SOS Thesis! Alumni4Students: Ashanti Collavini (Udine-Groningen)

Interview conducted by Gianluca Michieletto 

In this new section of the Euroculturer Magazine, we interview alumni who have much more to offer than an insight on the Master itself and can actually give many tips to current students regarding their own thesis writing process.

The first one is Ashanti Collavini, who was part of Euroculture 2017-2019. She spent her first and second semester respectively at the University of Udine, in Italy, her home country, and at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. For the third semester, she chose the research track at UNAM, the Mexican partner university. Before Euroculture, Ashanti did a BA in Foreign Languages and Literatures (English and Spanish) in Italy. She applied for Euroculture because she wanted to broaden her studies towards other subjects and gain international experience. She also wanted to live and study in foreign countries, improve her language skills and experience new cultures and academic systems. Ashanti is currently undertaking a second Master’s degree at the University of Trieste, but she is also the current Euroculture coordinator for the University of Udine. 

Euroculturer Magazine: How would you describe Euroculture to future students? And what does it represent to you?

Ashanti Collavini: I would describe Euroculture as a unique opportunity of life enrichment. One of those that gives students a set of skills and knowledge that they probably wouldn’t be able to fully develop by studying only in their own countries. At least, this is true for me! Euroculture represents a life-changing experience, since each country I studied and lived in shaped who I am today.

EM: What is the best thing about the programme?

AC: One of the best things that the program offered me was the possibility to study in an international environment, where, on a daily basis, I could learn something new from my classmates and teachers who came from all around the world. I acquired new knowledge and skills by studying in different academic systems, challenged myself by studying subjects I was not familiar with, developed research methodologies on topics I was truly interested in and experienced new lifestyles thanks to the several opportunities given by the Euroculture mobility. I also made great friends I am still in touch with.

EM: What would you change or improve within the programme?

AC: Euroculture was not always an easy path… I went through some challenging periods, but I believe that this was also part of the game and of my personal and academic growth. Indeed, sometimes, the workload felt too heavy and this was something I wished had been different back then.

EM: Could you please tell us about your thesis? What was your main objective and what topic did you investigate?

AC: The title of my thesis was “Feminicidio: an analysis of the European entanglement on femicide between human rights advocacy and parliamentary activity”. I analysed the role of European diplomacy, more specifically the European Parliament and the European civil society, in dealing with the issue of femicides in Mexico and Central America.

EM: Why did you choose this topic?

AC: I always had an interest in gender issues. I believe that femicide was a compelling issue, which I needed to address in my research and discuss with experts and people who were personally involved in this matter, either because of their job or their personal experience.  Also, I wanted to research a topic that was connected to the country I was studying and living in during the third semester. It made sense to me to explore an issue that, unfortunately, is still present in daily news in Mexico. For this reason, I could be even more immersed in the topic: I joined events and conferences and interviewed local activists and researchers to get a wider variety of insights for my research.

EM: Can you describe the evolution of your thesis? For example, when did you decide the topic, when did you start to write it, and when did you finish it?

AC: I already knew the macro-topic of my research before starting the research track in Mexico. I came up with a proposal in September that eventually I had to change it in January in order to follow some of my supervisors’ suggestions. Then, I started to write my thesis in February and submitted it by mid-July. The process of writing my thesis was definitely not easy and straightforward at all. For instance, I had to re-write some chapters and made continuous adjustments in order to produce a satisfying work. Besides, the research question was always a work-in-progress during the process of writing.

EM: Because you took the Research Track, do you think you were in an advantageous position when writing the thesis compared to your classmates doing an internship? Did you get any help from your teachers at the third-semester partner university?

AC: Honestly, I wouldn’t know how to answer this question objectively. I was very lucky at UNAM since the Academic Coordinator was an expert in Gender Issues, so I did get some useful suggestions on readings and people I could talk to during my stay for my research. Yet, I think both tracks represent two interesting ways of immersing into a topic of research, and you can always make something out of what you are currently pursuing in order to gain insights and develop your own ideas on the thesis. It could be either a research or professional experience! However, I also think that working full-time and carrying out thesis research might feel as very time-consuming and something difficult to cope with. Once again, this is also very subjective and depends on your personal experience.

EM: In the third semester you had to write the Thesis Portfolio, which is 5 ECTS worth. How would you explain to Euroculture students what it is? Would you have done it differently or would you have spent more/less time compared to what you did?

AC: I would explain the Thesis Portfolio as the very first step of research. It should demonstrate that you read about the topic, that you can engage with the literature and come up with your own research question. I don’t think I would have done anything differently! I did get a “pass” but I still had a lot of work in front of me. I also had to change my topic, or better, the angle on how I was looking at it. Therefore, most of my portfolio was wasted and wasn’t useful anymore for my thesis. I had to submit a new proposal in January, but I guess this is quite normal in research, since it is always a back and forth project that is constantly subjected to multiple revisions and changes. Yet, I can say that I was very lucky that my supervisors were always available to support me along the way.

EM: It is important to stress that getting your mind off your thesis is also part of the process. What activities did you do to distract yourself from writing your thesis?

AC: Well, I was living in Mexico, the country that gave birth to scholarly literature on femicide! I had to take advantage of that: I managed to meet the victims’ parents, talked to lawyers who represented the mothers in front of a court, spoke to NGOs activists and researchers. I would say that somehow this was connected to my research, but I was doing it mostly out of personal interest. In fact, none of it ended up being on my thesis! Besides this, I was also enjoying at full my life in Mexico City and travelled a bit in the country by myself or with friends. I had a great time and fell in love with the country’s cultures, landscapes and people. This was extremely rewarding for me, especially after having completed my research track semester.

EM: How did you choose your supervisor? Did the university choose one for you? How did she/he help?

AC: I didn’t choose my supervisors in Udine and Groningen, as I didn’t know anyone who could have supervised me in my research project. Therefore, both Universities chose them for me. They both came from very different areas (History of Human Rights and International Relations), but I was very lucky since they provided me with great support and insights from their own disciplines, which definitely helped me improve my research and pattern of thought.

EM: Is there something you did not mention that you would say to Euroculturers as regards the thesis?

AC: Choose a topic that really intrigues you, that you feel very passionate about and you want to know more about. If it’s a topic connected to what you are currently doing during the third semester, even better, it will save a lot of time and energy! Always keep in mind that it has to fall in the scopes of the Euroculture program and disciplines. Don’t be afraid to expose your ideas to the supervisors, but also consider and follow their suggestions, keep in contact with both of them.

EM: Would you have done something differently?

AC: Yes, I would have liked to be less stressed and a bit more confident on my thesis writing performances! It works way better now!

Picture: personal file

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