My Third Semester: Research track at Osaka University, Osaka, Japan

Interview conducted by Hannah Bieber

Gaia Regina Nicoloso (2018-2020) is an Italian student who studied a BA in Public Relations at the University of Udine along with an Erasmus at the Universidad de Almería, Spain. She enrolled in Euroculture because she was attracted by the mobility and the idea of being part of an international network. As she feels more European than Italian, she thought this programme would be the perfect setting for her postgraduate studies. She spent her first semester at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, and the second one at University of Uppsala, in Sweden. In the third semester, she picked the research track in Osaka, Japan.

Euroculturer Magazine: What were your expectations when you applied/started the MA Euroculture? And does it match the reality at the moment? 

Gaia Regina Nicoloso: I discovered Euroculture a couple of months after I had come back from my 9-months-long Erasmus in Spain, and just before my BA graduation. It looked like an opportunity not only to focus on a more politically oriented perspective that could match my previous studies and those topics that are very relevant to me, but also as the chance to keep the fire of the Erasmus alive. That experience empowered me more than anything else before, and Euroculture resembled the context where I could keep feeling at home and surrounded by active and enterprising people. Beginning the Euroculture adventure was way more than what I expected. The variety of curricula of the different universities and of the students that participate in the MA all over Europe is unique, and I am learning something new from them every day. The intensity of the program – including how demanding the mobility process is – is also something that I probably underestimated before the beginning of my first semester.

EM: What was the most difficult thing you encountered after starting the program? 

GRN: There are many complications that I found on my way during Euroculture semesters. First of all: accomodation. Everyone knows what kind of struggle it is to find a student shared apartment in the Netherlands, but I would’ve never expected that it would take me five months of search previous to my arrival, and three weeks of emergency-Couchsurfing while the classes had already started. What I definitely did not expect was the high discrimination that spreads through the housing context through non-Dutch people at the moment of renting a room in the city. There were uncountable housing opportunities that I could not apply for in Groningen since the current tenants preferred national housemates. This is something that puzzled me in the first semester and perhaps even more during the fourth. In Sweden, on the other side, it was very easy to rent a student accomodation and I sorted it out quite quickly. However, once in Uppsala, my room was very disappointing, but I could not change it anymore.

Finally, in Japan, thrown in a city of two and a half million people, I started looking at distances with a different perspective. Almost one hour of daily walk from my house to Osaka University became the praxis, and I had to rapidly get used to it. The most exhausting aspect of this mobility life is that, for most of us, it implies a four time change of our living habitat within two years. The whole process of crazily looking for a new solution, while living in another country, not speaking the local language, not having any support in most cases, while having to focus on your main duty – exams and assignments – is truly demanding, time consuming and sometimes frustrating and overwhelming. Another challenge was definitely having to deal with the health care system of every country. The rules are obviously different in each of them and, in spite of having an appropriate insurance, it can be very complicated to find support and get medical assistance.

EM: Why did you choose the research track? 

GRN: I chose the research track because I thought that I’ll be able to do an internship even after the end of the master, but the opportunity of studying European related topics from the perspective of a non-EU country, so far from Europe, was absolutely unique. I could not miss this chance! And I am incredibly happy I took this decision.

EM: Why did you choose to go to Osaka?

GRN: I chose Japan as my destination because I wanted to explore the academic, social and cultural environments that are very different from those I had experienced so far. Within European high schools and universities, in general the attention paid to Asia is usually very little. My knowledge on it was extremely limited. Thus, studying and living in Japan was a one-time opportunity that I could not waste. Furthermore, until September 2019 I had been living only in typically occidental countries. I felt the time had come to immerse myself into a completely different setting, to get rid of my Western glasses for some time and look at the world from an alternative point of view.

EM: What were you doing in the research track?

GRN: During my semester in Japan I had classes every day, from Monday to Friday, and from time to time we had some field trips on weekends. I was also taking Japanese classes. I was mostly studying at home during the morning, going to class around 1pm, and studying in the library on campus during the afternoon and in the evening. On weekends I liked to find events going on in Osaka through Facebook, or organising day-trips to the surroundings.  In Toyonaka campus I took classes of history, migration, culture, society and linguistics. All of them gave me a great insight into the Japanese world, in particular letting me look at themes like colonization, multiculturalism, and religion with completely different eyes. However, sometimes the classes were so focused on Japan and Asia that I missed the link between my exchange and the master where I come from, which is centred on European Studies.

EM: Do you intend to work in the field of research after the master? Why?

GRN: After the end of the Master I most likely see myself doing an internship, since I feel I am ready to put into practice what I have been learning so far and verify how efficient  I can be and how I can improve in a working context. On the other side, the call for a PhD and remaining in academia is an appealing melody that is hard to ignore. I am currently keeping both doors open.

EM: If you had to talk about two negative aspects of Euroculture, what would they be?

GRN: Despite all its positive characteristics, this master is not completely perfect. In discussions with many of my fellow students I sometimes had the feeling that a certain disparity among the universities of the consortium exists. In fact, while I consider myself very lucky with the institutions I have been accepted by, some of my colleagues encountered a few difficulties with professors not providing the expected feedbacks (for instance during the IP), or occasionally lack in coordination, organization and support. This could be perhaps related to the fact the universities are based in different countries, with different methods, habits and practices, which is not something easy to combine. The number of grading systems used within Euroculture is as well linked to the feature of diversity among universities. Sometimes, it happened that my Euroculture friends as well as me felt a bit frustrated by the gap there is between the evaluating systems, since some cities have, for instance, ten possible grades, while others have up to thirty. Perhaps introducing a uniform system across Europe – at least for Euroculture – would contribute to a fairer evaluation of students’ performances.

EM: How about two positive aspects?

GRN: I am more than satisfied with my Euroculture choice. The three universities I have been studying at taught me so much about the world, providing me with knowledge and skills that I would have not acquired remaining in one single country. They put me face to face with the most diverse kind of challenges more than ever before, letting me come closer to sides, colours and shades of myself which I did not know the existence of.  I found a lot of power and resources, and I am learning the ways of making the best use of them. Regardless some difficulties that surely can be addressed and adjusted, Euroculture is a choice that I would make a thousand times more. It kept alive my Erasmus fire, making it brighter and stronger than ever. Now I look to the future with eyes full of hopes, projects and ambitions, knowing that this master gave me many of the happiest days of my life, the most inspiring and lovely friends, and its teachings are a main ingredient for the success of the years to come.

EM: How would you describe your fellow students?

GRN: The diversity of the master’s students is undoubtedly the greatest richness of the Euroculture program. None of us would be the same without having shared those struggles, challenges, coffee breaks, group works, parties, trips with many of the other classmates. I am deeply grateful to many of them for teaching me so much at every opportunity and for never stopping surprising me. I hope my life will keep being stimulated and inspired by such sparkling and bright people!

Picture credits: personal file

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