Interview conducted by Ivana Putri
Samuel Yosef (2017-2019) is half-Italian and half-Eritrean. Before Euroculture, he studied Law at Sapienza – University of Rome. After his Bachelor’s, Sam wanted to do a Master programme in European Studies that combined travel and an opportunity to experience new things outside his hometown Rome. He heard about an Erasmus Mundus Master from a friend who was doing one on Space Studies. After a look at the universities and cities comprising the Euroculture Consortium as well as the possibility to study outside Europe, he decided that Euroculture was a perfect combination of his ideal MA programme.
He studied in the University of Strasbourg, France in the first semester and spent the second semester in the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. He just returned to Rome after a research semester abroad in Osaka, Japan, and is getting ready to move again to Strasbourg for the last semester of his studies.
Thank you Sam, for taking the time to answer these questions!
1. What was the most difficult thing that you had to adjust to when you started the programme?
Bureaucracy and housing. When I first moved to Strasbourg, I didn’t have a place to live–just an Airbnb–and my mother came with me to find a house. I arrived in Strasbourg a week before classes started. I didn’t know how to look for a house because I’ve never had to do it before. With everything being in French it was hard for me to communicate, let alone find something. On top of that, there are a lot of French “regulations” with the housing search that I didn’t know about. For example, most of the housing offers for students require a French guarantor.
In the end, the housing search turned out to be very hard. It was also partly my fault because it was already too late when I started looking, and anywhere, September is a very busy month for students in search of a place to live. Eventually, everything worked out, but at the time, it felt like my major source of “threat” was finding a house. I learned from this, of course–for my fourth semester, I started looking in September to find a place to live from January.
2. What were your expectations of the curriculum and how does it match with the reality at the moment?
Everyone has different expectations when they start Euroculture. The website’s description of the programme is so vague that you can interpret the wording as you want. When you read it, it sounds like you can basically study anything: some people think Euroculture is a programme that is more Cultural Studies-based or Political Studies-based. In the beginning, I thought it was more of the latter. I guess I am also biased because I wanted to pick my disciplines out of the programme.
In my opinion, my first semester in Strasbourg was very well balanced, in the sense that they touch upon political, cultural, and legal disciplines. In the end I am glad there was more culture [in the curriculum] than I initially expected. It is nice to see from another disciplinary perspective, and I feel that it is making me more well-rounded, as opposed to focusing solely on Political Science. That’s the beauty of the interdisciplinarity of this programme. It’s not always that interdisciplinary, of course. You kind of have to abide by the focus of the seminar or the professor’s specialization. Sometimes it can be difficult to find someone with a background in the field you specifically want to study. It eventually depends on how willing some professors are to go out of their comfort zone and help you with something they’re not specialized in.
3. Could you describe an experience that you had in your Euroculture life, which you would not otherwise have before starting the programme?
Euroculture made me more woke! [i.e. being more aware of how social and racial injustices affect how we live our daily lives.] I think more about gender issues, postcoloniality, and all that also relates to fellow Euroculture students–the people I encountered were generally “woke” to begin with. This programme allows me to grow in a safe environment, have discussions about sensitive issues, and talk about it with people from different academic and cultural backgrounds. That helps me form my own thought and stance on different issues. Before this MA I knew how to study and absorb knowledge, but in Euroculture I learned how to think more critically than merely absorbing.
On another note, the world seems to become smaller. Whenever you’re traveling, somehow there is always a Euroculture-related person you meet. Just a few days ago during a layover in Brussels from Osaka, I randomly met a fellow Euroculture student in the airport who was visiting Brussels!
4. Are you happy with the Euroculture experience thus far?
While in certain moments it might not feel like it, in retrospect, I’m generally happy with the whole experience. The best thing about the Euroculture experience so far is the fact that the people you meet ultimately become the ones that inspire you. I don’t mean just the students, but also the teachers. Everyone I’ve met are very passionate at what they do, and it makes you want to step up your game more.
One thing that I’m not “happy” about is the difference between the amount of tuition fees European and non-European students pay to do this programme. [The Consortium] told us it was because Europeans pay taxes, but I feel like with all the money that non-European students spend to participate in the programme, there is more to be done, more support from the Consortium to make their experience [of moving to far places where they have never been to] smoother. There has not been a semester where my non-EU classmates do not have problems with the bureaucracy, especially regarding immigration. I have double nationality–I only got my Italian nationality when I was 17, so before that I was always treated a “foreigner.” I understand the struggle of applying for a residence permit, or being subjected to higher fees in different aspects of bureaucratic processes. I see the bureaucratic struggle that non-European students go through to follow this programme.
I have the experience of being in Japan: it was easily the smoothest immigration process I’ve ever experienced. Some people told me that the process of getting a visa to enter Japan is relatively easy because the bureaucracy is simpler there, but I felt that it was especially smooth because I was closely followed by the supervisor [from Osaka]. They knew the specificities of our case. I know that it is going to be hard anyway for non-European students, but there could be more support from people in the programme to help them.
Non-EU students have shown adaptability and independence, but the fact that they have to do it does not mean that they need the extra stress that European students in this programme are not subjected to. If it were up to me, there should be either one person in the whole Consortium or in each university dedicated to help non-EU students with these matters, e.g. keeping the Consortium updated with national immigration laws (that’s also the problem–there are 8 different countries and different laws for each!), coordinating with people in charge of international student affairs in each university, among other tasks.
5. Do you have any tips or things you want to tell to prospective students?
- Start looking for a place to live, at least 2 months in advance.
- Read the booklets very carefully, and don’t let the city/country decide where you’re going–decide based on the programme where you feel your interest is met.
- All the universities are good–don’t be glamoured by the rankings (they don’t matter!). If you don’t like the programme there, then you won’t like the university. It’s more important you do something that you like.
- Expect that you’re gonna be fed up with moving after the second move.