasted two weeks. The very first morning after arriving at the inland hotel, we woke up at 4 AM to go on a hike up Mt. Agung, an active stratovolcano. Our local field guide spoke very eloquently, and I remember being at the front of the group with Miss Augustine. After we reached the summit, to a breath-taking sunrise over the Lombok Strait, I turned and looked directly at Miss Augustine and asked: “Is this what Geographers do ma’am?” She simply smiled and replied that you can do literally anything with geography. From that moment onward, I decided that I would take up geography at university. It was a “no-brainer”.

The last evening of our Bali field trip in 2012. I am sitting in the foreground on the front step, right from centre, next to Miss Augustine.

I have since completed my Master of Science degree in Geography at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. I am currently enrolled as a PhD student and I have received an incredible opportunity to work with the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project, during my research. I have some new heroes, now: my Masters and Honours supervisor, Professor Chris Curtis and my PhD supervisor Professor Jennifer Fitchett. My dream is to work as an academic in the field of geography. I am looking forward to the day I get to wear that red gown!

Conducting fieldwork in the Drakensburg during 2016

Someone once told me that the smartest people in the world are the ones who surround themselves with people who are more intelligent than they are, and I absolutely agree. I think we can add something to that, though. You do not have to surround yourself solely with the smartest people, every opinion loud or whispered is important and certainly valuable. I have inadvertently lived up to exactly that, as I am most certainly not the smartest person in the room, but will connect myself with people who are open to sharing their views in the hopes of learning from one another.

During our Honours year, we wrote several blog posts as part of our assessments, an exercise that I thoroughly enjoyed (see mine here). Thank you for the opportunity to write about my personal story and share my own experiences, something that we do not indulge in often, as students who constantly have to cite others.

Working and swiping my way towards a guiding thread

At the age of 32, it feels like a very long time ago that I worked as a journalist in my early 20s. It is the profession I saw myself growing into when I was younger and the one that I approached with vigour after school through various internships. My ongoing freelance work next to my first-year university studies at a local newspaper in Germany offered me a glimpse into the politics embedded in conveying stories through this medium. Realising its limitations made me pursue my anthropological studies even harder, which, unlike the form of journalism I had encountered, permitted a long-term, in-depth approach to analysing everyday phenomena. At the same time, it allowed me to cultivate my passion for writing. My university studies also led me to permanently re-locate to South Africa 10 years ago.

Fast forward: currently, I am a PhD candidate at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Cape Town. Here, I have spent the past three years doing research and writing my thesis on the behavioural use of the dating application Tinder. This involved using Tinder to recruit study participants and grappling with how – and with whom – intimacy is cultivated in Cape Town, starting with right and left swipes on online profiles. The focus of the ethnography resulting from this lies on how individuals perceive themselves and others in a partially cybernated process of relating and the ways in which these perceptions are reflected in interactions. Identity formation as well as the interplay of structural influences and individual behaviour also played a crucial part in my ethnographic studies on male refugees in Cape Town and on suburban neighbourhood surveillance. Both were awarded with a distinction and published as monographs with Langaa RPCIG. I am also currently contributing to a research project on professional identity formation among first-in-family students at the faculty of engineering at UCT.

My journey thus far writes itself rather easily. However, it is only now that I feel I can draw out a consistent, guiding tread across it. For the most part, things seemed topsy-turvy and very much characterised by unknown factors, including visa issues and concerns about securing financial support. What I discovered relatively early as a theme and as fuel to keep me pursuing my studies is a passion to engage with the lived experiences of people. Looking back, I can now claim this to be evident in my endeavours to date, just like my profound interest in facilitating dialogue across and beyond disciplines. Yet, these things only filtered through more clearly with time. I consider myself lucky in having developed a genuine desire to immerse myself in study contexts in an engaged, enthusiastic manner. It is even luckier that I had the opportunity to nourish this desire throughout my scholarly career so far. This includes my studies at UCT and my work as a Junior Research Fellow at the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD) at the University of KwaZulu Natal. The most interesting moments have been the ones in which heads were conceptually bumped. Working on and with digital technologies for my PhD got me involved in the Digital Humanities (DH) community and I am among the founding members of the Digital Humanities African Network (DHAfricaN), which is a needed extension of DH scholarship towards perspectives of the global South. I also started regularly contributing to workshops and conferences across the globe, which the ongoing global pandemic has rendered more accessible in an online format. These engagements have been particularly exciting, as they opened up a lot of ground for discussion and, thus, for me to spin the proverbial ‘guiding tread’ of my voyage further.

I am still eager to extend discussions even further and make them accessible to a wider audience – not specific to disciplines and not even necessarily limited to the academic ivory tower. This is why I started writing my own blog (The Junck report), which is my way of marrying my love for social anthropology on the one hand and my persistent devotion to journalism on the other. As I am typing away on my thesis and thinking about how my many years at university (mostly at UCT) have shaped me, I want to share more of my experiences and, through them, connect with people on a similar or perhaps rather different journey. The SAYAS blog is a great opportunity to do so.