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).

On German Elections 2013

王 子 Wong Tsz 

The German Bundestagswahl (parliamentary election) ended on 22 September. The centre-right CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union), led by Angela Merkel, won with 41.5%; the main opposition party SPD (Social Democratic Party) got only 25.7%, The Left (Die Linke) 8.6%, The Greens (Die Grünen) 8.4%, the FDP (Free Democratic Party), the AfD (Alternative for Germany) and Pirate Party (Piraten), got 4.8%, 4.7% and 2.2% respectively[1]. But what can we tell from the German election?

Wong tsz fig 1
Fig.1[2]

Merkelmacht, The Merkel power

Other than CDU/CSU’s victory, it is worth noticing Angela Merkel’s winning for the third term as Bundes Chancellor, the Chancellor of Germany. Merkel was Germany’s first female Chancellor and let’s not forget that she began her political career in the East German party Demokratischer Aufbruch (Democratic Awakening). She was later in the male-dominated CDU. At the beginning of Merkel’s career, Germans were not aware of her power in solving political crises until scandals were exposed concerning crucial CDU/CSU members.  Two notable examples were the corruption conspiracy scandal concerning the former President of Germany Christian Wulff, as well as plagiarism in the doctoral theses of former Federal Minister of Education and Research Annette Schavan and former Minister of Defence Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Merkel first tried to keep them in their positions, yet due to the potent force of public opinion, she accepted their resignations.

Fig.2[3]
Fig.2[3]

“Merkel manages to grab the will of the people early enough to make appropriate political decisions, even if it means turning stance…”

The realistic approach of Merkel’s politics can be found not only in personnel assignments, but also in her political platform. “Merkel takes all of the energy out by bear-hugging her opponents and absorbing their issues,” said Andreas Kraemer, the director of the Ecologic Institute in Berlin[4]. Merkel manages to grab the will of the people early enough to make appropriate political decisions, even if it means turning stance. For instance, she abided by a decision made earlier by her former coalition partners, the SPD. When the SPD was in government from 1998 to 2005, a law phasing out all nuclear power plants by 2021 was supported by the government, and the schedule was also accepted by the majority of German people. Yet, later in 2010, when Merkel was re-elected for the second term of Chancellor, she did a U-turn by prolonging the service of nuclear power plants, until a “bridge technology” is developed to rely on renewable energies[5]. On March 11, 2011, the Fukushima nuclear disaster erupted, and public opinion soon demanded instant cease on all nuclear power. Merkel made another U-turn, in order to save the CDU from mayhem in the state election of Baden-Wüttemberg, to shut down all nuclear power plants in the country in due course.

Merkel has been well known for her strong-stance on EU matters, especially during the Eurozone crisis; yet back in Germany, she was nicknamed Mutti (mummy). With Germany’s lead in economic achievements, and with a record low unemployment rate, the nation has gained enormous importance in European politics. This year the CDU won the greatest victory since the German reunification. After the election, Merkel said in her victory speech: “Heute wird gefeiert, ab morgen wieder gearbeitet”[6] (Today we celebrate, tomorrow we work again.) The calm speech she made may have reflected her Mutti character.

Other than Merkel, there is still much to talk about concerning the election. First – the left wing parties.

Peer Steinbrück and the SPD’s failure

Wong tsz fig 3
Fig.3[7]

 “Steinbrück’s immaturity in politics earned him various nicknames…”

SPD chair Peer Steinbrück’s performance in the TV election debate was widely reckoned as “not outstanding”. There was very little eye contact between him and the camera, probably due to the fact that he failed to locate where the cameras were[8]. Steinbrück also failed to gain popularity throughout the election campaign, with 25% of an approval rate compared to Merkel’s 63% in April 2013[9]. On a more personal level, you don’t have to be a political scientist to tell the difference between Peer Steinbrück and Angela Merkel. Unlike Merkel’s Mutti character, Peer Steinbrück is known to be outspoken, but was also undermined by a number of blunders he made. For instance, he commented that the Chancellor salary was too low, and the German public interpreted his comment as a potential self pay-rise if he is elected. There is also the issue with Steinbrück’s personal income. He is reported to have made €1.25 million between November 2009 and July 2012 for public speeches, even though he was receiving a salary as an elected member of parliament at the time[10]. His immaturity in politics earned him various nicknames: Pannen-Peer, Problem-Peer and Peerlusconi (see fig. 3), after the former Italian Prime Minister.

As for the number of seats, the SPD gained only 30.5%, compared to the CDU’s 40.5%. The CDU won a remarkable victory over the SPD. This could be explained by the fact that many SPD supporters did not cast their vote, and they did not want to vote for The Left or the CDU, nor did they trust the SPD to do a better job than the current CDU-led government. In fact, although the turnout rate of this year’s elections is higher than last year – 71.5% compared to 70.8% in 2009[11], it is the second lowest in history.

The SPD became passive after the elections. On the one hand if it chooses to form a grand coalition with the CDU, it could lose some loyal supporters, and even worse, history may repeat itself as in the 2009 elections, where the SPD was marginalised by the CDU; but if the SPD refuses such a coalition, it could be blamed for being a troublemaker. The SPD is indeed in a dilemma.

Between Red-Green-Red, the SPD, Die Grünen and Die Linke

The CDU/CSU needs a coalition partner. We may ask ourselves if there is any possibility of forming a coalition between the Left, the SPD and the Greens. The answer is: highly unlikely, due to three main reasons:

  1. Technical difficulties. First, Die Linke was separated from the SPD in 2007 after former SPD chair Oskar Lafontaine left the SPD in 2005; which explains the friction between SPD and Linke supporters. Therefore, even though both parties have left tendencies, there are still clear differences between them, especially concerning the Eurozone crisis. In fact, there was such coalition between the three parties during Landtagswahl (state elections) in 2009 and 2010, and it was indeed a threat to the CDU, yet no attempts of forming a coalition between the three parties were ever seen on a parliamentary level. This is probably due to the fact that they all worry that their own support rate may drop after doing so.
  2. Die Linke and the Stasi’s past. The Left has certain historical connections with the East German Secret Service, where several members were connected with the Stasi (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, Ministry for State Security), which made the party unfavourable among liberal voters.
  3. Lack of popular support. According to opinion polls in 2005 and in 2008, most Germans didn’t wish to see a Red-Green-Red coalition. Those approving it was only 10%, and 67% regarded it as a bad idea[12]. In fact, most Germans prefer a grand coalition to any other coalition.

How about the right-wing parties?

The FDP’s epic fail

In the party’s 65-year history, this is the first time the FDP got kicked out of the parliament. Considering the fact that the party actually produced some chancellors in earlier times, this year’s election was indeed an epic fail for the FDP. Philipp Rösler, the former party chair, and also vice chancellor of Germany, is now jobless. He resigned after the failure.

“The first time the FDP got kicked out of the parliament…in 65 years!”

If we compare the figures of approval rate of the CDU/CSU and the FDP, we would notice a sharp drop for the FDP; it was 14.6% in 2009, and only 4.8% this year, while the CDU/CSU had 33.8%, and 41.5% this year[13]. No wonder so many critics commented that the FDP was being sacrificed by the Merkel-led CDU. The same fate may happen again to Merkel’s next coalition partner, and the FDP may plan its revenge in the next elections.

The AfD’s shocking success in its first elections

On small parties, I have to mention the Euro-sceptic AfD – a new political party established barely more than half a year ago. The AfD gained a surprising 4.7% of the vote in its first-time elections. The AfD has a rather narrow agenda when compared to other parties. With its strong anti-euro stance, the party’s main agenda is the elimination of the euro and the restoration of a strong German national currency. The success of the AfD has shown that many Germans are indeed unhappy with the euro, and despite Germany’s participation in Europe’s debt crisis, the problem of explaining the euro to German people remains. The performance of the AfD in the future is definitely worth observing.

So now what?

The victory of the CDU/CSU has shown that most Germans approve Merkel’s conservative economic policy. Meanwhile, the Merkel government has begun the negotiations on forming a coalition with the Greens, or a grand coalition with the SPD. The Greens later turned down the invitation[14], leaving the SPD the only one reasonable option. Despite the dilemma faced by the SPD, it is clear that the Social Democrats will demand concessions in exchange for governing together with the CDU. The SPD would also wish to introduce minimum wage and a better social welfare system. The SPD and The Greens would also use their advantage of seats in the Bundesrat (Upper House) to counter Merkel’s government when necessary.

Many may thus note that the conventional definition of ”left wing parties” in European politics, especially that of the British, does not really apply to major left wing parties in Germany. The conventional definition of ”right wing parties” does not really apply in Germany either. For instance, when comparing the election platforms between the SPD and the CDU/CSU, we would not find so many differences, especially concerning Eurozone issues.  The right wing’s new star – the AfD – has nothing but opposition towards the euro, but not towards the European integration process. Their country being a founding member of the EU, German politicians are in general supportive of the idea of European integration, and therefore support the Eurozone austerity measures. So there is a tendency of major political parties shifting to the centre. For the left and far right parties, redefining their own stances could be a major challenge in the coming years, especially for the right wing FDP and AfD.

“Merkel’s victory may give Germany an upper hand in the negotiations for EU reform…”

It is worth noticing if Merkel will reinstate the plan for reforming the EU, a plan which she did not emphasise much during the election campaign in order to gain maximum domestic support. Merkel’s victory may give Germany an upper hand in the negotiations for EU reform, especially in response to the UK’s reform claim[15].

One interesting thing I have noticed is that both Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and François Hollande, president of France, immediately sent their congratulations to Merkel after the CDU/ CSU’s victory. The heads of the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) all kept silent. For Germany it is very likely that it will remain the most important economic and political leader in EU for some years.


[2] Picture from ‘Die Tagesschau‘, Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ARD), http://wahl.tagesschau.de/wahlen/0000-TIMELINES/charts/TIMELINE-BT-BT-DE/chart_2471175.png

[3] Picture from Merkel glued her fingers together, Funny Junk, http://static.fjcdn.com/pictures/Merkel_508cd5_1670425.jpg

[5] Merkel Pays Political Price for Shift on Nuclear Power, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/world/europe/22iht-letter22.html

[10] Amateur Hour at the SPD: Merkel Challenger Steinbrück Fails to Find His Feet, Spiegel Online International, http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/spd-chancellor-candidate-peer-steinbrueck-goes-from-gaffe-to-gaffe-a-876157.html

[13] Merkel’s refusal to help FDP will come back to haunt her, The Conversation,  http://theconversation.com/merkels-refusal-to-help-fdp-will-come-back-to-haunt-her-18533

[15] Merkel may push Cameron to start early talks on EU reform, The Times,  http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/article3842595.ece

Wong Tsz new profile Wong Tsz, Contributing Writer

Wong Tsz, from Hong Kong, moved to Europe for MA Euroculture (2010-12) after obtaining his BA in Language and Translation. Currently, he’s a PhD student in Musicology under DFG Research Group ‘Expert Cultures from the 12th to the 16th Century’. Wong Tsz played in various orchestras in Hong Kong and in Europe, including the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, Open University of Hong Kong Orchestra, Göttingen University Orchestra, Groningen Students’ Orchestra MIRA, and currently in Academic Orchestra Göttingen AOV. He’s not only keen on playing music but is actively engaged in academic research. His Master’s thesis gives an in-depth study of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde under the scope of Orientalism theory by Edward Said. His current PhD project ‘Matteo Ricci in East West Music Exchange’ gives a detailed analysis to trace the early models of music exchange between China and Europe in 16th century.

Contactwongtsz@gmail.com

Why read literature? “Literature helps us see the big picture!”

A professor at Seokyeong University in Seoul, South Korea, leads us through the shadow of non-literature majors approaching literature and language as a means to a brighter end.

source: flickr/redbanshee/

“The best way to think about reality,
I had decided, was to get as far away
from it as possible…”

  <Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle>

Steven Justice │ stevejustice1@gmail.com

In a world constantly concerned with economic instability and the importance of employability, the above quote from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, is at odds with the masses. Reality has become all too important. Studying is a means to an end rather than an effort to improve the mind or enlighten the soul. Time spent studying the humanities is a waste when students could be harnessing a narrowly defined vocational skill.

“I ask my students why they are here to study literature…”

This is something I see first-hand at my university. On the opening day of my literature classes, I ask my students why they are here. “To improve our English and therefore enhance our chances of getting a good job,” they answer uniformly.

I am the only member of faculty in my department who teaches literature where all my students major in accounting. But really, I press them, what is the point of an accounting major studying literature? The real world looms large for these students in their final year of university. They need to get a job and they know it won’t come easy in today’s market.  I even question myself sometimes, how will studying literature help them?

Literature teaches us to ask questions. Dystopian classics such as 1984 by George Orwell and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury force readers to consider issues that are relevant to the lives they live, but have perhaps never thought of before. Graduates are often ejected into a world they do not fully understand and are not prepared for, much as Winston discovered when he went in search of the truth in 1984.

For years, students have been told that getting a degree is the only path to a good job but more and more these days, just having a degree is not enough. Students need to be able to comprehend the issues that face them; to be able to analyse them in depth and see what is really happening as opposed to blindly following what they are told is good for them. Too few people are concerned with the big picture. Bradbury makes the point very well in his novel, “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.”

“The real world demands a lot of attention…”

The real world demands a lot of attention. So much so that many find it a challenge to think or question it beyond the cliché – Where will my next meal come from? How will I provide for my family? Will I have a job next year? When will I get paid?

That all-important job, and its superficial benefits, leads to an often debilitating myopia. The more secure and comfortable we become in our lives, the less we want to endanger it. The situation of today’s highly competitive job market can very easily envelop us to the point where everything else becomes unnecessary. If it does not improve our immediate situation – please the landlord, placate the wife, impress the boss – it is not needed. Society has never been as diverse and as open to foreign cultures as now but most people do not get further than whatever is on television that night. Even when they know it is meaningless, they still watch it. As Bradbury writes of the average man, the thought is “[…]I don’t care. I just like solid entertainment.”

When considering such a dire situation (dystopic even!), Murakami has it right. All too often we become absorbed in our own lives to consider the situation on a larger stage. The further we get from the every-day routine that binds us, the more we can see. Fiction is an escape into other worlds, other realities; potential dystopian futures or completely foreign lands. The more literature we read, the more of life and our cultures we can understand. This mortal coil ties us to one place at a time, one life with one purpose – to survive.

Literature unravels us into distant places, ancient times, other peoples and their different ways of speaking and writing. Literature begs us to analyse, to compare and, most importantly, to question; to always be asking questions. If you do not ask questions when the firemen start making fires then you cannot complain when there are no more books.

“Literature helps us to question and to always be asking questions…”

This is the attitude that everyone should be taking into their own personal reality. Question the politicians and people in power or they will be free to do whatever they want; analyse what they say, be it about the war in Iraq or the war in Oceania. If the world is getting worse, and we can be fairly certain that it is, I hope it will be some of my non-literature major students who the first to ask why and how we can fix it, rather than blindly working through their balance sheets before sharing cups of Victory Gin…

Steve profileSteve Justice, Contributing Writer

Steve received a Masters in English Literature from St. Andrews University in 2004 before relocating to South Korea where he has taught English Language and Literature for seven years. After teaching at Catholic University of Korea, he now lectures at Seokyeong University in Seoul. He is also studying for a Masters in Literary Linguistics from the University of Nottingham. His research interests include critical literary analysis, stylistics, cognitive poetics, narratology and world Englishes.

 

This article was initially published on the September issue of The HPN Review. If you want to subscribe to The HPN Review, click here.

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.”

ARTE2

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.

Introducing the European Union: Between Supranationalism and Intergovernmentalism

STRAATSBURG-VLAGGENPaul-gilbert Colletaz│paul.colletaz@gmail.com

The press often portrays the European Union (EU) as a remote, almost foreign authority which makes decisions and forces them on its member states. As a consequence, it often fails to portray the power of the member states in the EU decision-making process.

This debate involves two concepts: supranationalism and intergovernmentalism. Supranationalism refers to a large amount of power given to an authority which in theory is placed higher than the state (in our case this authority is the European Union). Intergovernmentalism focuses on the importance of member states in the process of creating EU-wide regulations.

“The debate involves two concepts: supranationalism and intergovernmentalism…”

In order to explore these notions in more detail, let’s go back in history.

The traumatic events that happened during World War II led Europeans to think about ways to prevent another war from breaking out.  This reflection resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1951, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ESCS). Coal and steel are two major materials needed to build heavy armoury and therefore wage wars, so sharing those assets would theoretically block any intra-European wars. Political peace and its social benefits were to be achieved through economic partnership.

Nowadays, as the chemical attacks which recently took place in Syria prove, steel and coal seem outdated in the field of war.

In order to stay competitive and promote growth, the EU has gained decision-making power, and some laws are now taken at an  EU-level and then imposed on member states. This supranationalism is different from what happened when the ECSC was created. Most of the time the Community required unanimity from all member states – an intergovernmental method.

We are back to our focus: supranationalism and intergovernmentalism.

As a whole the EU is the largest economy in the world and it is a unique political organisation combining supranationalism and intergovernmentalism.

The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union are two of its supranational bodies. To put it simply, after a vote, the majority result wins and all member states have to implement the decisions that have been made.

On the other hand, this mechanism is pondered by some regulations applying intergovernmentalism in some fields such as: taxation, the accession of new states, and the common foreign and security policy. When it comes to those areas, unanimity is required and no one decision can be forced upon a state.

In order to make a partition between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism, the Treaty of Maastricht, signed in 1992, introduced the principle of subsidiarity.

This principle states that the EU can only take actions when it is most relevant for it to do so. Thus, each time when discussing a new regulation the EU must prove that this decision would be more effective if taken at the EU-level than at a national level (and by doing so, the EU dismisses any claim that it would take decisions for instance only for the UK, France or Italy).

Yet, this does not happen without any problems. When it comes to energy, even though joining our forces seems sensible because it makes the EU more competitive, therefore leading to growth and the creation of jobs in the long term the case of Germany and the Netherlands have recently shown the negative short- and medium-term effects of such strategies.  Recently, Germany overproduced electricity and exported massively to the Netherlands where, as a consequence, some energy producers became obsolete and had to lay off some workers because they could not afford to pay them anymore.

The economic aims of the EU have overpowered its political and social ones, but this situation is more complex than it seems. Economic achievements go hand in hand with social development, and in a globalised world social benefits are still acquired through economic growth.

It is therefore wise to ask yourself: Should the EU as a whole be more efficient by gaining more power (supranationalism) or should each country’s interests come before the EU’s even though this could reduce this country’s influence in a globalised world?

“Are globalisation and the EU flattening our differences and turning us into relatively similar human beings?”

This will surely lead you to wonder: Are globalisation and the EU flattening our differences and turning us into relatively similar human beings thus losing our diverse cultures and traditions?
A question I will try to answer in my next column.

Paul new profilePaul-gilbert Colletaz, Contributing Writer & Columnist 

Paul is from France and graduated in British and American Literatures, Civilisations and Linguistics from the Sorbonne (Paris) spending the last year of his undergraduate diploma in Edinburgh, Scotland. A Euroculture student from September 2011 to July 2013, he studied at the Universities of Strasbourg (France), Udine (Italy) and Pune (India). He is curently working at the French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain as Publications and Communications Assistant. His interests go from EU politics and Franco-British relations to Scottish Civilisation and Gender Studies.

Recommended reading:

What is Globalization? Global Europe Explained by Daniele Carminati

What does Trump mean for the European Union? Looking at the reality of a Trump Presidency from the perspective of the EU by Eoghan Mark Hughes

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.  

Professional tips from a EuCu graduate: “Blindly applying for jobs everywhere is a waste of time!”

brussels 3
For some, getting a job in Brussels is a dream come true. © Yu Xichao

Penelope Vaxevanes│prosiliomani@hotmail.com

MA Euroculture Programme is over for the 2011 – 2013 students and now most of them are on the hunt for a job or an internship – their gateway into the professional world. There are a few among those students who do not have to do this because they have already secured a place in the job market. I talked to my very good friend and fellow classmate from Goettingen, Angie Dominguez Sahagun, about her new life in Brussels working from the AEC – European Association of Conservatories – on how her job relates to the program and what she suggests to the MA Euroculture graduates when looking for a job.

1. Hi, Angie. Can you briefly describe the association and the position?

Hi. The AEC – European Association of Conservatories is a cultural and educational network working at an international level with over 280 member institutions for professional music training in 57 countries. Within this association, I coordinate a specific project called “Polifonia” (www.polifonia.eu). This project is founded by the European Commission and it addresses European higher education policy issues from the perspective of higher music education.

“At AEC, I coordinate a specific project called Polifonia…

2. How did you get the position?

I did my internship, as part of the MA Euroculture professional track, in the association, but my tasks were not directly related to the project I am developing now. I was in charge of general administration and tasks regarding event organisation and gradually became involved with the project. A position became available within the project team and I decided to apply even though I had not finished the MA Euroculture program. I went through a long and quite stressful application process but finally I got the position, mainly because I had already been working for them. During that internship I had proved my interest and I was already partly trained, which made things easier in general.

“When the position became available, I decided to apply even though I had not finished the MA Euroculture program…”

3. How is the position related to MA Euroculture?

The position involves coordinating institutions from many different countries, you need to have good communications skills and be able to work in an international environment. Also, the project is mainly founded by the EU; therefore, it is convenient to be familiar with how the institutions work and how the projects are developed at this level. Despite this, most of the skills that the position demands need to be acquired through practice. Thus, I do believe MA Euroculture has helped me develop the necessary soft skills to deal with this position.

“It is convenient to be familiar with how the projects are developed at institutional level…”

4. How is life in Brussels? Is it the right place for graduates of MA Euroculture? What are the good and bad things?

In my case, I don’t work directly in contact with the EU institutions. AEC is based in a small office in the centre, which makes it quite familiar and personal. Most of the time I move only in the same neighbourhood so I don´t have the feeling of being in a big metropolis. Brussels is a very active cultural capital. You have interesting events on a daily basis and many chances to know people from many different countries. You have all the advantages of a big city but it is not overwhelming. Also, if you are not that eager to work in collaboration with the EU institutions, you have many other opportunities in small foundations and independent organisations. It is definitely a good place to start your career, create contacts and get familiar with how projects work in a European level. The city itself can look a bit grey in general, the weather doesn’t help and it is considerably expensive to move around. However, you can find nice places and it is very well connected, you can leave the city for a weekend and visit many European cities quite easily.

“Brussels is definitely a good place to start your career…”

5. Plans for the future?

I am staying in Brussels until the end of the Polifonia project in September 2014; but I have no plans beyond that deadline. Most of the projects work by cycles and you don´t know if the project you are working on will be selected for a new cycle, which makes settling down quite a challenge. First of all, I would need to figure out if this is the field I would like to work in the future. If the project doesn’t get selected for a new cycle, I would try to apply for a similar position but possibly not in Brussels.

“Settling down is a challenge…”

6. What would you recommend for the graduates of MA Euroculture? What should they do when looking for a job?

In my case, getting the position was considerably easy. I was lucky that I was in the right place at the right time… However, for this to happen, it is necessary to be flexible and active. Opportunities won’t knock on your door, you have to go for them and display a positive and hardworking attitude. The application processes can be very tricky, especially in places like Brussels where there is a lot of competition. You have to prove you have something to offer that the rest of the applicants don’t. Blindly applying for positions everywhere is a waste of time, you have to be very specific and convincing, and the only way to get that, is by being really informed about the place you are applying to.

“You have to be very specific and convincing and also, very informed…”

Thank you very much, Angie, for sharing your story! 

If you want to know more about EuCu life, especially near the end of graduation, also read https://euroculturer.eu/2013/04/04/dont-be-lazy-go-out/

penelopePenelope Vaxevanes, News Editor

Penelope is from Greece and studied French Language and Literature for her BA in the Philosophic School of the University of Athens. During her MA Euroculture years, she studied in Goettingen(1st and 4th semester) and Krakow(2nd semester) and did an internship in Hamburg. She recently got a job in Barcelona and is very excited to start her post EuCu life.

A Report from Mexico City: The Mexican Scream

Torre Latino (with the yellow vaulted ceiling) located in the city centre offers the best view of Mexico DF
Torre Latino (with the yellow vaulted ceiling) located in the city centre offers the best view of Mexico DF
© Francesca Borsato

María de las Cuevas│mariadelascuevas@hotmail.com

Every 15 September, Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain. The Mexican War of Independence broke out on 15 September 1810, after 300 years of colonial rule by Spain, and ended in 1821. Mexico’s Independence Day commemorates the blending of two cultures:  Mexican and Hispanic.

The call to revolution that spurred Mexicans to fight the Spanish Empire in 1810 is known as El Grito, the Spanish word for scream, and is commemorated with jubilation by all Mexicans every 15 September. On this day, they honour the heroes that gave them back their homeland after 300 years of colonisation by the Spanish Empire. Mexico celebrates its independence, and Mexicans “scream” that they are proud of their roots and the cultural mix that characterises their society. The only exception for this celebration was in 1847, when Mexico was occupied by American troops. After the Mexican–American War, Mexico lost about one-third of its territory, including nearly all of present-day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

“On 15 September, Mexicans honour the heroes of independence…”

The annual holiday is a non-religious celebration that brings Mexican society together. There is a festive atmosphere on the streets, with mariachis singing on every square, with people dancing and partying. The air is filled with the lovely smell of tortillas. On 15 September at 11:00 p.m., everyone screams together the call for independence made by Miguel Hidalgo, the priest that started the War of Independence by mobilising the Creole society. This shout is repeated by the Mexican President, who is currently Enrique Peña Nieto, representative of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The following call is screamed on the zocalo – the main square of Mexico City – at the same time by every governor in the 31 departments that form the country:

“Hurrah, hurrah, and hurrah…”

“Hurrah for the Independence; Hurrah for the heroes that gave us our homeland; Hurrah for Hidalgo; Hurrah for Morelos; Hurrah for Allende; Hurrah for the Independence; Hurrah for Mexico, Hurrah for Mexico, Hurrah for Mexico”.

The day Mexicans were born on the world political map

Ambassador Arturo Gonzalez, the director of the third country mobility programme of Erasmus Mundus Euroculture at the National University Autonoma of Mexico (UNAM), explained: “On this day we celebrate the achievement of independence for our country. 15 September 1810 represents the day Mexicans were born on the world political map. I am proud of Mexicans’ ability to maintain the unity of our country in search of our own philosophy, a complex issue due to the enormous diversity of Mexican society. There is no doubt our society has influences from other nations. Parts of this heritage are positive, other aspects are more negative”. The ambassador also highlighted the fact that Mexico has not had a military government since 1940.

“The annual holiday is no longer a celebration of independence, but of Mexican identity…”

Jose, a taxi driver in Mexico City, suggested that the annual holiday is no longer a celebration of independence, but of Mexican identity: “We Mexicans pay too much attention to gringos’ way of life. Yes! We like to follow gringos’ trends and how they speak (gringo is a word which refers to Americans), but on 15 September there is an exception. On that day, all Mexicans are proud of their roots, and we celebrate Mexican identity all together through our food, music, leg-pulls, and a shared feeling of happiness and hospitality.” In fact, the greatest experience that the MA Euroculture programme has given me is to get to know how incredibly kind and caring Mexicans are in general, always trying to help the foreigner.

Spain, the stepmother

“So the Spaniards are gone…but who are the Mexicans today?”

Independence from Spain gave birth to a new society, and a new identity.  The Creole identity is a mixture of European blood and that of the indigenous Indians. The Mexican War of Independence was inspired by the French Revolution. Nevertheless, it was a holy revolution with the aim of breaking apart from the foreigners after centuries of occupation. ‘But who are the Mexicans today?’ is the question posed by Hernan Taboada, professor of history in the Euroculture programme at UNAM. “Before the independence, they themselves were called Spaniards. But after that, the Motherland – Spain – became the ‘stepmother’, a monster that had oppressed Latin America for three centuries of tyranny. From now on, they will call themselves Americans. In my opinion, they are still waiting to find their own name”.

Time for the Mexican Moment: The Enrichment of the Country

The future of Mexico is debated. “What path should be followed by the country to achieve more social equality?” asks Tabohada. Should it be the North American model, or should Mexico focus instead on the experience of the European Union? In order to give an answer, Tabohada quotes the Latin American author and educator Simon Rodriguez: “We have to invent or we err. Has the Spirit of the Revolution died?” Tabohada asserts that “it certainly has, due to the petroleum industry and the education system that are both moving away from the nationalism that has ruled the state for years.”

“We have to invent or we err. Has the Spirit of the Revolution died?”

We are living the so-called “Mexican Moment”, as it has been dubbed in the New York Times. Experts foresee great development for the country in the short term. Nevertheless, Mexican youth question whether they are going to live to see  improvement, as progress fails to influence the economic standards of the lower classes, where the minimum wage is 64.76 MXN per day (3.7 EUR), according to the International Business Times. The country feels proud of its ability to become competitive as an exporter of services and producer of technology. It is a key issue for the economy of the country not to be too dependent on its oil and raw materials. Sadly, this growth doesn’t accompany the enrichment of the country as a whole due to the lack of equal redistribution of the money, with 50 million Mexicans living in poverty, according to the latest report by the official National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy.

“Mexicans have reasons to be proud but the persistent poverty is a sad reality…”

For more picture, click the first picture and click ‘next’

 If you liked Maria’s article, also read https://euroculturer.eu/2013/04/19/creative-europe-exporting-culture-at-the-eu-level/

Maria profile

 Maria de las Cuevas, Junior Editor

Maria de las Cuevas, journalist, studied at the University of Deusto and the University of Strasbourg and is currently doing a research track at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). She is grateful for the amazing program at the UNAM, which focuses on Mexican revolutions that closely accompanies the history of Spain, her homeland, and how European Liberal movements influenced on the fight for the independence of Latin America. She enjoys traveling around the country with her husband and friends. She’s also doing an internship at Studio Phi Creative Agency in the department of Social Media. She is impressed with the friendliness and warmth of the Mexican society which she wouldn’t be able to forget for a long time.