By Maeva Chargros
Applying for a master programme is not an easy task; applying for an Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme such as Euroculture, offering eight universities in eight different countries… can be even more complicated. Indeed, during the application process, candidates have to pick three universities they are interested in for the first semester. Of course, the courses taught there, as well as the specialisations of each university or the monthly budget are important; but sometimes, one needs something more personal to be convinced.
This first edition of universities’ presentations is focusing on what we could call the “hidden gems” of Euroculture: the universities you might not think of at first, some cities you could not even place on a map before going there, but they turn out to be life-changing decisions you’ll never regret.
Creativity: a keyword for all three cities
Why would you study in Central Europe? Life there is affordable (or even cheap), with many options to travel. This is what every Erasmus student answers during their first week here. A few weeks later, they still consider the place to be affordable and practical for trips, but the list of good reasons to study here extended slightly. The very dynamic cultural life, for instance, shows up suddenly.
This is a highlight of all three universities introduced in this article: be it Krakow, Olomouc or Udine, you will be stunned by the amount and diversity of cultural events, projects and festivals you’ll find there. Wandering in the streets of the Kazimierz district (in Krakow) to the sound of Jewish music is something one cannot simply forget. The crowds waiting in front of each theatre of the city, as some would be waiting for a concert or some première of a Hollywood film, was also something quite unique and impressive. As for museums and bookshops, you will find plenty of them in these cities. In Krakow and Olomouc, people even write on walls, on the pavement, everywhere.
If culture and arts are things you need to include in your lifestyle to feel happy, these cities will be perfect for you.
Udine: In the Shadow of Venice?
Udine is not in Central Europe, but its location makes it a very interesting competitor to Central European cities: from there you can easily reach Austria, Central Europe, Slovenia and the rest of the Balkans – where amazing landscapes are waiting for you. Don’t forget that daytrips to Venice are a thing when you’re studying there. (And who wouldn’t dream of living that close to this wonderful city, honestly?)
Perhaps that’s the reason why we never hear of this hidden Italian gem: Venice is taking all the spotlight, leaving Udine in its shadow.
That’s a shame, though, for this city has a lot to offer: besides a very rich wine and coffee culture worthy of its Italian heritage, you will get both the seaside and the mountains in your backyard (if you were hesitating between both, pick this one then!), and an ideal environment for studying. Indeed, locals in this city are very kind to foreign students, they gladly share their culture and the various treasures of their region – be it gastronomy, landscapes, or as mentioned previously, art and cultural events. Libraries, some located in historic buildings, are also welcoming havens for stressed students desperately fighting against an army of deadlines – the only thing is, you will not be over-stressed in Udine. Yes, you will have many deadlines, indeed. Yes, you will be stressed. Nevertheless, the main asset of the Euroculture programme is that in each city, you will find a very kind and mindful team: teachers, coordinators, directors of studies are there to help you enjoy every single minute of your time during your studies – and this is true for all EU and non-EU universities!
One last anecdote to give you a better overview: the university of Udine is quite “young”, for a very good reason: it was built as a project to overcome one of the most terrible events in the region’s history, an earthquake that could have destroyed a lot, but instead was seen as an opportunity to build something new, something even better by the local population. If such mentality does not convince you, I don’t know what could possibly help you to decide. Ah, actually, I do: perhaps this video made by Euroculture students of the 2017-2019 cohort?
Olomouc: The Czech Oxford?
This title is not meant as some sort of catchy marketing phrase. It is a fact that you will soon find to be true if you choose Olomouc for your first (or second!) semester.
Everything in Olomouc revolves around the university, its students and its various activities. That’s a first point in common with Oxford. Furthermore, the city’s architecture covers various historical periods: of course, it is not as Harry Potteresque as Oxford would be, but it is still rather fancy to study in a 17-18th century building whose foundations used to be a medieval castle, right? If you like spending time in libraries – well, here is a gift for you: the main library building of the Palacký University used to be the Armory of the Habsburgs, a project of no one else but Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa herself. Books replacing weapons, knowledge replacing warfare, what could be more symbolic of Czech history and mindset… For daydreamers who would like to get out of the city centre, Svatý Kopeček is only a short bus ride away – and if this place is not stunning, then please erase this word (“stunning”) from the dictionary!
Regarding the teaching style and the academic context you will be in, here are two keywords: privileged mentoring and critical thinking. Forget about lengthy boring lectures and unreachable teachers: in Olomouc, your insight will not just be heard – it will be welcomed, discussed and highlighted. Coming from a background in Nordic studies, I was surprised to find so many similarities with the Scandinavian approach to education. Just be careful, the teachers’ passion for their respective subjects could be contagious: you might end up changing your future plans completely after spending a few weeks in Olomouc – for the better. Indeed, you will find out that your best allies in your student life are the persons facing you during the lectures who do their best to empower you and enable you to do what you do best and enjoy the most.
The atmosphere of the city will make you feel at home within just a few days, without even realising it: once you will have to leave this city for another Euroculture adventure, you will never forget it. Oh and yes, Czech is a very difficult language to learn if you have no experience with Slavic languages. However, the bright smile on Czechs’ faces when you try building a weird sentence to communicate with them in their language (instead of English) will be worth all the trouble. And, small but very important details for some: Czech sunsets are beyond gorgeous and ice-hockey is the national sport here.
Krakow: Multiculturalism, the Polish Way?
Perhaps Krakow is the Polish definition of multiculturalism, diversity and open-mindedness. If you choose the Jagiellonian University for your first (or second) semester, do not expect to be bored, nor to feel lonely. First of all, how could you feel lonely when the entire team of teachers and coordinators is forcing you to go to cafés, museums and various events?! (They won’t actually force you, but you will be strongly encouraged to take part in such activities with Euroculture students and alumni, but also with other foreign students.)
Secondly, how could you ever be bored in a city where just discovering half of what it has to offer could become a full-time job? From hidden secret nightlife places, to charming restaurants, to daytrips to the beautiful mountains near Zakopane and the Tatra national park (easily reachable from Krakow), this city is a perfect option for active and nature-lovers students. If you enjoy libraries as much as I do, then Krakow might be a bit disappointing… That was a joke, of course: Krakow’s university library is one of the biggest in Poland and part of the national libraries’ network, which means you might find even more than what you were originally looking for.
When it comes to the administrative and academic team in Krakow, let me just ask you this: who could better understand Euroculture students than a Euroculture alumnus? Yes, that’s right, one of the coordinators in Krakow used to study in this programme a few years ago! Go there if you want to find out which one…! However, the other coordinator is also amazing, and will help you through every single issue you might encounter – or will be a perfect source of inspiration for travel ideas.
As some may put it, Krakow is a sort of “trap” – in a positive way: if you start Euroculture there, you might not want to leave this place afterwards. Seeing students from the 1st semester hanging out there despite being based in another university for their 2nd, 3rd or 4th semester is quite common there. I will add a very small detail that could really be important for some: this city is very friendly to vegans, gluten and lactose intolerant people, and hipsters who just fancy hummus.
Last but not least…
Another point these three cities have in common, essential to enjoy all they have to offer you: their “human size”. Forget the daily commutes with traffic jams or depressing metro rides! Each city has its share of parks, calm streets, and beautiful views to enjoy during your (mostly walking) commute.
To be very honest with you, prospective student of Euroculture: most of the time, we chose one of these cities without knowing much about it – let alone placing it on a map or pronouncing its name… We did not know what to expect, which means we were just hoping it would not be too disappointing. None of us regret this choice and we discovered many different reasons to love these cities as one loves home.
That’s the syndrome of Euroculture’s hidden gems: they’re almost unknown, but they are worthy of your slightly insane “leap of faith”.
Pick them, you will thank them later.
If you have any questions regarding these three universities, don’t hesitate to contact their respective coordinator: Udine, Olomouc & Krakow.
You can also leave a comment on this article with your question and you will certainly get an answer from a student, a coordinator, or an alumnus of the programme.
Many thanks to all who helped me draft this article by sending their precious feedback: Becky, Marina, Nienke, Andrea, Hana (Coordinator in Olomouc), Ilaria (Coordinator in Udine), Karolina (Coordinator in Krakow), and Duszan (Coordinator in Krakow).
Pictures of Udine (including featured picture): Stefano Merli, Flickr.
All other pictures: Maeva Chargros.