Finding an Alumnus (1) – A Journey to Moscow

Pushkin Square, Moscow

Eunjin Jeong │eunjin.lynn@gmail.com

To my surprise, I was a bit tongue-tied when I first met Alex in front of Pushkin’s statue in Pushkin Square, Moscow on a Sunday afternoon. He was emitting aura which made me forget what I had prepared to say. What am I doing in Moscow? Unfortunately, it seemed like I couldn’t remember why I was there. This is embarrassing. I wanted to sound like a real journalist but apparently it was not working. I just wished I could fool him for the next two hours.

The timing Alex appeared in my life couldn’t have been better. Six weeks before, during the Euroculture Intensive Programme (IP) in Bilbao, Spain, I was anxiously preparing to start an online magazine, The Euroculturer, in the MA Euroculture community. I was also looking for ways to bring alumni back to Euroculture. I heard Alex speak on Career Day and thought that his story could be a great example to many Euroculture students wishing to expand their horizons during their studies. What would be the best way to cover him? I wanted to find out something other than what he already presented on Career Day. Then I got an idea. After the IP, I contacted Alex to ask if I could meet him in Moscow. A few weeks later, in the middle of August, I found myself in Moscow, lost in Cyrillic but full of spirit.

Alex playing Bass in Kilt

On the way to the restaurant from Pushkin square, as I relaxed a bit, Alex gave me a few details of his life. He studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.  Scottish men wearing skirts came up in conversation and he told me that he also had a kilt. He wore it for various occasions but mainly in his ceilidh band, Achtung Ceilidh, where he played bass for a few years. He has played guitar for about 15 years and music has always been a big part of his life. Cool.

At the restaurant, Alex ordered for both of us, my Russian not being so hot. I wondered how good his Russian was and he said it was functional to the extent that he could communicate with his Russian colleagues. When asked why he chose to work in Russia, he told me that he had worked in Moscow before he started the MA Euroculture programme. He hit it off with the city and that’s why he decided to come back when he got a job offer. I asked about his current job at BKC International House Moscow where he has a mouthful of a title: Executive Centre Assistant Director of Studies. The job is a healthy mix of teaching, management and training teachers. It’s the variety that makes it, he said.

When the food arrived, I asked more questions about his Euroculture years. He started Euroculture in 2009 at Uppsala University. Outside of the classroom, he was hired as International Secretary of the Uppsala Association of International Affairs, helping to organise weekly public lectures. He joined the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA) just before moving to the University of Deusto in Bilbao for the second semester. In the EMA he was selected as course representative for Euroculture and was given the chance to participate in the Madrid General Assembly and Communications Conference in Bordeaux. After joining EMA, he wrote regularly for their in-house magazine, EMANATE, and worked closely with the EMA communications team. The idea of his most recent project, Human[i]ties Perspective, was born out of this network, but also from a joint initiative of the EMA and OCEANS Network called Realise It.

In Bilbao where the Night Marathon took place

Our plates were almost empty when his research interests came up. While keeping himself busy with EMA activities, Alex found the topic of cultural diplomacy interesting. He wrote his IP paper on town twinning, a form of cultural cooperation between two cities, which he further developed in his Master’s thesis. He completed an internship with an EU-funded project, Monitors of Culture, hosted by the University of Deusto, on the role of cultural observatories in Europe in the future. Talking about Bilbao reminded me of his charity marathon which impressed me so much − Forrest Gump being one of my favourite movies – that he had spoken about on Career Day during the IP. Rather enthusiastically, I asked about his marathon and he told me the story in detail. Back in 2010, Alex and a friend of his, George, decided to raise money for charity by running the Bilbao Night Marathon. He’s a passionate runner so it was not intended only for charity, but also for fun. The marathon was a great success and they raised over 4,000 US$ for charity: to help build a well in northern Ethiopia. The support from his Euroculture colleagues, both financial and emotional, was amazing, he said. His charity work, highlighted by the marathon in Bilbao, was one of the reasons why Alex was selected as 2012 EMA Star. Other reasons include his dedication to the EMA communications team and his role in Human[i]ties Perspective, an annual two-day conference with which he has been actively involved since 2011.

Before we parted, Alex said that Euroculture, which distinguishes itself from other Master’s programmes mostly by its mobility aspect, could also be a ‘platform’ for the wider world once you start to see how to get involved. I asked if joining the EMA was one of the critical moments of his life. The word ‘critical’ seemed to entertain him fairly but he soon admitted that it was pretty important because it widened his Euroculture experience and eventually brought Human[i]ties Perspective into his life, not to mention an amazing group of friends from all over the world. Cool, I thought and wished that more Euroculturers would take advantage of what EMA could offer. Then we both looked down at our watches. He had to interview some new staff at work shortly and I had no more questions left. It was time to go.

Finding an Alumnus (2) – The journey continues

Eunjin Jeong, Editor-in-chief

Eunjin is from South Korea and studied Education for her BA. She began MA Euroculture in October 2011 in the University of Göttingen, later studied in the University of Strasbourg, did a research track in Uppsala University and currently finishing her MA thesis in Strasbourg. Her research interests lie in finding ways for diaspora groups to feel as ‘citizens at heart’ in host countries. Eunjin is a part-time realist and a full-time idealist.

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Winning ALBA Thesis Prize : ”Try to use Chekhov’s Gun”

Lora Markova (2012 ALBA Thesis Prize Winner)

The Euroculturer interviews Lora Markova, the winner of the 2012 ALBA (Annual Liesbeth Brouwer Award) Thesis Prize. We all saw her being awarded with the prize during the Gala dinner at the Intensive Programme in Bilbao this summer. We know that the award is a great asset for one’s academic future, not to mention a reward for all the tears shed while struggling with the Master’s thesis.

11 questions to answer…

Q1. Hello, Lora. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

–       Hello, The Euroculturer! I come from Bulgaria and I completed MA Euroculture with an Erasmus Mundus Grant at Deusto University, Bilbao as my home university and Georg-August University, Göttingen as my host university between October 2010 and March 2012. During my third semester I conducted a research track at Pune University, India – a great opportunity for intercultural interaction, and theoretical and empirical studies. My research interests focus on (new) media arts, interactivity, modes of contemporary spectatorship and transmedia, transculturality and cross-cultural exchange of aesthetic codes and cultural repertoires.

Q2. What did you study for your Bachelor’s degree and where? Did your previous studies help you when you were writing your Master’s thesis? If so, in what way?

–       I graduated with a BA in Animation Cinema and Visual Arts from the New Bulgarian University, Sofia with a Socrates/Erasmus exchange in Semiotics at the University of Torino, Italy. After this rather practical training in creative arts I shifted towards art theory and graduated with a MA in Media Culture and a MA in Arts Management from Maastricht University, the Netherlands. Within my studies I carried out internships at the Netherlands Media Art Institute (NIMk) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN), also in Amsterdam, and a Blue-Book traineeship at the European Commission, Brussels. Living in different European cities and shifting cultural contexts triggered my interest to explore Europe as a cultural project. Thus, Euroculture was a unique opportunity to revisit my knowledge of arts and media in a European context and to enrich my research scope with intercultural communication perspectives. In this sense, my previous experience was helpful in writing my thesis, but gaining novel theoretical and methodological knowledge and ‘Eurocompetences’ was also central for my research.

Q3. What is the ‘Euroculture approach’ that the jury of ALBA thesis prize emphasise when grading a Master’s thesis? (It is written on the ALBA thesis prize webpage of the Euroculture website that a ‘Euroculture approach’ is important in order to be awarded the prize.) Could you give us one or two examples, in your opinion?

–       I guess that the approach of a truly interdisciplinary programme as Euroculture involves conducting interdisciplinary research that reflects current European socio-political and cultural dynamics and deals with Europe as an entity always in an on-going process.

Q4. What does “approaching the related problems in an interdisciplinary manner” mean (as also seen on the webpage)? They said it’s important in order to be awarded the prize. What is an example of ‘interdisciplinary manner’? How do you think it applied in your thesis?

–       I understand the interdisciplinary manner as approaching your research problem from multiple (theoretical) perspectives, overcoming disciplinary boundaries and establishing a ‘third space’ between academic fields. Within my thesis I explored transculturality (as a philosophical paradigm and a cultural praxis) in between cultural studies, film and media studies, art history, reception studies, sociology, human geography, post-colonial perspectives and psychology. What I find helpful in this direction is to study carefully the various texts and theories suggested by the Euroculture lecturers and to conduct in-depth research on your chosen topic.

Q5.  Who sits on the jury of the prize?

–       Academic staff from each of the European universities in the consortium, I believe.

Q6. Could you please tell us about your experience working with your two supervisors? Were they helpful? Professors are usually extremely busy, but how did you managed to get useful advices from them? Do you have any tips on this?

–       Of course, it was very helpful receiving feedback from Dr. Asier Altuna and Dr. Lars Klein, as their remarks could indicate to what extent I had expressed and managed my research objectives and outcomes. Indeed, tutors are very busy, and thus it is necessary to be enthusiastic about your own research project, revise your text periodically and question your supervisors and yourself as to whether deeper insights can be achieved.

Q7. When you were writing your thesis, how did you deal with ups and downs in your mood?

–       For me writing my thesis was quite an immersive experience and I devoted my time exclusively to it. In order to cope with procrastination I tried to exclude other activities. Still, after finishing each chapter I would take a day off for travelling and meeting friends so that I could create some space between the text and myself before proceeding further. What helped me in terms of time management was to think of writing my thesis as just writing three or four very good IP papers!

Q8. When did you know that you were going to be awarded the ALBA prize?

–       Shortly before the award ceremony (during the Gala dinner of the IP), or three months after submitting my thesis.

Q9. Do students for whom English is not their native language have to get their Master’s thesis copy edited (or, at least, proof read) before they submit it? Did you?

–       That sounds like a good idea! While writing, I shared and discussed the paper only with my supervisors, appointing specific time to edit each chapter before submitting it in order to minimize possible mistakes. Still, I guess it might be effective to use external help when dealing with such a volume of text.

Q10. What are the three most important things to keep in mind when writing a good thesis, do you think?

–       First, it is necessary to choose a topic that you care deeply about. Thus, spending several months on your thesis can be satisfying and interesting for you. It is also helpful to start the research process early and to communicate your ideas to a broader audience (e.g. already during the Intensive Programme, conferences and workshops). For example, I presented one of my case studies at a Human(i)ties Perspectives conference in Hamburg University in 2011, which was an opportunity to gain impressions on the peer reception of my research. Moreover, writing on issues that you are passionate about will allow you to use and expand your thesis after graduation. Last month I participated in the Young Cultural Policy Researchers Forum within the ENCATC Annual Conference, Networked Culture, at Goldsmiths College in London which is another platform for knowledge exchange. I mention these events as potentially valuable opportunities for a greater range of Euroculture students.

Next, I would say try to use “Chekhov’s Gun”. As you probably know, the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov formulated the dramatic axiom claiming that if there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, the gun should be fired in a later act; otherwise it should not be displayed at all. In this sense, everything you mention in your thesis should be for a reason. Thus, it is helpful to delineate your scope by excluding certain topics and to keep some research questions for further studies.

Finally, it is important to be familiar with the ALBA criteria, as they signify academic excellence, and to consider which topic can be innovative in the context of the existing Euroculture titles. At the same time, I think one should not worry about any award while writing as it is beyond the knowledge of the students whose paper will be nominated. For instance, with regards to the high quality and diversity of approaches, I was able to imagine that at least five of my friends and former classmates could have qualified for the prize as well. Thus, I find it as relevant to establish your own standard – let’s say, write in a manner you would like to be published. Then, try to turn the whole process of working on your thesis into an intellectually rewarding experience and hopefully it will be ‘awarding’ as well.

Q11. What is your plan for the future?

–       As a member of the Union of Bulgarian Artists I have been involved in several art and cultural projects in the last few months, and so my intention is to continue in this direction. I will keep you updated, and thank you, The Euroculturer, for inviting me to share my experiences as a Euroculturer.

Thank you very much for your answers, Lora. We wish you the best with everything you do!

Take Action – A Common Graduation Ceremony for Euroculturers

Anne Kurzweg | anne.kurzweg@gmail.com

It was during the Intensive Programme in Bilbao when the thought “Let’s have a common graduation!” came up. The idea arose in the middle of a process that tied us, the 2011-2013 MA Euroculture students, closer together but which, at the same time, marked already half-time on the Master programme’s clock. In the middle of making new contacts and reviving friendships from the first semester, we felt that the IP was a truly unique occasion to get together on the way to achieving our joint degree – one that would not come back. It is hard to say – maybe the felicitous gala dinner gave the key incentive for the idea, or maybe it was the melancholy that came with saying goodbye to so many marvellous people… Maybe, as we move between countries and universities, personal contacts become more important than places. And almost naturally, we strive for a common, dignified closing point, after all the effort put into this prestigious Master programme.

The discussion about the how-when-where that had barely begun during the IP shifted to our Facebook group in June. By the end of July, 55 of the approximately 80 2011-2013 Euroculture students had participated in or read the entries, and about 30 of them had actively ‘liked’ the overall idea. One of the first issues discussed was the location – where should a common graduation ceremony be held? There were proposals reaching from Krakow to Hawaii and from Groningen to Uppsala. Another of the first concerns was about additional costs for travelling and accommodation, and many wondered if there was some funding possibility as was the case for the IP. The motivation to set up a common graduation ceremony had started to materialise in concrete issues.

The first joint Euroculture graduation
(12-13 October 2012 in Göttingen)

Surprisingly, we have come to know only recently that preparations for the first joint “Euroculture Alumni Day and Graduation Ceremony” had already started at that time. Unnoticed by most of us, a news article appeared in the Euroculture group on the EMA (Erasmus Mundus Students and Alumni Association) website at the end of July, inviting Euroculture graduates, alumni and their relatives and friends to the event. The first joint Euroculture graduation, which was held 12-13 October in the Göttingen, was primarily organized for Göttingen home and host students, but was also open to students from the other universities. So it gathered graduates from the years 2008- 2012 and represented a meeting of former Euroculture students at the same time. The approximately 90 participants and guests from all over the world enjoyed highlights like a common dinner, certificate awarding ceremony and a casual get-together with snacks and drinks. While travelling and accommodation costs were not covered, the university offered to make reservations with the university discount.

When I started writing this article, I believed it would be with the mission to get a common graduation ceremony on the way. What it does now is to announce that a dream that many of us shared has already come true. Really, Prof. Dr. Tamcke from the University of Göttingen seems to sum up our feelings perfectly when he says: “If you finish your studies it’s not a mechanical thing alone. You need something also to feel that it’s a special point of your life and you need to celebrate it a bit”. In the end, the joint graduation ceremony and the alumni network are those characteristics of the MA programme that have the ability to carry the Euroculture spirit beyond its physical limits: staying in contact, keep meeting other Euroculturers, keep sharing ideas about Europe.

A last question remains: does all this mean that we can actually count on a graduation ceremony for us next year? Or one in some years time at least? Well, it looks like it! The University of Göttingen writes on its homepage: “Euroculture Göttingen would like to thank the participants for coming and helping us set up a wonderful tradition!” and announces that the event will be held on a yearly basis from now on. It’s just that… have we ever heard officially of such a ceremony for us? Let’s make sure, just in case. Take it as a mission to keep talking about the graduation ceremony in any possible Euroculture context, ask at your universities about it, tell all the Euroculture students and staff, and, if you like, even try to get involved in the organisation of the event. There’s no offer without a request for it, and we are here to make things happen the way we like them!

News article on EMA website: community.em-a.eu/networks/groups/course_48/news/news.65

University of Göttingen’s report about the “First Joint Euroculture Alumni Day and Graduation Ceremony”: www.uni-goettingen.de/de/414291.html

Videoclip on Youtube “First Joint Euroculture Alumni Day and Graduation Ceremony”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqJnm64oTvE

Anne Kurzweg, Contributing Writer

Anne has a BA degree in Social Sciences and studied MA Euroculture in the University of Deusto, Bilbao and Uppsala University. Currently, she is an intern at the European Capital of Culture office in San Sebastian. Minority languages, cross-border cooperation and peace studies are some of her favourite subjects, and she recently got absorbed by the idea of social transformation through civic participation… Yes, she is one of those do-gooders.

Favourite European Songs : “Dickes B reminds me of my adventures in Berlin”

Most of Europe’s popular music is made in either the United States or Great Britain, or is at least influenced greatly by American and British popular music, if only for the fact that a lot of popular music in non-English-speaking Europe is, nonetheless, sung in English. Some countries even try to battle this trend: the French government, for instance, passed a law in 1994 for a Francophone quarter where at least 40% of the music played on the radio must be sung in French.

Albert Meijer | albert_meijer@hotmail.com

Whether it’s Bach, Beyoncé or the Backstreet Boys, music is important in everyday life: to listen to, to dance to, to identify with, and to think about. Listening to a certain kind of music can be a great influence in the (sub) culture you identify with, be it punk, folk, or jazz.

Music transcends borders. Take hip hop, for example. With roots in African rhythms, Caribbean sound systems, call-and-response songs of slave workers, political speeches in the era of the American Civil Rights Movement and jazz, it has flown over from the American ghettoes to the poor and rich neighbourhoods of European cities, to the islands of Japan and even to the icy plains of Greenland, where Inuit rappers use hip hop as a medium of protest against Danish language hegemony.

While some politicians stress the importance of a pure, unified culture, the truth is that this ‘pure’ culture has been tainted by foreign influences for centuries. In the case of music, the strongest example is the Americanization and Anglicization of popular music. Most of Europe’s popular music is made in either the United States or Great Britain, or is at least influenced greatly by American and British popular music, if only for the fact that a lot of popular music in non-English-speaking Europe is, nonetheless, sung in English. Some countries even try to battle this trend: the French government, for instance, passed a law in 1994 for a Francophone quarter where at least 40% of the music played on the radio must be sung in French.

At The Euroculturer, we thought we would follow the French idea to reset the focus of popular music on European songs, although non-English language is not required to make the list. We asked several MA Euroculture students for their favourite European songs.

Polish student Beata Brozèk’s favourite European song is “To Ostatnia Niedziela”, by Mieczysław Fogg, meaning “This is the Last Sunday”. It’s a Polish tango from the 1930s, and is also known as ”The Suicide Tango” because of its morbid lyrics. “It was my grandparents’ favourite song. They would always listen to it during dances and dates. It was my favourite song when I was a child. Now that I am married, I understand more and more why it is so powerful”, she says. The song is about a person begging his/her loved one to give him/her the last Sunday before they will part forever. “In Poland, Sunday was the ultimate day for dates, where you would usually have coffee, a long walk, and maybe a kiss”, Beata tells us.

Sheila Pilli from Italy suggests a hip hop song with reggae-influences from Germany: “Dickes B” by Seeed. The song is about Berlin, which is evident in the video, in which the rappers and musicians walk through many Berlin hotspots. “When I went on a trip to Berlin, I met a guy in a club. We spent some time together, and he showed me the video for this song. I love the song and the video, it reminds me of my adventures in Berlin”, Sheila says.

Nokchachom Cheskhun, a student from Thailand who is better known as Pippa, chose her favourite song as “El Rey de Francia”, sung by Savinna Yannatou. If any of these songs are ‘truly European’, it is this one: the singer is Greek, the song is an 18th century traditional from Asia Minor, it is sung in Ladino (a Jewish language close to Spanish), and it is about the daughter of the King of France who dreams about love. “A Spanish friend hummed the tune, and I asked him what song it was. I looked it up and fell in love with the sweet melody and listened to it every day. It soothes my busy soul”, Pippa says. “It’s a dreamlike poem. I wish to sing this song one day”.

Swedish-Greek student George Tsarsitalidis also picks a Greek singer, Eleutheria Arvanitaki, as one of his favourites. “She is really famous in Greece, but also in other countries. She sings melancholic songs, and she is amazing”. Another favourite of his, well-known pop star Robyn, is from the country of his other nationality: Sweden. “Robyn is really famous in Sweden. I like the song ‘Dancing on My Own’, because it’s a good song to dance to”.

Albert Meijer, People’s Editor

Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Albert writes about the student body of the MA Euroculture programme. His academic interests lie in the fields of (sub)cultural studies, music science, sociology, and gender and queer studies. In his spare time, Albert likes writing and singing mediocre songs, walking through typhoons, making video blogs and getting stuck in difficult yoga positions.

Food vs. Life

ATKA ATUN | atka_brozek@yahoo.com

Since my pre-teens I’ve gone through obesity, bulimia, being overweight, being underweight, reaching my perfect BMI, and being overweight again. I guess I can honestly say that my relationship with food is long, complicated and sometimes toxic. Being a good Polish woman I still love food and will stay with it forever.

After a semester in Strasbourg, France, I came back home to discover that I had not only gained eight extra kilos but also, according to my doctor, was ten kilos overweight. Numbers are brutal, I can tell you, especially when your relationship with food seemed to be the perfect one. On that day, I promised myself to answer an eternal question: is it possible to have a good and healthy relationship with food without going crazy?

For some people, rules are simple: eating 4-5 times a day; eating fruit and vegetables 4-5 times a day; eating only seasonal food; quitting salt, simple sugars, pork, trans fats, processed foods and, yes, restaurants because you always have to know what you eat. You should not forget to drink at least 2 litres of mineral water every day, but never more than 3 or 4. I found myself in quite a situation while trying to ‘quit’ water. Apparently, my daily 6 litres is nowadays known as ‘aqua-holism’ and to put it simply: makes you look puffier and troubles your overwhelmed kidneys. Speaking of drinking, consumption of alcohol should be minimized to 200ml of wine per day for women and 300ml for men (unfortunately, days of abstinence do not count as an extra 200 or 300ml on a Saturday!). Other kinds of alcohol are not even considered as part of a healthy diet, which I find weird since the same amount of beer daily is a well-known medicine for purifying the kidneys.

I read all these rules and thought that a relationship like that must suck, and hard! First of all, no cuisine in the world can ever exist without salt. Secondly, eating 4 times a day, not to mention 5, is hard enough without being forced to eat 4 strawberries after each meal. Why? Because diet specialists also strengthen the fact that we should eat no more than 200g of fruit per day, split in fours or fives. Thirdly, no one ever made a good, even homemade, pizza on full grained flour. Believe me, I have tried and it was bad. Fourth, how can you study without eating out? I know some people are able to carry their homemade food around but not all of us have the time, energy or skills to prepare their meals as healthy take-out. Nevertheless, I myself am not a big fan of pork, trans-fats or processed foods which are obviously dangerous to our health, so these rules are do-able for me.

But let’s go back to my semester in Strasbourg. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t plan to indulge myself in France. I love cooking and the amount of products, cook books, and cuisines in Alsace is surreal in comparison to Kraków; and something I had to take advantage of. I was not scared since I had read a fabulous bestselling book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano, and knew the nation’s secrets to maintaining a good figure. These rules can be summarized as follows: eat only three times a day, eat as tiny portions as possible (seriously, they can be really good as miniature meals), do not eat junk food, drink a lot of water and no more than two glasses of wine as your only alcohol and never without food. To me, it sounded like enjoying life!

But in Strasbourg there are macaroons…and lots of them. Every single pastry shop has its own secret flavours and you can choose between rose, mint, white and dark chocolate, blackberry, honey and so on. Not to mention the classic – Pierre Herme – that you can visit at Galeries Lafayette that sells ketchup, truffles, fois gras and other crazy macaroon flavours (2,90euro/piece) that seriously can change your views on life itself. Amazing Christian offers all sorts of flavours and sizes, although in that place it is best to try their hand-made chocolates. Naegel, that you will fall in love with after trying its famous Alsatian tartlette with pork, also offers some mind-blowing king-size macaroons (loving their cassis and rose giants). So it goes, like Kurt Vonnegut likes to say, all for “doing it like French women do – enjoy and be skinny”.

Three months after coming back home overweight, I have tried to be: indifferent towards my figure; to be a non-social, carrot-licking zombie chasing vegetables and fruit  5 times a day (with nowhere to go but Heaven); and finally, I have tried to be both. Once or twice a week I have some dark chocolate with earl grey leaves, a family bag of salty chips or a pack of salty sunflower seeds – because I love it. Now, I only add salt when it’s necessary and try using other spices to pump up the flavours. Two glasses of wine seem reasonable, because it’s good to be up the next day. When I have money I go to have some food at my favourite French bistro. After a month of being on both sides of the force I have lost three kilos.

Is my relationship with food perfect? No. Nevertheless, it’s the only one I can live with without going crazy and most of all – the only one that makes me human.

ATKA ATUN, Literature Editor

Atka is from Poland and completed her studies in linguistics with a specialization in intercultural communication. She has studied in Krakow,
Paris, and Strasbourg, and is currently doing a research track in Japan. Atka has been researching Japanese literature and the influence of minority cuisines on those of ‘host’ countries. She carries her dog around wherever she goes, and eats way too much weird food.

Finding an Alumnus (2) – The Journey Continues

“The calling of the humanities is to make us truly human in the best sense of the word” – J. Irwin Miller

Eunjin Jeong │eunjin.lynn@gmail.com

I wasn’t surprised when I found myself in Copenhagen in early October to participate in the Human[i]ties Perspective12 conference at Roskilde University, Denmark. Having learned that the HP12 team, currently led by Alex, had been working very hard for the conference despite their full-time jobs, I wanted to witness the fruition of their year-long effort.

Roskilde is a city which can be reached by a half-hour train ride from Copenhagen. When I got out of the train station, cute little signs that the HP12 team had placed here and there led me safely to the conference hall of Roskilde University. I found the hall to be very big and modern, and equipped with high-tech facilities. From the programme booklet handed out by HP12 team at the registration, I learned that the two-day programme had four themes: Communication and Media, Women’s Empowerment, Cultural Diplomacy and Cultural Policy, and finally, Education. Career orientations, which added a practical dimension to all of the themes, were yet another important part of the programme.

“Welcome to our conference”

The conference began at 10am with Alex’s opening plenary which was followed by welcoming messages from the organisers from Roskilde University. I could tell from the speakers’ tones that there was excitement in the air. With butterflies in my stomach, I looked around and saw the anticipating faces of the other participants. This is going to be great.

Each lecture lasted for fifteen to thirty minutes which perfectly fit my attention span. I liked that they had senior speakers, who were more experienced professors and researchers, while the junior speakers, most of whom were promising PhD students, made the whole programme even more vibrant. Each ninety-minute session was followed by a well-organised coffee break where I met interesting people from all over the world. The senior speakers, who were mostly prestigious professors from well-known universities, were very down to earth and open-minded so I could talk to them about everything from Gangnam style to my research interests. Also, I found three more Euroculturers in the conference: Kim, one of the HP12 organisers with whom I enjoyed talking to at later sessions; Natalia, who also spoke at the Career Day of the Euroculture Intensive Programme in Bilbao earlier this year; and Xiaohan, a junior speaker who studied MA Euroculture back when it was a one-year programme. What was happening on the spot, I could feel, was the expansion of networks in the fields of humanities and social sciences, while MA Euroculture was surely doing its share. Most of the participants have had various international experiences which obviously showed during the Q&A sessions. Cool. My favourite lecture was that of a Danish researcher who had written a very interesting paper on the masculinity of the Somali Diaspora in Denmark; a leadership workshop during the last session which lasted for more than two hours was another inspiring experience. A networking dinner at a Mexican restaurant pleasantly ended the first day of the conference. It was a very enjoyable night filled with delicious food, nice people with similar interests, and anticipations of the remaining programme awaiting us.

The HP12 team (another Euroculturer, Kim, on Alex’s right)

The second day went smoothly as well with interesting topics, cultural diplomacy being one which reminded me that a cultural product does not have to be ‘noble’ to make people interested in a different culture. The professor gave Gangnam style as an example. The theme of Education, which sent me back to my undergraduate years especially when the term ‘multiple intelligence’came up, was also very fresh and interesting, while my favourite lecture was that of the founder of Unexus.org who knew a lot of cool quotes. During the closing ceremony, I learned from Alex that the future goal of the HP team is to develop the Humanities Professional Network through the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA) which will gather like-minded EMA graduates in one place. When I heard the phrase ‘TEDx in EMA network’, I thought it was a brilliant idea, rather ambitious but not too much if the long-term effects of the project could be seen by many.

Lake in the campus on the way to the conference hall

After the grand finale of the two-day conference, I went to say goodbye to Alex who was still overwhelmed with all the well-deserved congratulations from many people. I thanked him for the wonderful conference which had brought me the feeling of hope and empowerment as a humanities student, not to mention much knowledge, insights, and the network I developed during the two days. The biggest joy, however, came from witnessing a Euroculturer at the core of this wonderful project. Leaving Roskilde University and walking alone again towards the train station, I felt very warm inside despite the typically cold air of Danish autumn. It was a special Saturday evening in early October and my mission to uncover the life of a Euroculture alumnus, Alex Bunten, before, during, and after Euroculture, had started in Moscow and been completed in Roskilde.

Finding an Alumnus (1) – A Journey to Moscow

Eunjin Jeong, Editor-in-chief

Eunjin is from South Korea and studied Education for her BA. She began MA Euroculture in October 2011 in the University of Göttingen, later studied in the University of Strasbourg, and is currently doing a research track in Uppsala University. Her research interests lie in finding ways for diaspora groups to feel as ‘citizens at heart’ in host countries. Eunjin is a part-time realist and a full-time idealist.

Indianapolis: upholding “Hoosier values”

Ludmila Vávrová | lidavavrova@gmail.com

What is it that reflects the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana the most? It is the ‘red pickup truck’. In my very first picture of Indianapolis, I captured this favourite car of the ‘typical Indian resident’. I was wondering, why is it so popular here? My American classmates explained to me that it’s like with “Hoosier values”. Indeed, this explanation did not help me at all. But then I had a chance to watch the political campaign ads of candidates running for the office of Governor of Indiana and finally figured out this mystery of Indiana’s culture. John Gregg, a Democratic candidate, explains: “To hold ‘Hoosier values’ means to respect hard work, personal responsibility and faith. These values draw the Indiana community together, from church on Sunday morning until the basketball court on Friday night”. This is the essence of the local people: Hoosiers.

My first pic from Indianapolis: a red pickup truck

Indianapolis: I would say a ‘typical American city’ where everyone has a car, historical monuments are not really historical (at least in comparison with our European standards), and people are very friendly. There is always a smile whenever you meet someone. Indianapolis brings the best of American culture. It is home to the internationally renowned Indianapolis Motor Speedway (advice for students coming for the Autumn semester – do not miss the last race, “Indy 500”, at the end of August). Indianapolis offers numerous museums. Do you love fine art? You have to visit Indianapolis Museum of Art with a great collection of European, as well as American, painters and much more. Do you want to return to your childhood? You shouldn’t miss the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – the largest children’s museum in the world. Do you want to explore the history of the Native Americans? The Eiteljorg Museum is the right place for you.

DO NOT MISS!

–          Pumpkin pie, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, real American steak;

–          Travelling to Chicago for a 10 US$ return ticket with the Greyhound bus company;

–          Every Thursday student night in bar Howl at the Moon (1 US$ beer + live music)

IUPUI

The Campus Centre with the University mascot (a Jaguar)

IUPUI is a well-known university across the United States, especially due to its School of Medicine which has one of the largest student bodies in the country. For MA Euroculture students, IUPUI offers a variety of subjects from different departments of the School of Liberal Arts. As far as I know, Euroculture students remain faithful to the departments of Political Science, Sociology, Communication Studies, and World Languages and Cultures. The university facilities are excellent! But considering the amount of money American students pay for a year at the university, it is understandable.

It takes you a few weeks to understand that American classes are far different from European ones. Here is the essence of American success: productive discussion, participation in class, and critical thinking. American students are used to expressing their opinions, so you are expected to talk a lot. If I believed that the only way to gain knowledge was via memorising facts, I was completely wrong. Graduate classes are pretty demanding; you have to work hard throughout the whole semester. In general, graduate students have a regular job while studying, which is why their classes start at 6pm at the earliest. Local students have a lot of experience to share; for every class they work 100 % and beyond. The best you can do to combat your student culture shock is to get involved, jump out of your comfort zone, and make yourself known.

However, American students do not travel much or do not travel at all (many of my classmates have never left the state of Indiana), but at the same time they are very friendly, helpful and open to international students. They seem to be very interested in talking about different cultures, do not hesitate to invite you to a Thanksgiving party, and offer to drive you anywhere you need (because they are afraid of local public urban transport).

Ludmila Vávrová, Olomouc/Indiana Correspondent

Ludmila is from the Czech Republic, and studied Economics and Management for B.Sc. and European Diplomacy for M.Sc. She studied Euroculture in Palacky University, Olomouc and the University of Strasbourg. She is currently doing a research track in Indianapolis with an interest in finding image/word arguments during the 2012 presidential election campaigns in the US and in France. Ludmila is a girl with a dream, mostly involving Czech beer.

Cinderella Complex – A Story from Pune

Sytske Ottink | sytskeot@hotmail.com

A long, long time ago an Indian girl was married to a man living in a country far, far away called Germany. She expected to be treated as a princess because she would be a guest in that country and in India guests are treated as royalty. This is the story of the intercultural communication teacher in Pune. When she found out that German hospitality was different, she suffered from ‘Cinderella Complex’: the feeling that you should be treated like a princess, but you aren’t.

For me, as a Dutch girl coming to India, it’s exactly the other way around. I am treated like a princess when I don’t feel like I should. New classmates and neighbours keep offering me tea, lunch, lifts, and tours of the city without seeming to expect an offer back. Even when I try to pay for the tea, there is general confusion: “You should not pay for the tea, you are a guest here”. “But I will be living here for four months”, I protest. “That doesn’t matter, even if you have lived here for twenty years you are still a guest.” Or if I say thank-you to my neighbour who has been feeding me for three days – “Tsch, don’t be so formal! We’re neighbours, you would have done the same for me if I moved in”. Only I realise that I would not have served a new neighbour food for four days, but would expect that they would manage somehow like I did when I moved into my different student rooms. After all, there’s always a take-away around the corner (or a stale sandwich stashed away in your bag somewhere…).

The amazing Indian hospitality gave me an ‘inverted’ Cinderella complex. It expresses itself in two unexpected ways: “how do I thank them?” and “am I a rude Westerner?”. Regarding the first way, there is a limited quota on allowed thank-you’s (“Don’t be so formal!”) and buying a round of chai has to be prepared in secret: sneak in an order before they find out what you’re up to… Regarding the latter, not accepting a gift might be rude. Even knowing that it’s surprisingly difficult to accept so much more than you have been taught is reasonable. Who would have thought that it feels awkward to get lots of offers?

As this is my main surprise from living in India, it’s not hard to conclude that my time in Pune so far has been fantastic. I wanted to live in India with Indians and I was a bit afraid of ending up in some kind of ‘white Westerners colony’. Fortunately, Indian hospitality means that it could not have been easier to hang out with Indians. In doing so I have learned things about India you would never have learned in a classroom, such as ‘how to use your grandmother for leverage when negotiating with parents if you live in a joint family’ or ‘how to date in India’.

Until now the ways to thank my Indian friends for their favours seem limited although a European food dinner was a big hit. Lasagna with Indian ingredients might horrify an Italian chef, it went down very well. As well as it being an easy way to get compliments such as “You know how to make lasagna?!”, as if this is one of the most complicated dishes known to men. To me, all the different spices in Indian dishes seem to be a lot more baffling than the art of layering vegetables and pasta.

One thing I know for sure is that when I meet Indians back in Europe, I will be a lot more hospitable, just because I know now how much their help and tea has made me feel at home here. To all of you, all I can say is: come and get an inverted Cinderella complex in India too! You will have a great time, more delicious food than you can eat, and you might even become a more of an Indian host yourself.

Sytske Ottink, Pune Correspondent

Sytske is from the Netherlands, where she did a BA in Religious Studies at the University of Groningen. She studied Euroculture in the University of Göttingen and Uppsala University, and is currently doing a research track in Pune, India. She loves anything spicy or sweet, and takes her tea with at least three teaspoons of sugar. Her interests are religion, gender, politics, welfare policy and many other things because she has a hard time focusing on anything in particular. The only thing she can focus on with ease is an ice-coffee with a kanelbulle. The next language she wants to learn is Russian and she dreams of using that one day to tour Russia on the Trans-Siberian express.

Missing IP 2012 ─ We’ll Always Have… Bilbao?

I come from a big city in Pakistan but I enjoy roaming around in this small, accessible town. Don’t get me wrong: I’d be the last person to categorise Bilbao as ‘provincial’, but it is, for some amazing reason, free of the worries of life in a big town. The people are happier, the air quality’s superb, and the atmosphere is calm… And slow.

Syed Rashid Munir | srmunir@gmail.com

We’ll always have…Bilbao?

Humphrey Bogart is rolling over in his grave, but I have no qualms in saying so. Bilbao, after all, has been my home away from home for well over a year now, and while it has tested me to the edges of my sanity in one way or another, I have some very good memories of the city. Not only have I made good friends, both in and outside the MA Euroculture programme, but I’ve also met some amazing people and shared wonderful memories with them.

Now, if I were to ask someone to name one thing they know about Bilbao, they would, more often than not, end up mentioning Asier… no wait, sorry, the Guggenheim Museum. But let’s forget about the Guggenheim for a minute, there are plenty of brochures for that. Yes, it is bizarrely striking and there’s nothing else compared to it in the world (let alone in Bilbao); and yes, it is filled with modern masterpieces, which I don’t understand at all but if they float your boat, well… But the beauty of the city is skin deep. Take a walk by the mesmerizing riverside at night, get lost in the cool, breezy streets of the Old Town, hike your way up to the small hills surrounding the city, shop your heart out on Gran Via, or just simply relax and have some pintxos (tapas, but way more fancy) with some delectable wine in one of the eateries near Plaza Indautxu; Bilbao will keep you entertained. Add to that the lovely and hospitable Basque people, who will end up walking with you to the other side of town just to show you the way, and I think Bilbao’s got it pretty much covered.

In the summer, the beaches just on the outskirts of the city are abuzz with hundreds of people who rush to beat the summer sun. The winters in Bilbao, however, are notoriously wet. Keeping umbrellas, plural, handy is a must since the wind will break the feeble, Chinese ones someday. But you will need to shop at the Chinese outlets again, because Bilbao is a bit of a pricey town. The living cost is just a wee bit on the upper side, but if you keep track of sales (and discount coupons handed out at the university photocopy shop, so they say), you shall survive.

Loads of seafood, all kinds of meat, some excellent wine, fresh bread, corn cakes, and the sweet-but-makes-you-gassy-afterwards-coke-and-wine drink, Kalimotxo, make up a large part of the cuisine. The city has its fair share of fast-food chains and kebab places as well. No matter if you’re looking for a fancy cafeteria, a romantic restaurant, a trendy and up-beat coffee joint, a loud alternative bar, or just a plain old, cozy lunch parlour, you can find just about everything in the city. The old people here, surprisingly, are the ‘happening’ crowd. They go out all day and all night long, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The young ones end up buying cheap drinks either from the bars in the Old Town or from the grocery shops, and are happy with being loud and rowdy on the streets, especially after Athletic Bilbao’s won (or lost) a game (the city’s crazy about its football team). Middle-aged people mostly stay at home with their kids and watch TV. The big shopping centres are outside the town, on certain days there are local farmers’ markets in the neighbourhoods, and on 21 December the entire city gets drunk on the streets (Santo Tomas). Even the professors come into class on that day, are shocked to see the students there, and say “What are you guys doing in here? Go drink and get a life! YOLO!”. True story…

Coming to Bilbao from Pakistan without knowing a single word of Spanish was, if I’m being kind, a baptism by gasoline-fueled fire. A lot of stress, frustration, guesswork, smiles, pointing, conjecture, and kind (and offensive) hand gestures got me through the initial months before I mercifully learnt some words in Spanish class. In cafés and bars people understand some English, but don’t get your hopes up. Tienes que saber español para hacer cualquier cosa (read no Spanish, no nothing). Otherwise, you’d end up in some ‘situations’, like me. My first week in Bilbao, I went out with my roommate. I was keeping to myself, still recovering from the language-shock, when a cute girl at the bar came up and asked, “Como te llamas?” (What’s your name?). I, high as if with the elation of seeing this Basque beauty in front of me, and not from the pot in the air, replied, “Muy bien” (very good). Sometimes, on sleepless nights, I wonder what would have happened if my name really was that…

I come from a big city in Pakistan (Lahore, more than 11 million residents) but I enjoy roaming around in this small, accessible town. Don’t get me wrong: I’d be the last one to categorise Bilbao as ‘provincial’, but it is, for some amazing reason, free of the worries of life in a big town. The people are happier, the air quality’s superb (this from personal experience, after living in Madrid for three months), and the atmosphere is calm… And slow… And lazy too, sometimes. But we won’t get into that. Plus, being a Pakistani here poses its own sets of challenges with the language, the culture and the people, and I have learnt much about inter-cultural communication and interaction here, even though the initial months were quite tough, at a personal level.

As far as being part of MA Euroculture is concerned, I’ve enjoyed the programme a lot throughout the year and, when there have been tough and sad days, I’ve had the good fortune of some excellent company from my instructors and colleagues. I miss all the people I met during the fantastic (and exhausting) Intensive Programme in June, and I hope I will get to meet them again in their successful careers, if not at a common graduation.

So, whether you’re strolling by the beautiful riverside, taking the cable car up to Artxanda for breathtaking aerial views of the city, walking around in the Old Town (Casco Viejo), or just mapping the roads in shopping areas on Gran Via, Bilbao has something to offer everyone. Bilbao, then, is a bit of an acquired taste. At a first glance, it may seem ugly, uncouth and rough around the edges, but when you’ve lived here for a while and experienced the true soul of the city, it will take your heart away.

So, here’s looking at you, kid…

If you liked Rashid’s article, also read Europe: A Short Story

Syed Rashid Munir, Bilbao Correspondent                        

Hailing from Lahore, Pakistan, Rashid has a B.Sc. in International Relations. He is studying MA Euroculture under the cooperation window programme of the European Commission which allows him to stay at the University of Deusto, Bilbao throughout the programme . His research interests lie in post-colonialism, sub-altern studies, cultural and critical theory, and citizenship regimes in Europe. Apart from his love of writing fiction, travelling, and exotic animals, Rashid daydreams in his spare time about a job in diplomacy, and is a big Ingmar Bergman fan.

Feel Truely European in Beautiful Kraków

Miriam Beschoten | miriam.beschoten@gmx.de

Kraków, Poland. What is the first thing that comes into your mind when hearing this? Well for me, as a German, it definitely painted a different picture from what I actually experienced while spending my second semester of the MA Euroculture programme there. Starting with the architecture, I expected to see heavy influence from the Communist era that dominated Poland for over 40 years. But instead I found myself surrounded by numerous old and beautiful buildings that reminded me more of being in Italy or Belgium rather than Ukraine or Russia. This is due to a unique fact that makes up a huge part of Kraków’s identity until now: Kraków is the city of culture in Poland and its architecture symbolizes a highly rich cultural life with all the influences that shaped the country for decades. My point here is that despite of all my expectations, Kraków is one of the most beautiful European cities that I have ever been able to see.

Now every time you go abroad, it is my opinion that the people you meet there are of immense significance. People can turn the ugliest place (which, as was just explained, Kraków is not) into the most delightful experience if you get along with them and have fun. For example: the Euroculture staff in Kraków. Not just the professors but, more importantly, all of the Euroculture coordinators are very much engaged in their work and are 100% there to help you find your way around academically and in Kraków itself. I have hardly met anyone at any university I studied at in the past so committed and so open to your ideas and comments. They have a high degree of expertise in what they do so you can definitely learn from them and yet you can go out and have a drink with them or a coffee in our beloved “Karma” café (the first thing they introduced us to). Sometimes they even offer the notorious ‘Vodka lecture’ that no-one can ever leave sober even if you try really hard!

Encounters with local Polish students, however, were unfortunately limited to the annual students’ week where you can attend free concerts or the final march through the town trying to keep a drink in your hand without the police noticing (public drinking is forbidden in Poland). The lack of encounters may be due to the amount of work you have to do in Kraków, resulting from living in a ‘Euroculture bubble’, or it may be also partly due to the Polish students not all seeming to want to get involved with foreign students in the first place. This leads me to my quite honest but general impression of Polish people. Polish people, I have to admit, are still a little bit of a mystery to me. Not being able to speak Polish fluently (despite taking a Polish for Beginners course) is obviously a main factor in this. My experiences ranged from the cashier in the supermarket not even answering your long and painfully practiced “Dzień dobry” or no smile in some people’s faces, not even the slightest hint, to a total stranger walking through downtown Kraków with you for 20 minutes (therefore missing his bus home) just to try to help you find a newly-opened bar. It seems to be a matter of age and former experiences with foreigners that makes the Polish either seem dismissive or warmly welcoming to you.

Whatever it is, however, it should not stop you from visiting such an interesting and exciting European city that has so much to offer on a lifestyle level, both historically and culturally. Choosing Kraków as my Euroculture host university has truly been a great contribution to my understanding of European history, culture, and what makes Europeans feel European. Poland, to me, is one of the countries where you can see how such a feeling is evolving first hand and how entering the European Union changes people’s lives and perspectives, and it would not take me a blink of an eye to decide to go back there again.

Mimi BeschotenKraków Correspondent

Mimi is from Germany and studied BA Translation. She spent her first semester of MA Euroculture at the University of Göttingen, her second semester at Jagiellonian University, Kraków, and is currently doing her internship at a cultural foundation. She is interested in the role of culture and how it can be used to further integrate Europe. Mimi’s real name is Miriam (which she kind of dislikes) and she loves to watch His Dudeness in the film The Big Lebowski.