Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper & Paola Gosio

Marcella Zandonai is an Euroculture alumni (cohort 2015-2017) from Trento, Italy. She spent her first semester at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and continued her Euroculture studies in Bilbao, Spain. After doing some volunteering, travelling in New Zealand and working for a local NGO in Trento, she joined Euroculture again in 2020 as the Assistant Coordinator at the University of Göttingen.

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

Marcella Zandonai (MZ): I have to say that I started my job in a very unrealistic period of our Earth´s life. The 2020 health crisis completely changed my perception and my work tasks as well. When I started, there were actually hints of a return to normal life around July 2020. However, a couple of months later, the virus came back and I started working remotely
I only had a vague idea of how my job was supposed to be, since I did my MA in Euroculture as well. I was seeing my (now) ex-colleagues doing a lot of work, being outside, traveling, being with students, and enjoying themselves. I supposed that in a utopian world my job would be hectic and I would be always on the move, meeting up with people and exchanging smiles with students. 

So, my answer is: no, the job expectations did not match reality. But unfortunately, there is no one to blame. Maybe it would be easier if there was but…oh well: such is life.

When I applied I thought that the first wave would have been the first and only. But then this turned out not to be the case. We are living in uncertain times.

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

I was actually in Italy being confined. I am not sure that anyone who is reading me (and who is not from Italy) can understand what “first wave confinement March-May 2020” means. I felt my freedom being taken away. I felt the sun on my skin only through my windows. I felt threatened by the police and also mistreated, a couple of times (especially when I was trying to walk my dog, alone). But hey, that was just the amazing background/situation I was in, when I started thinking that I needed to leave the country as soon as possible. 

At the time I was working for an Italian NGO – ATAS – and helping refugees and the elderly. I was undergoing my “Civil Service” but my time was coming to an end. Therefore, in May I decided to search for jobs, just in case. And it was exactly on Facebook that I found the advertisement for this job (so, guys and girls, do not think that Facebook is just for old people! It is actually a very useful tool for finding jobs). Then, I applied for the position at EuCu Gö. I was the first one to apply and the last one to be interviewed. 

On the interview day, I almost died when a (now) colleague of mine told me that the interview was going to be both in German and English. The German bit was a nightmare from my side but apparently not so bad, seeing from the outside. Funny memories.

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?)

MZ: Yes. So I started my EuCu journey in 2015 in Göttingen because I wanted to improve my German. I had applied to two other MAs in international relations (in Flensburg and Bamberg) and just before confirming my choice I was accepted by the three of them. 

Anyway. So, my first semester in Germany was hard in terms of having German friends (which was one of my objectives). I, fortunately, found a great group of crazy people in my EuCu fellow students. Imagine that some of them I am still in contact with!
So, then I chose Deusto because I love Spain and Spanish and I wanted to go back to my Erasmus destinations (I did my BA Erasmus in Madrid <3).

Deusto was amazing: I was surfing, dancing every weekend, I had local friends, I was traveling, I was falling in love, I was having wonderful professors: I LOVED it!

Then for the third semester, I chose to go (back) to Australia.

Yes, another adventure. Basically right after my BA – and right before my EuCu MA – I went on a “gap year” to Australia and I fell in love with nature, traveling, and enjoying life down under. Therefore, I tried my best to find ANYTHING in Australia for my professional track. I started sending emails to EVERYONE and finally, I found two internships: one at Slow Food Sydney as an Event Manager and one at the Greek Consulate General as a general and communication intern. Since both internships were UNPAID I had to work on the side. I was working every two nights in a hostel in Bondi Beach and I was working every weekend in an industrial fridge where – while dancing and singing – I was putting veggies in boxes for 8 hours a day.
So, I spent my 3rd Semester in Australia from June 2016 (I in fact missed the Gala Dinner at Olomouc IP) to April 2017.

For my 4th Semester, I strategically thought of going back to Germany, just to stay one more month in Australia.

From June 2016 to December 2016 I did my internships in Australia and then I bought a car with two Germans and I started traveling and living in it. We discovered AMAZING places and we drove through deserts, forests, mountain chains etc. The funny part was that I think I have never driven that car (which on the paper was actually mine….the very first one!!). The reason was that I was in the back seat writing my thesis. So, between hiking, swimming, and discovering we all made sure to stop each night near plugs, in order for me to charge my PC. Amazing. And crazy at the same time.

So, then I arrived in Perth in January 2017 (starting from Sydney) after 20 thousand km and two months of living in a car and writing my thesis. There, I received two calls: one from my Uruguayan best friend who was telling me to stop for a week in Perth – cause she would have come to visit me – and one from another Greek-Australian friend of mine who told me that he was going to pay a journey of 3 weeks to New Zealand for me. Of course, I did not say no so I spent an amazing week in Perth with my best friend (always writing my thesis), and then I flew to Nz. There we bought another car and we spent 3 weeks in the bushes of Nz, hiking, swimming and discovering amazing sacred places. I was still writing my thesis and I was definitely amazed by myself.

Then in March I came back to Perth, stayed in the same CouchSurfing place I stayed the first time I arrived there, and bought a flight to Vietnam.

1st of March I arrived in Vietnam and then I met up with one of my Deusto friends. With him, we traveled the south of Vietnam for 1 week and then he left me there with my PC and my thesis. Then, since I was on the move already, I decided to stay for an entire month in Vietnam and then fly back to Germany from there. There, I had the best and the worst experiences. I was staying in crazy hostels and trying to write my thesis while backpacking(each day/two days in one place). One day, I met a great person, a Chilean guy who traveled with me for two weeks. Then during the second week, my PC exploded (seriously) and my life became a nightmare because I felt I lost everything. My thesis was (thank God!) saved in a USB but my PC was gone. Then this wonderful person told me that he would be gone for a week to the north and that he could give me his PC. I wanted to cry from happiness and I actually think I did. 

He left me for a week in the middle of Vietnam with his PC and I re-started to write my thesis. Finally, a couple of days before leaving the country we met in the capital and I gave him his PC back with all my gratitude. I actually mentioned him in the “acknowledgments” of the thesis: he saved my life.

Then I went back to Germany and I spent three wonderful summer months there. This time I made sooooooooooooooooo many friends and I was super happy. I suppose Germans require a bit of time to get in contact with. Who knows.

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

MZ: Well, since I started in these Covid-19 times, I cannot compare a “normal” day with a “Covid” day. But what I usually do every day is to reply to emails, attend ZOOM meetings and make sure everything works fine.

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

The main lesson is that you must fight and that mistakes happen. You have to accept your mistakes and be strong. Everyone makes mistakes: it is not a tragedy.

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?

MZ: I feel like myself. I don’t belong to anyone and I usually don’t adapt to work environments. I am here in Germany, as I was in Finland, Australia, Greece, Spain, Nz etc. I do my best from 8/9 o´clock till 15/16 and then that is it. Working is important but it is not the most important thing. I put my effort when I work but then I switch pages and I start my “free time”. When I focus during my work things turn out very good because I put my entire effort and willingness there. I always work trying to think about how I was when I was a student and what I needed at the time. It worked so far!

EM: Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years? 

MZ: Well. Mmmmmh, let me think. Five years from now means 2026. I could be an English teacher in Southeast Asia, a Ph.D. holder in Australia, or an international cooperation worker either in Albania, in Lebanon, in Georgia, or in Morocco. I could also be living in Spain or France doing whatever job, just to stay there for the wonderful people and culture. Who knows.

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

MZ: Eh, if I had them then I could write a book and become a millionaire hahahahaha

No, really: I am not sure at all. I would say write a motivation letter WITHOUT typos and try to insert in it all the small details from the company you apply to. I am reading some applications for our Erasmus Mundus Grants now and when it comes to the motivation letter people tend to say “I did this and this” and then they only say “I am applying to EuCu because I think I can change the world” (or something like that). 

No, people! Try to really check out the company’s website and write down some keywords and make sure to put these keywords in your motivation letter. For example, if you wish to apply to EuCu you should mention something like “interdisciplinary, professional and research track, semester abroad” etc etc. This advice may look cheap but you would not imagine how many people DO NOT follow it.

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

I think there are people that start a new job and become ONE with it. That is not my case. I am skeptical and pessimistic and you might have noticed it while reading. That does not express my personal opinion on the job at all. One might think “Oh, she does not like the job she is doing” but this is exactly wrong.

What I can say is that once one starts working, one realizes how different “work” is from “free time”, “studying”, “traveling” etc. So, I just take my jobs as they come and I accept them. It is not a matter of liking them or not liking them. The thing is that I have lived so many things outside this “work” field, that I understood that working is fundamental to life but that is it. Any work, I mean.

I know it might sound confusing but I would not be able to explain it better than this. Everyone has his/her own limits: let´s embrace them.

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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