Viktória Pál

My views on Europe and the widely-discussed concept of “Europeanness” depend very much on how I perceive and process the world surrounding me. Building up our own Europe comes with a responsibility, as it influences not only our personal but the global perception of Europe as a whole.

The variety in creating one’s own Europe, I believe, is very much connected to a personal, intercultural and emotional development. The concept of ‘the Other’ or ‘Us’ plays a crucial role in this development, which is very much related to the types of schooling and change of residencies throughout one’s life.

“The variety in creating one’s own Europe is very much connected to a personal, intercultural and emotional development…”

How does all this add up to create a personalised perspective of Europe and how can these perspectives be explained? How are the latter being formed and why? The place where we live, regardless of our family’s views on politics, religion or sexuality, already provides us with a sense of belonging, be it positive or negative, which becomes part of our self-definition and a basis for differentiation. To decide what to do with this ‘default setting’ is our own choice, and throughout time, as our lives outgrow local or national borders, locality becomes a fluid conception we can easily control.

“One’s perception of locality evolves through schooling…”

Here’s an example of how one’s perception of locality evolves through schooling. As primary school is usually located in one’s hometown, close to the family home, low-level differences based on location might arise in an early age: for example, girls and boys from different parts of the town distinguish themselves from others, sometimes triggering rivalry. The main idea behind this trivial example keeps expanding later on, while absorbing the initial differences. Every upper level dissolves the differentiating factor from the lower level. For instance, the regions of a country might serve as basis for differentiation on a national level, however, this basis becomes irrelevant on the higher, international level; on a European scale  the significant factor is with regards to countries, followed by an overall continental sense of belonging together like identifying as European or Asian. The ‘Other’ and how we define being European, therefore becomes a constantly transforming concept, depending on our personal development.

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Fig.1 How one’s perception of locality evolves through schooling

How does this train of thought relate to my perception of Europe? I cannot overlook the fact that I’m writing this article in India. My views on the topic have been constantly transforming even since I started working on this article. Writing from Pune made me question my own perception of Europe  almost every minute of every day, and made me realize how crucial the issue of representation and perception is.

“Building up a balanced image of Europe requires work on both sides – the representative and the recipient…”

The reflections one gathers from our behaviour, thoughts, clothes etc. might all just be consequences ofthe personal experience someone gains in relation to Europe. So we either reinforce an already existing perception or we make someone question or redefine one’s previous knowledge of Europe. To illustrate further, someone from a developing country such as India, who has friends working in a European country like Germany would already have some knowledge on Germany, and would prefer going there instead of other countries, such as Latvia, when a chance to travel to Europe arises. This limited perception of Europe, especially that of a non-European person, might change depending on the extent of one’s knowledge and experience regarding Europe. Therefore building up a balanced image of Europe requires work on both sides – the representative and the recipient.

“In the middle of a non-European country, my Eastern Europeanness has dissolved in an overall European experience…”

Creating and projecting a personal European perspective comes with great responsibilities and one needs to level up from being ‘only’ a German or Bulgarian or Spanish or in my case Hungarian. My so called ‘Eastern Europeanness’, just like the differences between girls and boys from certain parts of town, should dissolve in an overall European experience, like the one I am currently living in: sharing a flat with a European ‘commune’ − with Dutch, French and German people − in the middle of a gigantic non-European country that is in itself bigger and more diverse than our entire home-continent, and where we are being constantly stared at for being ‘different’.

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Does the common experience of people even exist?

“After all…”

After all, we can ask ourselves: does this overall, unified European experience of people from Europe and people from different parts of the world even exist? Isn’t our perception of the world a constantly changing one, depending on our experiences and how and where we live in it? On one hand, one can stay extremely ‘western’ and strengthen stereotypes in any country or culture, using the ‘difference’ to raise higher and thicker walls and to install a security system around one’s own precious world. On the other hand, one who is willing to build the experience of the ‘difference’ into the foundation of one’s views and is not afraid of reconstructing the interior a bit from time to time, might experience a multilayered and richer cultural existence. Therefore, many ‘personal Europes’ can and do exist as part of our perception of the world, but we either opt for building fences or for making occasional touch-ups; we should let our cultures, views and beliefs clash, debate and interact; we should get confused, mixed up and lost in order to find out what we can truly call our own.

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Viktória Pal, Creative Editor 

Viktória is from Hungary and studied International Relations, French Philology and Film Theory. She is very much interested in antidiscrimnation and human rights and also is specialized in those issues. She studied MA Euroculture in Bilbao and Udine and is currently doing a research track in Pune, India. She’s being obsessed with travelling and loves to get lost.

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