A weekend in Stockholm

Elena Mitryukova is a Euroculture student who loves the international experience of the two years of the Master programme. She loves travelling, looking for adventures and running from the routine. “The most amazing adventure for me is the people I meet on the way and what I learn from them,” she says. “Right now I am living in Krakow, Poland. Originally I am from Volgograd, Russia. And I am not sure where I will be in several years. To be honest, I like this. I had barely travelled until 21 and until my first big trip to the United States for 4 months. And then I could not stop myself. I like planning trips and can give a lot of tips on how to spend less or to find something special while travelling. I will be happy to share my experience.”

This is a short report about several days I spent in Stockholm, some tips on how to save money there and what to do. I do not claim being the best expert and certainly do not compete with the students studying in Uppsala. However it is from my friends who asked, persuaded and questioned me on my trip, that this report was born.
Stockholm is a beautiful city, tolerant, democratic, open-minded, interesting and worth visiting. However, probably not all of this is true in February… Before arriving in the city, I had been advised three times to come in summer instead. However I still enjoyed it and would like to see what Stockholm is like during the warmer seasons.

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Continue reading “A weekend in Stockholm”

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Dr. Lars Klein “Discussing Europeanness? European Citizenship rather than European Identity!”

The Euroculturer has invited Dr. Lars Klein, Senior Lecturer of Euroculture Goettingen, to ask about what distinguishes Euroculture Goettingen from other Euroculture universities, how his various research areas are closely related, when he felt it was a disadvantage to be German in other European countries, and which career advice he could give to MA Euroculture students. 

Topic 1. Euroculture Goettingen

Lars1
Dr. Lars Klein, Senior Lecturer at Euroculture Goettingen

1) Hello, Lars. Could you briefly introduce yourself and your job as Senior Lecturer at Euroculture Goettingen? Please tell us about your first encounter with MA Euroculture. What was the hook?

Well, to start with the last question: The Euroculture Program and the Research Training Group (Graduiertenkolleg)
“Generations in Modern History”, in which I was doing my PhD, were sharing the same building prior to 2008 – and the same photocopier. My first encounter with Euroculture was thus through the Coordinator and Assistant who spent hours at that photocopier, which was right next to my office door. It also turned out that a few of my colleagues had actually studied the Program, and quite a few staff members I met were involved in Euroculture.

So in a way, Euroculture was a very familiar programme for me already when I applied for the lecturer-position at the end of my term at the Research Training Group. I got the job and followed the Program to the Oeconomicum, the building it still is in now. Arwed, our Program Coordinator, and I started together in Spring 2008.

As a member of the Euroculture staff I teach research seminars, the introductory module, methodology and a bit of Eurocompetence III. I supervise the Intensive Program (IP) topics and Master theses. My job also is to coordinate the curriculum with the partners at the three Faculties that are involved in Euroculture in Göttingen (of Social Sciences, Humanities and Theology) and at our partner universities. And, of course, to do research. Continue reading “Dr. Lars Klein “Discussing Europeanness? European Citizenship rather than European Identity!””

What the Great War Has to Do With Euroculture

Michiel Luining │michiel.luining@gmail.com

Recently, Der Spiegel suggested the relevance of World War I today while other media and even historians have speculated on similarities between the period around World War I and our time. Might there be some relevance indeed and, on top of that, even to Euroculture? Running roughshod over historical uniqueness by making comparisons with contemporary times is a dangerous business, not to say a dead end in the historical discipline. A hundred years ago it was extremely dangerous for the soldiers to go ‘over the top’ (climbing out of the trenches) in order to gain more territory. Let us now metaphorically go ‘over the top’ in the pursuit of historical relevance. Hoping to survive the many figurative bullets that may be fired upon this undertaking, we will find out how much ground and insight will be gained.

“Let us now metaphorically go over the top

With some generalisation and a bit of fantasy, one can see similarities between the reality in 1914 and that in 2014. Continue reading “What the Great War Has to Do With Euroculture”

The Euroculture Bubble

Mary MacKenty | mkmackenty@gmail.com

When I began Euroculture, I was very determined to learn languages and integrate myself into the host country. Not to say I didn’t achieve this to some extent, but the reality is that due to our short semesters, we ended up hanging out with people from Euroculture instead of the country we live in, creating a bubble for ourselves as we float around Europe. Perhaps it is all part of the grand scheme for creating “European Identity”; however, I’ve yet to meet a “European” that would define themselves as such. We are supposed to learn to be inter-culturally competent, yet since we all live in this international bubble of culturally “open-minded” people, are we really adapting or just observers from our Euroculture bubble?

As my time in Euroculture nears its end, I have begun to reflect on some these unintended consequences of living in the Euroculture bubble. At first, it seemed like a great idea; the opportunity to live, study, work and/or travel in a different country every four months. The perfect way to learn new languages and gain knowledge about other cultures, but now I think it’s too much. We are human after all and need to feel at home with our group of friends, our shared history and inside jokes. It’s as if you don’t completely fit in anywhere. Sure you can get along and everyone will be impressed with your “interesting” life, but making true local friends is another story. It seems almost as if you can only relate to people with the same nomadic lifestyle as your own, but then just as you feel comfortable everyone leaves to start over again. Continue reading “The Euroculture Bubble”

How to survive your MA Thesis

survive MA thesis 33

Helen Hoffmann│helenhoffmann@outlook.com

Welcome to Thesis Hell! This is what I like to call the three, five, six, maybe even more months you spend writing your Master Thesis. People have told you about this phase in your life, they have warned you, scared you and told you it will be the worst part of your student life. But The Euroculturer is here to help you survive Thesis Hell and enter Submittal Heaven with 15 easy tips.

It is really not that important

Most people will try to tell you otherwise. They will insist that this is the most important paper you ever write and if you cannot submit in time, you have to pay fees and if you do not submit at all, you will end up unemployed for the rest of your life.

These ideas are not helpful when you are already lying awake every night in a state of panic. Because really: it is not that important. Make this your mantra. Yes, you should care about your thesis –  but it is not the end of the world.

You have done this many times before

…just with smaller case studies.

If you are panicking over the ground-breaking scientific contribution your MA thesis asks from you (and you will at some point), remember that you are not a freshman. Most probably you have written so many theses and papers in your university life that you cannot even remember a third of their titles. You have done all this before. A thesis is a thesis is a thesis. Your case studies might have been smaller, your literature more limited and your time frame only a few weeks, but you have done this work many times before and you have not failed. You know your craft and you will succeed this one more time as well.

Make it your project

Most teachers try to guide you into Thesis Purgatory by asking you to pick a topic you are passionate about and write your thesis about that. There might be a slight chance that your passions are actually outside the realm of your studies but even then you can make the thesis your project. Surely there is something you have been wondering about, something you want to dissect. Well, here is the good news:  You get a few months of time, a fully-equipped library and two supervisors to help you find the answers to those questions you have been thinking about.

Don’t think: they are making me write this shit so that I get a degree. Think: Now I am going to find out about this, I have excellent prerequisites and I will even earn a degree for pursuing my interest.

Get a team

Get a team like Sarah(left) and Larissa did
Get a team like Sarah(left) and Larissa did

Everyone has two supervisors, some have the good ones that answer every email, give your tips and help you advance the project. (Like mine.) Other have more, let’s say, absent supervisors. But regardless of which one you have, think of your thesis as a challenge you will master in a team. Your supervisors are the more serious part of the team; you are the captain. But three is not enough for a team: get a pep talker and an academic guide.

When I wrote my thesis, I had a very patient friend who I could send all my angry texts to. She would reply with loving words of encouragement. Every evening, I would inform her how many words I had written today. Sometimes it was 34. She would say, “Every word is a step forward”. She would also feed me when I was unable to get my act together and she would go and party with me when I reached a milestone in thesis writing.

I was also lucky to be friends with someone involved and excited by academic research. Whenever I met her for lunch, I got a flow feeling afterwards. I could just work at the double speed because she had guided me and told me what my next steps should be. It is much easier to accept a friend’s guidance than the ones of your supervisors – who will in the end, grade you, after all. ¨

Find people who can encourage you during your thesis writing. Build your team and let them help you. You have to write your thesis alone but you can have company on the way. (Do not forget to mention these people in your acknowledgments though.)

Write for instant panic relief

Many of us read and research and think. We do not start writing because “I still do not know enough”. But your time is dedicated to thesis writing not thesis procrastinating so do not make this mistake. It leads to you stressing when others tell you they are on page 37. It makes you anxious because 60 pages seem so much. Stop reading right now and start writing. Begin with the easiest part, regardless whether that is the introduction of chapter four or only the cover page, but start writing. Having five pages down gives instant panic relief, I promise. If there is one thing that will be in the way of submitting your thesis it is perfectionism. Always remember: Done is better than perfect.

Don’t be scared of the fancy words

Establish relationships to conceptualize and theorize the pan-European issues of contemporary times in a broader perspective? The art of professional bullshitting uses a lot of fancy words and they can be scary.

Remember that a definition is not more than deciding what a word means, a concept is not more than explaining an idea and to historize something means you tell me how something was before today. They’re fancy words, but they will not bring you down.

Set the right margins from the beginning

In most social sciences and humanities, professors seem to think they will need a lot of space to actually write corrections on the sides of your paper. Regardless of the fact that we have long ago entered the age of digital theses, you are still obliged to leave some 3 centimeters blank on your paper and to format it 1.5-spaced. This is a good thing! Make sure to set every document you work in in the right margins and put in your correct footnotes from the beginning. This will make your paper look longer, make you calmer, and save you time in the end. Eighty pages sound way too much when you work single-spaced.

Use a citation software

Using a citation software is going to save you a lot (!) of time and energy. I do not see why you should manually manage 214 books and articles when there are excellent programs that can do it for you. At some of our universities, these programs are even free. Check with your library and take an introductory course in how to use Citavi, RefWorks and all the other awesome inventions that save you blood, sweat and tears. You will not regret it.

Do your share every day

If you are going through Thesis Hell, keep going. Do not take days off (except weekends), but do your share every day. It will give you a feeling of security that you have done everything you could. Slow and steady wins the race.

Count your pages

It is relieving to know how far you have come. Count your pages and feel free to share with your above-named team that you have a third already. But please, spare your fellow prisoners in Thesis Hell from your page numbers.

FYI, for Penelope, it was 75 pages.
For Penelope, it was 75 pages.

Separate work and play by studying somewhere else but at home

Some people say they can study and write at home. For the other 95 percent of the world’s population I suggest: Try simulating a work environment by studying somewhere else than your home. You go to your thesis every morning and you leave it there every evening. In the meantime, you are a free person.

Build in filters to minimize collateral damage

A lot of thesis anxiety is rooted in not knowing if what you wrote is good enough. We have all heard the stories about those that failed or got a re-write. If you want to minimize the risk of failing make sure you have a critical proof reader and carefully read through their comments. You might want to ask different people for different chapters: your maths student friend for the statistics and your English teacher aunt for the overall flow of your text. Also, ask your supervisors if they are willing to read single chapters before you submit the complete draft. A supervisor who has read and accepted single chapters will tell you before the final deadline if s/he thinks you are going down Fail Road.

Enjoy the privilege of being a student

Thesis Hell does not have to be the worst part of your life at university. On the contrary, it is now that you have so much experience that you easily navigate through the campus jungle and can take best advantage of everything student life offers. Work hard and play hard – it might be the last half year you can do that.

Put things into perspective

Do not think that Thesis Hell is a pleasant place just because you follow these tips. No, there will still be days with nervous breakdowns when you are crying in bed. There will be hours in which you are staring at your computer screen wondering why you chose this topic after all. There will be times when others have stolen your favorite library seat.

There are ups and downs. They come and go. There is no way to avoid them, make sure to keep a healthy perspective.

So you think you are the poorest thing on the earth because you have to write that stupid thesis. All your first-year-friends get to go out all the time and play.

Stop pitying yourself –  it is not helpful. Put things into perspective. Do you know someone who is really sick? Heard of someone who cannot find housing? I assume you do know about people living in war-stricken regions. Yes, right: you do not have a problem! You have a challenge that you can and will master. And everyone is on your side.

Submit and CELEBRATE!

Submitting your MA thesis is a milestone in your life. If you are not pursuing an academic career, this is the last paper you ever wrote for university. You should treat this event accordingly. Have a graduation ceremony, throw a party, submit and celebrate like there is no thesis defense! (I mean, there isn’t at many universities…)

Survive MA thesis 2
Submit and CELEBRATE like Nora(left) and Bianca did

Helen new profile

Helen HoffmannCreative Editor

Helen is from Germany and studied BA History and Gender Studies. She studied Euroculture in the University of Göttingen and Uppsala University, and did an internship in the PR department of the German-Swedish Chamber of Commerce. Her passion is to dive deep into the Swedish-German relationship and deconstruct the German über-idyllic image of Sweden. This summer, she works with visitors coming to Stockholm. Her interests are film, literature, Liechtenstein, the Eurovision Song Contest (and not ashamed to admit it), and everything printed – even TV magazines. She’s also fascinated with communication, marketing and commercials, socio-cultural trends and psychological phenomena. And of course, her interests include the Swedish Royal Family (she will never forgive Jonas Bergström for what he did).

What’s in Strasbourg? ARTE, The European Cultural TV

ARTE1 (1)

Oier Lobera, Adithya Pillai, Sabrina de Vivo, Carolina Froelich and María de las Cuevas

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Franco-German, European Cultural television-channel ARTE, renowned for its pioneering work in intercultural broadcasting and in its aim of creating a ‘European’ TV channel. Therefore, our project for Eurocompetence II, a course module in the second semester of MA Euroculture to provide students with the competences required to do team working with people from different cultures and to carry out projects in a multicultural sphere, had the challenge of organising a visit to ARTE, as it has a distinct understanding of Europeanness and interculturality, which are highly relevant to the Euroculture Master’s program.

“The cooperation between France and Germany…”

ARTE is intriguing because of the cooperation between the two nations, France and Germany, which have a long hostile history. The project has been far more fruitful than other initiatives of cross-border TV stations in Europe. Having an insight into this ‘European’ channel, (as ARTE promotes itself) was a great opportunity to know more about this successful implementation of the multilingual-cross-border TV programming.

It is difficult to think of a TV channel with no programming for celebrities or reality shows such as The Bachelor or Big Brother. Perhaps it is even more difficult to imagine one with no sports or talk shows. Well, this is ARTE: a channel that broadcasts documentaries, feature films, TV films, music, opera, theatre, informative programmes and much more, always with the common denominator of achieving top quality. The different programmes invite the viewer to discover other people, regions and their ways of life, to experience culture in Europe and to better understand political and social developments in today’s world.

Can a TV channel achieve unity among the people of Europe?

This was the idea that was on the minds of François Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl and Lothar Späth, the founding fathers of ARTE, who believed that a joint television channel should bring French and German citizens closer on a cultural level and also promote cultural integration throughout Europe. Creating a television channel for two audiences was a first in television’s history and is still an exception in today’s global TV market.

After years of negotiations, an interstate agreement was signed on the 2nd of October 1990, by the Ministers of the eleven Bundesländer of the former West Germany and the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang. Within just a few months, ARTE (Association Relative à la Télévision Européenne) was established as a European Economic Interest Grouping – E.E.I.G. (Groupement Européen d’Intérêt Économique – G.E.I.E.) – in Strasbourg.

“After the Elysée-Treaty…”

For the creation of ARTE, the history and friendship of Germany and France is crucial. After a history of wars between both countries the “Elysée-Treaty” was signed in 1963 in Paris by the French President Charles de Gaulle and the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. This treaty determined essential points in the cooperation between the two nations. The major fuel in this cooperation can also be seen in the personal friendship between many of the French Presidents and German Chancellors. This initiative of Germany and France was and still is essential for peace in postwar-Europe helping in the formation of a strong European Union.

ARTE is completely financed through TV licensing fees and therefore is not dependent upon advertising. Strasbourg was chosen as the headquarters of the organisation, which is also the residence of many EU organisations therefore emphasizes the orientation of ARTE towards Europe and the EU. Meanwhile, the ARTE cooperation between the German channels (ARD/ZDF) and the French channels (LA SEPT/ARTE) has been complemented by contributions from Belgium (RTBF), Switzerland  (SRG SSR IDEE SUISSE), Poland (TVP), Austria (ORF), Finland (YLE) and Greece (ERT). This suggests a European dimension, which can still be enlarged.

So why did we visit ARTE?

“ARTE can serve as a best-practice model for cross-culture collaboration in the EU at the media level…”

Cultural exchange and dialogue have been topics in our Eurocompetence II classes. ARTE is an institution which promotes both and can serve as a best-practice model for cross-culture collaboration in the EU at the media level. Our motivation to organise this trip was to have an insight into the working process of ARTE. The discussion with Uwe Lothar Müller, député of the head of the Program Unit ARTE Reportage at ARTE, gave us, the Euroculture students, the chance to receive first-hand information about working in a multi-cultural environment. Furthermore, several students in the Euroculture program are or aspire to be journalists and therefore, might also have ambitions in being employed at ARTE or similar international media organisations. This trip gave them first contacts with the atmosphere at ARTE, thus helping them to become more informed with regards to a potential future career. It is also apparent that to apply for an internship at ARTE, you must be fluent in both German and French, and be very motivated about the understanding the role of the European Union in the global world and intercultural dialogue, skills that we find in the basis of the MA Euroculture Masters program.

“There are three kinds of journalism,” ­explained Uwe Lothar Müller, “the French way, which will rather tend to provoke an emotional reaction on the audience by showing a close shot of something suffering. In my opinion, this kind of journalism might transfer some limits of privacy. On the other hand, we have the German style, which will avoid any kind of emotion. This doesn’t work neither because it is too distant from the reader. Thirdly, we have ARTE’s style that has the best of both. We search for a component of humanity when we inform, but at the same time our aim is to be very rigorous and respectful. We strive to create thought-provoking, emotionally engaging programmes that enrich our multicultural audience’s lives. Our channel should reflect our audience’s interests, passions and dreams.”

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Oier Lobera, Adithya Pillai, Sabrina de Vivo, Carolina Froelich and María de las Cuevas are students of MA Euroculture 2012-14. They studied in Strasbourg for Spring Semester 2013. Currently, they are spread around the world doing an internship or a research track. 

For more information, visit ARTE

Second Time a Charm?

Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland
Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland

Heather Southwood│southwood28@gmail.com

In Goettingen I was one of approximately twenty Euroculture students, in Krakow that became one of nine, in Indianapolis I couldn’t sit in Starbucks on campus for long without someone I knew walking in, so when I made the decision to return to Krakow for my fourth semester, as one of three I knew it was going to be a shock to the system.

For the first two semesters, my closest friends had been those fellow MA Euroculture 11-13 students, who I studied with, lunched with, cooked with, drank tea with, ate copious cookies with, stressed over deadlines with, partied with and later lived with… you get the picture.

In Goettingen, lunch in the Mensa was a regular daily occurrence and coffee breaks had the potential to be of greater frequency than that of productivity in the library. During my second semester in Krakow all the Euroculture students had lived in the same building, we were in and out of each other’s flats with alarming regularity. You wanted strong coffee – see Penelope. You needed chocolate – go to Sarah.  You wanted custard – only Larisa understood that one! We wanted to visit a bar – just run up and down the stairs knocking on doors and you’ll soon have company.

So, at the start of the fourth semester, as I sat in my temporary room, suitcase on the floor, rain drumming against the window, having just arrived in Krakow from the UK, with the knowledge my fellow Euroculture classmate would not be arriving for another two weeks, I wondered, had I made the right decision for my final semester?

“Krakow was a city in which I felt I could really live, it was fun, affordable, stunning…”

Everyone makes their decision as to where they are to spend their fourth semester based upon their different priorities, with many different things being important only to themselves. For me, it was the city; Krakow was a city in which I felt I could really live, it was fun, affordable, stunning, there was always something going on. However, as the rain fell and I knew I had some flat-hunting to do to find the right apartment; I thought back to all my friends in Goettingen and questioned the decision I had made. I was tired from travelling, and therefore grumpy – I’ll admit it, and running with the assumption that in fact Goettingen was as though it had been exactly in my first semester. In my mind, I would be visiting the Mensa, having coffee, chatting in the library. It didn’t take me too long though to realise that just as Krakow for fourth semester was going to be different, it would be the same for the Goettingen students.

One of the great things about Euroculture is the ability to explore a new place and culture within and (occasionally) outside of Europe. However, the fourth semester is different, there are less classes, there is a thesis deadline looming in and you are living in a city you’ve experienced before. It’s easy to assume it would be the same, some of the same people will be around you, you’ll know the streets, the market days… It was not.

“In our second semester we knew very few Polish students, I hoped my fourth semester would not be the same…”

In our second semester we knew very few Polish students, I hoped my fourth semester would not be the same. In fact, some may say that was a challenge I set myself… I quickly realised, however, how much that challenge would affect my whole semester. A friend and I were invited on a trip with Polish European Studies students to Warsaw. Thankfully, neither of us actually spoke much Polish, as such, when decisions as to where to go, where to eat, even during a press conference, we could shrug at each other awkwardly, solidarity in our ignorance. However, in the evening, with the help of a beer or two, gone was the initial shyness and it turns out the Polish students were happier to speak their fluent English and we were happy to give them a laugh with our faltering Polish skills. When twelve students share a hostel room for a weekend, friendships quickly emerge and there wasn’t a week which went by without some kind of Warsaw trip reunion, friends bringing friends of friends, snowballing in to a great group of friends giving us an insight into Polish culture. Of course, there were also always the second semester students in Krakow to hang out with, drink with, and have dinner with. In my tired (I’ve just arrived in Krakow and my suitcase was really heavy) haze, I’d forgotten that with fourth semester comes the opportunity to meet the new students of the second semester. There was always the opportunity to talk about Euroculture, internships, the run up to the IP (at my end – without the worry), and to smile at the things we found new and interesting in Krakow.

“I made many Polish friends and finally felt like I was getting some ‘inside’ knowledge on the city…”

Over the semester, I made many Polish friends, I spoke more Polish than I ever had in my second semester in Krakow and I finally felt like I was getting some ‘inside’ knowledge on the city. I visited my friends’ bakery for an afternoon coffee hit, was cooked lunch, I was even educated as to which Polish cheese (and many other food niceties) to try by Beata a fellow MA Euroculture 11-13 student and Pole. I followed the news stories in Krakow more. As the semester progressed, I realised how ignorant of Polish news I had been in my second semester and how by following the news, chatting about current Krakow events with my friends, it changed the way I understood the city.

As a fourth semester student, our Eurocompetence III class had become the writing of a grant application which we actually planned and implemented during the IP, as the Urban Challenge. At the first class, with Luc and Karolina, Euroculture Krakow Staff, running the class, out-numbered the only student, me, I learnt that when it’s a small class, there is no one to hide behind. However, I didn’t need to hide, it didn’t feel like a class, it didn’t feel like on one side there are the staff on the other the students, it felt like a collaboration and a friendship. Working with the staff on the IP, seeing the other side of the IP, was a unique opportunity, the gala dinner was somewhat bittersweet and emotional as it began to hit us that this was our final semester, in fact, by this point, I had written and defended my thesis, it was a celebration but also, we knew, the end.

If you had said to me in advance of my fourth semester in Krakow, I would have scoffed that initially I would have questioned my decision of Krakow. I had told myself it would be different, I knew that. I wanted it to be different. In America, I surrounded myself with American students and found out how much of a difference it made, being invited into many American homes including at Thanksgiving, to see how they lived. In Poland, it made the world of difference, I felt at home, I made friends who I have already seen in London this summer and will meet some more in Manchester this week. I learnt about Krakow and other polish cities through the stories and tours of friends and residents.

“So, second time a charm?”

Euroculture was an incredible experience and opportunity for me, living abroad in places I hadn’t contemplated living in before. No one semester stands out to me as being better than others, each was a unique opportunity, I can’t compare them, each one was different and if I had chosen Goettingen instead of Krakow, I know my fourth semester there would have been different again. The fourth semester felt like a bridge out of Euroculture, I felt like I was preparing for ‘real life’ within the safety net of Euroculture.

So, second time a charm? Absolutely, yes in fact, as much as I’m excited about not having to pack my life into 20 kilos for four months for a while, I wouldn’t mind hitting rewind and doing it all again.

Heather SouthwoodChief Copy Editor

Heather is from Manchester, completed her undergraduate in Law before studying MA Euroculture at the University of Göttingen, Jagiellonian University, Krakow and IUPUI, Indianapolis. Her research interests include human rights, religious rights and inclusive citizenship. Currently, she is living back in the UK, working with suppliers in Europe and the Far East, constantly challenging her intercultural communication skills every day.

Muslim for One Day

Having a Muslim woman in our midst, we as the second semester Krakow girls were dying to find out what it felt like for our classmate to be a Muslim woman in Poland. 

Floor 2
From left to right.: Eike Hinz, Floor Boele van Hensbroek, Marielle van Heumen, Fauzia Ariani, Claudia Lübbers, Emma Klever.

Floor Boele van Hensbroek│floorbvh@gmail.com

Having a Muslim woman in our midst while living in one of the most homogeneous countries in Europe, we as the second semester Krakow girls were dying to find out what it felt like for our classmate to be a Muslim woman in Poland. So, we conducted an experiment. For one day we pretended to be Muslims and covered up from head to toe. How did we experience this? Did it change our perceptions on Muslim veils such as hijabs and headscarves? Read here my personal reflexions on this little experiment.

Background: Veils in the West

In Europe, the Muslim veil is not free from controversy. In multiple countries there have been heated debates on whether or not to ban the headscarf. In France, the decision has been made to ban burqas in public spaces. Why? Partly because many Westerners believe that obligating a woman to cover her body is a restriction of her freedom and emancipation. J.C. Young argues in his book ‘Post-Colonialism: A Very Short Introduction’ that “for many Westerners, the veil is a symbol of patriarchal Islamic societies in which women are assumed to be oppressed, subordinated, and made invisible.” This perception can be partly explained by looking at the process of emancipation in the West.

“In the West, showing your body indicates public presence, visibility and freedom of self-expression…”

In Western societies, dress liberation has meant ‘participation in society’. It meant being able to ride a bicycle and board a train. Showing your body indicates public presence, visibility and freedom of self-expression. However, westerners might be taking it one step too far when criticizing veils and defining them as backward and degrading. Blogger Liz Connor argues that “They (Western woman) have developed, it would seem, a rather delimited view of what public visibility might mean to different woman (…). The possibility of covering up is not necessarily a backward step.” Apart from this, it has been argued that denying people their religious expression can equally be defined as oppressive. Moreover: western beauty standards for woman are not free from oppression either!

“I have always believed that covering your body actually reinforces the focus on sexuality…”

Being a western woman myself, I must admit that also I have been critical towards headscarves. I always found it hard to understand why Muslim women cover their bodies to such extent that sometimes even their faces are hidden. Knowing that they can only show themselves to their husbands gave me the impression these woman are somewhat ‘owned’ by their husbands.  Also, I could not see how the obligation to wear all those clothes could be comfortable in any way. Thus, women suffer because of it, I thought. Moreover, I have always believed that covering your body extensively in order to avoid sexual attention actually reinforces the focus on sexuality. Think of African bush women walking around bare-breasted all day. All the attached meaning to the body immediately evaporates, and the body becomes just a body; like an instrument. Obviously, all these opinions and thoughts of mine were full of prejudice and misunderstanding. However, this I only found out much later, after I had dressed up as a Muslim woman myself for a day.

Muslim for one day: the start up

Floor 1_scarves

It was during a lovely dinner time in June that the idea was born: we, the girls of the second semester Krakow class would all wear headscarves for one day. In this way, we hoped to be able to understand how it had been for our classmate, Fauzia Ariani, to live in Poland as a Muslim woman. Fauzia, who has come all the way from Indonesia to Europe to study MA Euroculture, would be our guide during the day. In practice, this meant she would provide us with headscarves and tie them fashionably around our heads. Obviously, the experiment soon became an experiment in fashion as well. I learned there is a booming fashion industry for Muslim women and looking at the pictures of famous designs very quickly got us in the mood.

“Wow, this is actually not so bad…”

We agreed to meet at Fauzia’s place in the morning and first have breakfast together. (You can’t become Muslim on an empty stomach! Everyone knows that). After breakfast, the fun part began. Fauzia showed us her suitcase full of headscarves. Then – oh wait, yes you read that correctly, a suitcase full of headscarves – we all chose a nice colourful combination. I found out that a headscarf is not just a headscarf; it actually consists of several elements: an under-scarf or turtleneck, a shawl and an optional headband. Fauzia arranged them skilfully, choosing different styles. When I looked in the mirror afterwards, I saw a completely different me. ‘Wow, this is actually not so bad!’ I thought. However, I still looked far from presentable. Having left my apartment with the illusion I looked modest, Fauzia soon helped me out of this dream. ‘You are too naked!’ she said. ‘I can see your under arms and legs. Oh, and your dress is see-through!’ ‘Right.’ For your information, it was 35 degrees that day. Still, I put on an extra legging and long sleeves and finally, got permission from Fauzia that we were good to go. Although I still cheated a little as I was wearing flip-flops meaning, my feet were naked. But, flip-flops with socks? I reckoned Allah wouldn’t mind…

What the Quran prescribes in terms of woman’s dress

“Let me briefly explain…”

Before continuing, let me briefly explain what the Quran actually prescribes in terms of woman’s clothing. (To find out, I unfortunately did not read the Quran but visited some forums instead). It turns out, there are two requirements in terms of woman’s clothes. First, a woman’s body has to be covered in such ways that only her face, hands, and feet are revealed. Secondly, the clothing must be loose enough so that the shape of the body is not visible. Also, women should not dress so as to look like men, they should not dress in a way similar to those who don’t believe in God and the clothing should be modest, neither ragged nor overly fancy. Obviously, different interpretations exist of what is said in the Quran therefore every Muslim applies the rules in different ways.

Let’s hit the road

Floor 3

As soon as we left the house I noticed one thing: being a Muslim woman can indeed be torturous. It was so hot! How do those women deal with this heat? My respect grew with every second. Sweat was dripping down from my face and back. I looked with envy at the krakowian girls in their light summer dresses and skirts. How nice it would be to feel the wind through my hair and cool off my skull. At the same time I became very conscious of naked skin. And naked skin was everywhere. I saw girls wearing hot pants and short tops. ‘Wow, they know no limits!’ I thought. The headscarf was starting to work on me. Secretly, we inspected the way people looked at us. It was hard to tell what they were thinking as we did not receive many ‘telling’ looks. However, with the exception of the children. When spotting us, they would grab their moms’ legs and point at us with bewildered looks. Maybe the adults could hold back their first reactions unlike children? If we got any reaction at all, though, it was quite positive. People smiled and looked at us with wonder. I actually felt a little special and exotic.

“I became very conscious of naked skin…”

We bought ice cream and sat down at the Rynek. In a way, it felt nice to be so covered up. I felt less exposed to the outside world, being literally and figuratively less ‘naked’. Emma told me afterwards that she appreciated wearing the headscarf. ‘Except for some worries about how people would respond, in some way or the other I enjoyed being hidden inside all those clothes, I’m not sure why.’ Claudia said she was surprised that it felt so normal wearing a headscarf but also added ‘As soon as we left the flat, I had almost forgotten about it.’ And forget we did. In the afternoon when we went for lunch, we talked freely about topics like homosexuality and partying. Okay, now people started to stare! At the end of the day I was happy to remove the headscarf, simply because it felt more comfortable. Would we have done the experiment in wintertime, I might have kept it on a few days more…

A reflection

Probably, you have an opinion yourself about Muslim veils. You might see them as a symbol of repression and subjugation, obviously as a symbol of religion. What else do you associate the Muslim veil such as the headscarf with? ‘Tradition,’ ‘conservativeness,’ ‘gender,’ ‘masculine culture,’ and ‘immigration’? What I suspect that will not cross your mind are ‘mysteriousness,’ ‘fashion,’ ‘culture,’ ‘Indonesia,’ ‘morality,’ and ‘protection.’ After having met Fauzia, and wearing a headscarf myself for one day, my perception has changed. Whereas beforehand I was critical and sceptical about Muslim veils, I now see that I misunderstood. Now, I can appreciate the headscarf as a cultural expression and I like how it makes woman’s hair (something so trivial in Western culture) into something highly mysterious.

“Now, I can appreciate the headscarf as a cultural expression…”

Exactly for this reason, I appreciate being part of MA Euroculture so much, as it enables me to meet people from various backgrounds. Studying Euroculture is not just about gaining scientific knowledge and skills; it is about learning to understand others and tackling prejudices. It is about becoming a better person. I will finish this article with a few words from Fauzia:

Floor 4

This experiment was not just about some European girls’ headscarf-curiosity (or my hijab fashion experiment over the girls’ hair). It was about understanding, respect, and tolerance. People in the world were created differently in order to get to know each other, weren’t they?!

About my one-day experiment being a Muslim woman and wearing a headscarf in Europe: I have passed through tough experiences of wearing a hijab in Europe. However, I see it as an opportunity rather than a setback on my path. I know I have to be no one else but myself. And I still have faith that good people will come to know each other by person and not by prejudice.

Floor profileFloor Boele van Hensbroek, People’s Editor

I am Floor, Dutch, and 25 years young/old. I studied interdisciplinary social sciences at Utrecht University before starting with Euroculture. I love travelling, dancing, art, theatre, documentaries, tasty food, classy wine and.. actually a lot of other things. I was born in the bush of Zambia with a bush of black curly hair, although now I’m blond as blond can be. I’m a cynical optimist, that looks for truth even though I believe that all truth is constructed.

Teacher Benjamin Martin “What’s special about Uppsala University? Well, we’re the oldest and coldest!”

Euroculture Uppsala has been one of the most popular universities in the MA Euroculture Consortium, when it comes to the number of students it attracts every semester. Rumor has it, ‘Ben’ might be the answer. The Euroculturer has invited Benjamin Martin, Programme Directer and Teacher of MA Euroculture at Uppsala University to ask about his work, his research, and Europe as he sees it.

Dr. Benjamin Martin

Benjamin Martin, Programme Director & Teacher

Euroculture Uppsala

Photo credit: Tom Weller 

Topic 1. Euroculture Uppsala

Q1) Hello, Benjamin. Could you briefly tell us about your job as Programme Director and Teacher of MA Euroculture in Uppsala University and also the courses that you’ve been teaching? Also, when was your first encounter of MA Euroculture and how did it happen?

I’ll take your questions in reverse order (and call me Ben). I first encountered the Euroculture program through a friend – Magnus Rodell, a Swedish historian whom my wife knew from university. He taught in the Euroculture program and recommended that I apply for an Erasmus Mundus fellowship as a “third country” visitor to the program. I got that fellowship and thus was able to to teach a bit in Euroculture at Uppsala in the fall of 2007, and then to attend the 2008 Intensive Programme(IP) in Krakow. These were both great experiences, but not ones that I thought would lead anywhere in particular. In 2008 I began a job teaching European history in San Francisco, and figured that was it for me and Euroculture. But life has a way of surprising you sometimes…

The job as director I say more about below. As for my teaching, I lead the historical part of the Fall semester group’s first course, “Historical and Religious perspectives,” as well as Eurocompetence I; in the Spring term I lead the IP preparation and methodology course.

“Life has a way of surprising you sometimes…”

Q2) Out of twelve Euroculture Consortium universities, what distinguishes Euroculture Uppsala? Also, Euroculture Uppsala is especially fit for students with research interests in which field? (from past students’ research topics)

Ah, that’s a tricky question. I’m not sure I know enough about all the other programs to say what’s distinctive about our program, except perhaps some obvious things; that we’re the oldest and coldest, for example. More seriously, the Euroculture teaching staff has its particular interests and specialties, but Uppsala University offers great opportunities for research in all sorts of fields, of course; I’ve been pleased to see how recent generations of students have done research in the most varied areas, and developed connections—through their thesis work or as part of a “research track” placement—with a whole range of departments and faculty members far beyond the Euroculture team.

Q3) What are the challenges of being a Programme Director in MA Euroculture programme? And what do you like most about the job?

Well, although it is a part-time job, it certainly doesn’t feel that way at certain times of the year. The position demands a rather spread out set of activities: planning course schedules one minute, evaluating a placement proposal another, communicating Uppsala University’s views to the Consortium office in Groningen, and vice versa, and so on. To say nothing of simply answering email, of course. I certainly have been learning a lot; about the workings of the Swedish university system, and about the pleasures and difficulties of pan-European university cooperation. Working in Euroculture, perhaps especially as a non-European, offers constant insight into (a small piece of) what European integration really is, how important it is, and how much work it can be!

What I like most are the personal contacts—with students, with faculty at Uppsala, and with our consortium partners. I am genuinely fond of the Euroculture gang, which, for example, makes the management meetings (while not on the face of it the most thrilling occasions) a pleasure to attend.

“I certainly have learned a lot about the pleasures and difficulties of pan-European university cooperation…”

Ben & Cameron

With Cameron Ross, Programme Coordinator of Euroculture Uppsala

Euroculture Uppsala

Topic 2. Your research

Q1) You are from the USA, but it seems like you have had strong interest in European literature, culture, and languages for a long time. You studied Romance Languages and Literatures (Italian) for your BA. What made you choose Europe and more specifically, Italy?

I spent a year as an exchange student in a small town in northern Italy in 1990-91, and while I was often homesick, etc., that really was a decisive moment in my life. I suppose it was the intensity of the experience—learning the language, figuring out a culture, getting an altered perspective on where one is from (all clichés, I know, but all true, too)—that got me so interested. That was also the first time I though hard about matters of identity; thinking for example about why it was not OK to speak northern Italian (Veronese) dialect in school, why people found it so hilarious if I tried to speak dialect myself, why the kids gave the girl from Calabria (in Italy’s South) such a hard time, and so on. I have since studied a lot of German history, and now have learned Swedish, but there are key features of Italian history that have continued to fascinate me and keep me coming back.

” There are key features of Italian history that fascinate me and keep me coming back…”

Q2) From the titles of your publications, I can see your enthusiasm in Fascism, Nazism, and the relationship of those two with Literature, Culture, Politics, and even Films.  What about Fascism and Nazism that fascinate you and also, how do the traces of them manifest in today’s world?

I’d like rapidly to dispel the notion that I am enthusiastic about either fascism or Nazism (!), but yes, I have spent a lot of time reading about them. I came to Italian culture and its history first, and in that way learned about fascism. My interest in Italian-German contacts and comparisons led me to study German history and to develop a project in which the Nazi regime was a major (but not the only) actor. I was and remain especially interested in the way Italian fascism, and later also Nazism, mobilized cultural life and aethestics as part of a poltical project. I have come to think that the political project itself cannot really be understood without reference to culture. The thing is that fascism and Nazism are not just two movements or regimes that happened to take place in Italy and Germany; they are important parts of the process by which those two countries entered and responded to modernity. So there are traces of them (and of immediate postwar responses to fascism and Nazism) everywhere – not only or necessarily in radical right-wing politics, but in the layout of towns and cities, the structures of politics, the tenor of public life, and so on.

Q3) Could you tell us about your current research project and plan for the future research?

I am writing on how Nazi German and fascist Italy collaborated and competed in an effort to create a “new order” in European cultural life in the 1930s and during World War II. As for what’s next, I have a variety of ideas, most of which have to do with the ideological history of international institutions.

Topic 3. Europe as you see it

Q1) One of the two themes of the 4th edition of The Euroculturer is ‘My Europe, as you see it.’ You have been living in Europe for quite a while and also have family here. From your experience, what is the strength of Europe despite the problems it is facing, most notably, economic crisis and high unemployment rate of young people?

Well, it is of course significant where you are looking from when you look at Europe. Living in Sweden and working in the European university world, a typical day in “my” Europe is characterized by functional public transport (in Stockholm, where I live), careful zoning laws that preserve the countryside in the train corridor from Stockholm to Uppsala, top-notch publically funded university facilities at Uppsala; and in the meantime my children are in good and free or highly subsidized school/daycare, to which we can bike from our home without crossing more than one street, because of the planned out and publically maintained network of bikepaths. Naturally, these things strike me because they are unlike life in most of the United States. Sweden is of course not the same as “Europe” in this regard, but it’s true that the Europe of my experience is a place where the mark of the interventionist state is all over the place, in planning and making possible a particular vision of democratic society, one that voters here chose over and over again. The irony, of course, is that these things I perceive as European (namely state intervention into the economy through high progressive taxation and large-scale investment) are now rejected or seen as impossible by European leaders as they struggle to respond to the current crisis. How broad really is the range of choices open to today’s Europe? That is of course a complex question. Greece can’t just decide to behave like Sweden, not least because the country does not control its own currency, but also for a host of geographical, economic, historical, and cultural reasons—just the sort of factors that make it so hard to talk about “Europe” at all, and that make it so interesting to study.

“The irony? The European state intervention is now rejected or seen as impossible by European leaders…”

Q2) You spent several years in Europe in your early twenties thanks to the fellowship you’ve received including Fulbright and German Chancellor fellowship. Even though you are still quite young, if you could compare the problems young people in Europe had faced at that time with those we are facing currently, what will be the biggest differences? Was it a better time back then or there is no difference at all? 

Well, I wasn’t in Sweden in 2000-2002, and now I am rarely in either Rome or Berlin (where I was then), so I cannot compare directly. One key thing is surely the economic (and thus social) changes that have come along with the Euro. That is, I do feel lucky to have been among the last generation of American students to live in the Italy of the lira. One lived pretty well, even on a graduate stipend, and even in central neighborhoods of Rome where no student could afford to live today, and where the family grocery stores have become high-end boutiques. Another difference is that there was then a great deal of optimism and energy—some of it rather naïve, no doubt—about Europe and European integration. The tone when one even said the word “Europe” was far sunnier in the Italy of 2001 than it is today, for obvious reasons. The speed with which that semantic shift has taken place has been really striking, although it should not surprise attentive students of the history of the European idea.

” I feel lucky to have been among the last generation of American students to live in the Italy of the lira…”

Q3) How is it like to live in Sweden? If you could choose another European country to live, which one will it be? Italy?

Sweden is very good to me. When I dream of being somewhere else, it is usually particular cities rather than countries that come to mind; and above all Berlin—the most stimulating place I’ve lived, and Europe’s real cultural (and now, in spite of the Germans’ best intentions, political) capital city.

Topic 4. Useful tips?

Q1) Any professional tips for recent graduate of MA Euroculture looking for jobs? How can our degree be valuable?

My own professional life is so wrapped up in the university world that I am reluctant to offer advice about careers outside of it (I have only theoretical knowledge of this so-called “real world” that I hear about sometimes). I will say that I believe what makes a Euroculture degree “valuable” is not to be measured only in terms of direct economic value. That is, the experience you have in the program, the skills you develop, things you learn, the talents and interests that you discover or advance, the personal and professional connections you make—these can all be sources of meaning and personal satisfaction. And indeed it is sometimes by following them up in that spirit—pursuing issues that really seem interesting and important, cultivating networks with people you like and who are interesting, and thus gaining access to the places where people are addressing those issues—that people find good jobs. Or rather, that’s one way of finding a way to get paid for being active in an area you care about.

Q2) Could you recommend any books or films to the Euroculture students who are in the crossroad of their lives?

I think my film or book recommendations aren’t worth so much, but I will recommend reading big, long, and demanding books while one still has time; The Brothers Karamazov, for example. As for being at the crossroads of life, making choices, and so on, I have gotten a lot from M. Czikszentmihalyi’s Flow. If one wants to be happy, it’s helpful to find out that smart people have been working hard on figuring out what happiness is and how it works. Then one can begin to see how to incorporate that insight into shaping one’s own life.

“Read big, long, and demanding books while one still has time…like The Brothers Karamazov…”

Thank you very much, Ben, for sharing your story with The Euroculturer. We wish you all the best in everything you do, especially your job as Programme Director and Teacher at Euroculture Uppsala and also your current and future research!

Editor’s words: We express our sincerest gratitude to Teacher Benjamin Martin who accepted the invitation to share his invaluable professional experience of MA Euroculture, his academic journey so far, and also stories of his good old days in Europe as an exchange student.  

An EU Internship in Bangkok

Eike Bangkok2 (1)

Eike-Maria Hinz │eike.maria.hinz@googlemail.com

Thailand: a country of amazing beaches, beautiful nature, sex tourism, the metropolis Bangkok and delicious Thai food. I guess those are the main associations for many people who consider Thailand as a holiday destination. There is much truth in all of these aspects.

“A country of amazing beaches, beautiful nature, sex tourism, the metropolis Bangkok and delicious Thai food…”

How did I end up in Bangkok then? I wanted to do an internship in Asia for my third semester of MA Euroculture. Hence, I wanted to explore and discover an unknown area of the world for me, such as Asia, whilst linking it to my internship. South East Asia seemed most attractive among others, keeping in mind all the nice vacation pictures mentioned above. With some luck I received one of the highly competitive trainee placements and could work from July until October 2013 at the European Union Delegation to Thailand. Politically speaking, this Delegation is established in the framework of the EEAS (European External Action Service) and functions as an EU Diplomatic Mission, with an EU Ambassador as a mouthpiece of the European Union vis-à-vis the authorities and the population of Thailand.

“I am the trainee at the Press & Information Section at the EEAS…”

I am the trainee at the Press & Information Section (other sections in Delegation at the EEAS are: Political, Trade and Cooperation). As such, I am responsible for the Delegation’s Facebook page, a brochure about an EU Seminar concerning the Rule of Law in Myanmar with Aung San Suu Kyi, the European Heritage Map Bangkok, the Erasmus Mundus Program in Thailand and lots of other interesting assignments. My daily routine is shaped by internet recherché for new Facebook posts, drafting around twenty e-mails a day, arranging cultural meetings and preparing diplomatic and visibility events. I learn a lot and read interesting articles everyday such as EU press releases or Thai news, which gives me new insights into the EU -Thailand relationship.

Besides the work in the office, living in Bangkok is a unique challenge. Bangkok is the most visited city in the world according to Master Card Global Destination Cities Index 2013 and, believe me, everyday (especially during the rush hours: 7:30-11 am and 16-19 pm) this city overflows with people, cars and tourists. While officially the population is approximately 9 million inhabitants, unofficially greater Bangkok counts 20 million people. This is an urban challenge to go to work, get food, buy things or simply get from point A to point B. But the city offers a lot: skyscrapers, parks, Buddhist temples, the Kings Palace, over five huge shopping malls, cuisines and products from around the world, fancy nightclubs, sky bars and delicious Thai street food for 1€.

“It is…horizon expanding.”

My life as a trainee at EEAS in Bangkok can be best summed up in two words, ‘horizon expanding’. Not only as a working experience for the EU but in every sense, in meeting new people from all over the world, in understanding the culture of Thailand and South East Asia as well as in reflecting my own German and European mindset and heritage. As I have met other interns (mostly European, who are called “farang” by the Thais) working at embassies, consulting or tourism firms, NGOs or start-ups here, it is clear to me that Bangkok is a real intern magnet and hence the ‘Bangkok Intern Network’ works quite well when it comes to finding friends, sharing flats or just hanging out. I guess all internship experiences in Bangkok are quite diverse but am pretty sure somehow an internship here will definitely open up your eyes. My internship is not yet over but still, if you would ask me whether I would do it again? The answer would be: Of course, YES!

Eike profileEike-Maria Hinz, Contributing Writer

Eike is from Germany and started MA Euroculture in 2012. She studied Political Science and History for her BA from the University Mannheim, Germany. In her first semester of MA Euroculture, Eike discovered the cold snowy sides and the warmhearted mentality of Uppsala, Sweden. In the second semester, however, she experienced the fascinating cultural and historical richness of Krakow, Poland. Her passions are the USA (she was there during her high school days), ballet and food (cooking and eating) as well as philosophy and anything concerning culture, heritage and tradition.