Behind the scenes: meet the Euroculture Staff – Ashanti Collavini

Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper & Paola Gosio

Ashanti Collavini is an Euroculture alumni part of the cohort 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. After her MA, she immediately started working for Euroculture as the new coordinator at the University of Udine, where she previously studied.

Euroculturer Magazine (EM): What were your expectations when you started your job position as professor or coordinator and does it match the reality?

Ashanti Collavini (AC): When I first decided to accept this position, I was honestly quite terrified by the responsibility I was going to take on with my role as Udine’s Euroculture coordinator! I knew the role would imply quite some challenges, and given the fact that I had never worked in the University system before, I needed to start learning completely from scratch. Luckily enough, I had an advantage: the fact that by the time I accepted this position, I was just freshly graduated as a Euroculture student, therefore I knew already a lot about the programme from the inside and from a student perspective. For instance, I knew what the thesis portfolio was and when it was due, which deadlines I would need to take into consideration when writing the thesis or the IP paper, what the IP was. Moreover, I was aware of the difficulties that international students could come across when studying and living abroad.  However, I can say that working for the programme and experiencing it from “ the other side” gave me a completely different insight on what Euroculture entails from behind the scenes, something that as a student I could not even imagine!

EM: Can you tell us about the job-searching path you went through before choosing and being selected for this job position?

AC: I can’t really say that I went through such a difficult process when being selected for this position. Prior to that, I did send around a few CVs over the summer, while writing and finalising my thesis. I would say, in my case, being involved in my current position was more a matter of luck and coincidence. In fact, the previous Euroculture coordinator at the University of Udine, who also happened to be my thesis supervisor and who is also one of the current Euroculture professors in Udine, decided to leave her position as coordinator and asked me whether I would like to take on her role. After having given it some thought and consulted with the Euroculture Director of Studies in Udine, I decided to accept and went through the internal selection process – and here I am, since 1st October 2019. ☺

EM: You also were once a Euroculture student, could you tell us about your experience as a Euroculture student (universities, internship, thesis) and why did you decide to continue with the program in a professional way? (do you see the program differently now?)

AC: I am a Euroculture Udine-Groningen alumna, from the 2017-2019 cohort, and spent the 3rd semester research track at UNAM – Mexico City. Of course, my Euroculture experience as a student is extremely tied to those countries and Universities in which I was lucky enough to be selected. As a Euroculture student, you go through a lot in life, I think. Sometimes, it can be very emotionally exhausting, due to the complicated steps of moving around every 5 or 6 months and adapting to different academic and cultural systems across countries or continents. Nevertheless, it is also an extremely rewarding and enriching experience. What I was able to learn in two years of life in an international environment, in foreign countries and outside my comfort area, is definitely something I will cherish for my entire life. There are many funny stories I could share from my Euroculture student life (or maybe it is better to keep them a secret?), but today I can definitely say, as an Italian back to study and working in Italy, that I am the result of what Italy, The Netherlands and Mexico taught me and how they shaped me, and I am very proud of it ☺ 

One of the reasons I decided to keep up with the programme is that I wanted to continue breathing the international atmosphere even in my own, small town reality, and assist Euroculture students in their academic and life journey in Udine, after having experienced that myself. Now, I get to feel the Euroculture vibe not only with the students I assist, but also among colleagues from partner Universities: it always feels like a family, a tied community! I think this is extremely nice in a working environment, and it felt similar when I was studying with my Euroculture coursemates. 

EM: Could you tell us how a normal work day looks like for you (your tasks)? How did the Covid-19 pandemic change that (advantages/disadvantages)?

AC: One of the first things about working for Euroculture I could say is that it is never a routine, every day is different because every day there are new challenges to solve and new tasks to do. First of all, I balance work with study (since I am also a Master’s Student at the University of Trieste), so I tend to devote parts of my day to both roles and activities. I check my mailbox everyday, read through my emails and reply right away to those that I feel are most urgent. I am also in constant contact with my supervisor/Director of Studies when something needs to be tackled from “above”, or simply to share or discuss issues together.

The covid-19 pandemic also made my job as a coordinator and student completely remote and digital, so I spend pretty much all of my working days on my computer and my phone, which is not ideal to me, since I feel like I am missing a lot on my social life with Colleagues. However, this also allows me to follow my University courses (now online, unfortunately) and attend exams. Before the pandemic, I used to organise “aperitivi” with the students in the city centre of Udine, join them for dinner in an international vibe, take the students to visit the Library, for instance. Now, all of this is not even possible because of the restrictions, and we all need to adapt to the online environment (both Euroculture staff and students), which is not as rewarding as the normal circumstances would allow. 

EM: What are the main lessons you have learned and some challenges you have encountered since you started to work for Euroculture?

AC: Among the lessons I learnt I could quote: being understanding towards students but also making them aware that we are trying our best to assist them, therefore we are on their side but they also need to be cooperative and not opponents (sometimes it happens). Each student has his/her own story which needs to be taken care of. Speaking up when it is needed. You don’t always necessarily have to agree with everyone/on everything. Communicating/reporting promptly and problem-solving. 

Among the challenges: mediating and facilitating processes and communication between offices, professors and students. Creating a positive environment where no one is left behind and everyone is happy (to the limit). Bridging gaps in a cross-cultural environment. Researching when I do not have the knowledge. Adapting to different ways of working-rhythms among colleagues that do not necessarily match my way of doing/seeing things, but also proposing my own way!

EM: Do you feel part of the Euroulture bubble or do you feel more as a general employee at the University where you are working at?

Definitely in a Euroculture bubble, and this is nice! It is a program that has specific features that “normal” Italian degrees would not have, therefore the international aspect of Euroculture is important and makes the program (and the job itself) more peculiar and interesting, according to me.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years? 

AC: Maybe with a PhD and still working in an international environment? Who knows! Most importantly, happy and fulfilled ☺

EM: Do you have any tips related to job-hunting for Euroculture students that will graduate soon?

AC: Try to devote some parts of the day in searching through applications calls, writing letters, updating your CV or LinkedIn profile to build your professional network, but also balance this out with social life with family and friends. Do not stress out too much, enjoy some free time after finally submitting your thesis! Keep an open mind towards things and adopt a positive attitude. 

EM: Is there anything else you would like to add?

AC: Enjoy your last semester and good luck with the thesis writing process, and remember: once Euroculture, always Euroculture! ☺

EM: Thank you very much for answering these questions! We value your contribution and believe it will be useful for prospective and current Euroculture students!


Picture Credits: Personal file

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