Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper
Richard Blais (2018-2020) spent his first semester in Olomouc and continued his Euroculture studies in Groningen. He applied for the master because he wanted to have the opportunity to travel throughout Europe while learning more about European sciences. Therefore, Euroculture seemed to be the perfect fit for this ambition. During the third semester, Richard went abroad to Edmonton (Canada) to do an internship at the Alliance française. He graduated from Euroculture in August 2020 and is currently working as an intern in Brussels at the European Association for the Storage of Energy.
Euroculturer Magazine: What were your expectations when you applied for the Euroculture MA and did it match the reality?
Richard Blais: I was expecting more rigid classes based on my own personal experience in the French university system! I was very pleasantly surprised by the “serious-yet-laidback” atmosphere of this degree which corresponds well to the students—autonomous young travelling adults.
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?
RB: I wrote my paper about the relation that a diaspora has towards its own food in a different country, how it is something creating unity, what are the strategies used by these diaspora when it comes to food in a different context. The topic for our IP in 2019 was inequality and solidarity. I was struggling to find a topic before the start of my second semester, and one evening, as I was eating Indian food, it struck me. Personally, I would encourage students to find a topic they feel naturally dragged to. Our job as academics is to problematize everything… A good topic should therefore come naturally.
EM: How did your second semester university prepare you for the IP?
RB: Thankfully, Groningen has a very thorough IP preparation programme which is coordinated with other universities – the University of Deusto and Krakow. We had online classes and were able to discuss our topics with Euroculture students of these universities and our papers were also peer reviewed by them. I have been preparing well for my IP paper step by step, and was being peer-reviewed on a constant basis. It was indeed an excellent exercise for improving our pedagogical and writing skills. If you know how to take and/or make relevant criticism! A friend of mine ended up having her work reviewed by a peer who made comments which were borderline xenophobic.
EM: Can you tell us more about the evolution of your topic? When did you start writing and when did you finish?
RB: My topic went in a sort of a funnel to reach its final version. Firstly, I wanted to write about something related to food. Then, I wanted to link it to the context of migration. Afterwards, I decided to focus on food from migrant origins in Europe. Finally, I decided to focus on migrants from Northern Africa/Middle East in Western Europe. It took me a couple of months to reach the final scope of my IP paper, but thanks to the peer reviews, I was able to do so.
EM: What would you recommend/not recommend to the new Euroculture students?
RB: I guess I would recommend to every student to listen to criticism and to work in groups with peers. Don’t stress too much about the IP week too! Apart from the presentation at the beginning, it’s almost a week of vacations with people with the same mindset as you.
EM: Can you tell us more about your IP week in Olomouc? What kind of activities did you like/dislike?
RB: The week in Olomouc was fun. At least, for me. I was familiar with the city, knew which places to go to, and had friends to hang out. Once the initial stress of the IP presentation passed, the IP turns into a week of “workholiday”. Conferences are laid-back, and the summer weather invites you to go out.
Regarding activities, I have no strong opinions on them, apart from the fact that the mandatory group work given during the week seems like a pretext, in order to meet other students. We had to do an Instagram page to describe an aspect of the city, and the task felt a little trivial. But I guess having to come up each year with a group task with a “wow” effect for 80 students is a very complicated process, and I can’t blame the Euroculture staff for trying.
EM: How was the experience to meet Euroculture students from other universities? What kind of « fun » activities did the students do?
RB: It was a pleasant experience and I am still in touch with several of the other students I met during the IP. Concerning “fun” activities, I would say mostly having drinks and going out? Though it may just have been my group of friends … As I was in Olomouc during my first semester, it was fun to hang out with people I met all year long, and brought them to several bars I discovered back then. I still have videos of friends singing and playing on the guitar “Comandante Che Guevara” on the streets, and it’s a pleasant memory of times before Covid-19.
EM: Did you decide to extend your IP topic to use it as your master thesis topic?
I did not, though I regretted it sometimes in the process of writing my thesis. But I guess a lot of students have doubts like this, when writing such a big academic paper.
Thank you Richard for answsering our questions!
Picture credits: Personal file