Alumni Interview: Danielle van Dalen

Danielle is an alumna of the Residential Internship (2013/14) and currently works as a researcher at Maxim Institute. She lives in a flat in Onehunga, Auckland with two other Venn alumni: Matthew Hopper (Internship, 2014/15) and Judy Davis (Fellowship, 2017/18).


Where do you work (describe your role) and what changed/adapted given the Lockdown?

I’m a researcher at Maxim Institute. My job is to be a trusted advisor to our nation’s leaders and decision makers, as well as providing a “bridge” between communities and parliament because I speak the “language of parliament” and can be an interpreter of sorts. Over the past few years this has included providing recommendations on how to overcome the barriers to employment for people with disabilities and conducting analysis on the End of Life Choice Act.

Obviously as a researcher a lot of my work is desk based, so it was pretty straightforward shifting from the office to home. However, we did take a look at our research areas in the context of Covid-19 and found a few new areas we thought it was important to add our voice to. My colleague Julian, for example, has been doing some fascinating analysis on the economic impact of the lockdown, while I’ve been considering the impact of emergency powers on the role of government and the functioning of our democracy.


What were some things you enjoyed about lockdown?

By chance rather than good management, all three of my brothers and I spent lockdown with my parents in Cambridge. One of my brothers is in the Defence Force and came home from a deployment during lockdown, so it was the first time in over a year that we were all in the same place. It was certainly chaotic and loud, but also incredibly special. The chaos included having to be a bit creative celebrating a few birthdays and an apparently essential (early) mid-winter Christmas to make up for my brother being away over December.

I also really enjoyed the slightly slower pace of life, and noticed my own appreciation of the simple things more regularly. Things like being in the garden, cooking good food, sitting in front of the fireplace, marking the end of a workday by getting outside to see what everyone else is up to, and looking for things to do over the weekend that are completely different from my day job–it turns out helping with some renovating and painting is quite different from a desk job.


What were some challenges you experienced during lockdown?

Well, Zoom meetings definitely aren’t my favourite thing. And towards the end of lockdown it felt a bit little like we were all stuck in groundhog day, making it difficult to get excited about anything beyond the hours immediately ahead of you.

On a deeper level, it’s part of my job as a researcher to consider the impact events like this will have on different sectors of society and on how we function as a nation–that was pretty overwhelming at times. On the other hand, it was also a gift to think creatively about what good might come out of this season and what new opportunities it presents for each of us.


What have you enjoyed coming out of lockdown?

While it’s completely unoriginal, I really am enjoying spending time with people outside my bubble again–even if it’s just having a glass of wine with a few friends in an evening. Lockdown’s virtual lunches and catch ups with friends were fun and a great change of scenery and faces to look at, but it’s so much easier to develop meaningful relationships in person.


What passages of Scripture have you found helpful and encouraging?

Having just said that I prefer building friendships in person, I do have a good friend in the UK who is much better at long distance friendship than I am (which is why we’ve stayed in touch), and is always quick to remind me of God’s goodness–even when life is difficult, or doesn’t seem to make sense. Her emails during lockdown repeated that sentiment. I was reminded of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-20. He asks for God’s strength and a recognition of the depth of God’s love for us. Paul reminds us that God is so much greater than we give him credit for. That he is good and is at work in us. I hear that and all I can do is join Paul in prayer, kneeling before God in praise, instead of trying to get through life in my own strength.


What is your favourite podcast, movie, and book?

Revisionist History
Malcolm Gladwell is a great storyteller, and in Revisionist History he explores different moments, people, or ideas from history that he thinks have been misunderstood and need to be “revisited”. He considers questions that range from memory and how it fails us, to the weaknesses of the American SAT system, and even the best recipe for French fries. I’ve recommended it to so many people!

I always really enjoy The Kings Speech and Apollo 13. I have a bit of a weakness for stories about people overcoming pretty decent challenges to go on to make a real difference in the lives of others.

It’s impossible to choose a favourite, so here are a few I’ve enjoyed:

With the End in Mind – Death, dying and wisdom in an age of denial by Kathryn Mannix
This is a beautiful book by a palliative care doctor with a series of stories of the deathbeds she’s sat beside. She gently suggests that to care for each other a little better we need to start talking about death a little more, and that it’s not always as scary as we might imagine. I had the privilege of meeting Kathryn and getting to know her a little a few years ago, and she’s just as wonderful in person as she comes across in the book.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
Frankl is a survivor of a number of concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He discusses his experience alongside his realisation that purpose, as opposed to happiness, is essential to survival.

Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller
For anyone considering the relationship between work and faith, this is a helpful and grounding book.

(Image: Supplied by Maxim Institute)