Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper

Elena Subashka (2018-2020) is Bulgarian and studied Euroculture at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, and the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Before starting the MA, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Hungarian Studies at the Sofia University in Bulgaria. She applied for Euroculture because of its interdisciplinary approach and the opportunity to study in different European countries. Furthermore, she was excited about the possibility to do the professional track and worked as an intern at the European Movement International in Brussels during the third semester. Elena recently graduated from Euroculture and is currently doing a marketing internship in Emmen, the Netherlands.

EM: What were your expectations when you applied/started the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?
I was very excited to go abroad and to experience studying in different countries. I expected differences in the university systems which turned out to be true. The first semester at University of Groningen was the busiest and the most difficult in relation to studying, preparing for classes, group assignments, etc. To be honest, I did not know what to expect prior to starting the programme, maybe I only wanted to be happy with my choice and to learn a lot of new things. Two years later, as I have just finished Euroculture I can say I don’t regret my choice and it was an amazing experience.

EM: Can you tell us more about your IP paper and the overall topic of the IP 2019/2020? How did you manage to find a suitable topic?
ES: The topic of the IP 2019 was “Inequality & Solidarity”. This includes different aspects – social, economic, political inequality and solidarity. My paper was on the topic of gender inequality and more specifically- gender inequality in high management positions in the fashion industry. In my paper I compared two fashion brands, Stella McCartney and the conglomerate LVMH, their attempts at introducing a gender-balanced work environment and how they help women progress in the working hierarchy.
Finding a topic was not an easy task. The “Methodology Seminar” during the second semester in Krakow played a big role in helping me choose a suitable topic. We spent a lot of time discussing ideas and the professors really helped me narrow down my topic.

EM: What was the most difficult thing you encountered during the preparation phase of the IP? How did your second semester university prepare you for the IP?
ES: As I mentioned before, the “Research Seminar” in Krakow was organized wonderfully and the academic staff was of great help in the writing process. One of the most difficult parts while writing (or actually preparing to write) was not only choosing a topic, but choosing a right methodology. Since I didn’t have much experience in research writing prior starting Euroculture, it took me some time to find the best one and the way to use it for my paper.
Another difficult part I encountered was the online “IP Preparation” course which was co-organized by Groningen, Bilbao and Krakow and an additional part of the IP preparation. In my experience, this class did not help me as much as the research seminar for example, and was and additional and timely-consuming task.

EM: Can you tell us more about the evolution of your topic?
ES: When I heard the topic of the IP for the first time, I was originally thinking of writing about the migrant crisis in Europe. However, shortly after I changed my direction to gender inequality, but the narrowing down of the precise topic took maybe 1-2 months. I think I finally decided on a topic at the end of April and naturally prior and even after that I was going back and forth between topics, but luckily, I never switched my topic completely (which for example happened with my “Cultural History” paper in the first semester in Groningen).
I have the very bad habit of contemplating and finishing my work at the last moment. I was able to prepare the draft introduction and research design as part of the online “IP Preparation” class; however, if I have to be honest – I wrote and finished almost the majority of my paper (maybe 85%) in the last two days of the deadline, which, of course, was quite frustrating.

EM: How did you manage to organize yourself during the second semester? What were your main struggles and challenges?
ES: Some of my main struggles included narrowing down and the actual starting of the IP Paper. As for the semester – compared to the first one in Groningen, during the second semester in Poland I didn’t feel that stressed (maybe only when the IP was approaching).

EM: What would you recommend/not recommend to the new Euroculture students?
ES: I would recommend managing and sticking to a good time schedule, although as we know it is not always easy to do so. It is okay if you feel frustrated, stressed and desperate in the process. Maybe people will give you different feedback and you will struggle in the process. But know as well that the IP is only one part of the second semester, enjoy the rest too, it will be good at the end.

EM: Can you tell us more about your IP week in Olomouc? What kind of activities did you like/dislike?
ES: The IP week in Olomouc was a very interesting and fun event, but also very tiring because you are out and about almost during the whole time. The first day includes an orientation, while the next two consist of seminars in which students present and discuss their papers in small groups. If you are feeling anxious about that – it is not bad at all! On the contrary – the seminars are made in a more “informal” way and are specially focused on discussing the paper in the view of the whole IP topic. The other days of the IP week are devoted to a career day, seminars, trip, group project, and of course, the cherry on the top – the IP gala!

EM: What could Euroculture improve in the next years?
ES: Overall, I enjoyed the week a lot, but it was indeed tiring because the week is tightly packed. I would suggest re-scheduling some of the activities, or maybe changing the days of some of the activities. For example, after the presentation and peer reviewing we were very exhausted, so it would have been nice to do some relaxing activities the following days.

EM: How was the experience to meet Euroculture students from other universities ? What kind of « fun » activities did the students do ?
ES: Really great! I think this is one of the best parts of the whole IP week because this is the only chance to meet many of your fellow Euroculture colleagues. As for the “fun” activities, we had a trip to Brno, sport activities, a group project which was created in a more “fun” and informal way, and of course – the IP gala was a super fun event. Usually we gathered together for dinner, lunch or an afternoon coffee, walks and picnics in the park.

EM: Did you decide to extend your IP topic to use it as your master thesis topic ? If yes, do you think that was an advantage for you in comparison to students that chose a new topic ?
ES: To some extent yes, but also not really, haha! I knew I wanted to continue writing in the topic of gender inequality, but for my Master Thesis I went to the path of LGBT, and more concrete: the legal developments for same-sex couples in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.
As my topic was not the same as my IP paper, I cannot say exactly whether or not it was an advantage. At least with the majority of people I know they decided to go in a different direction for their thesis. I think the biggest advantage was the whole IP preparation process, it is a guided process – of course depends on the second semester university – which inevitably prepares you for writing your thesis next year.

EM: Thank you very much for answering our questions, Elena!

Picture credits: Personal file

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