Virginia Stuart-Taylor is British and was part of the Euroculture 2016-2018 cohort, but graduated in 2019 due to undertaking a full-time job. She spent her first semester at the University of Groningen, her second one at Uppsala University and chose the professional track in the third semester. Before starting Euroculture, she completed a BA in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese at the University of Exeter. Currently, she is living in London (UK) where she is working in the UK Government on UK-EU trade relations and negotiations. Virginia always wanted to pursue a Master’s degree and explore Europe further, therefore the Euroculture M.A. was a perfect fit. Apart from moving to Europe, she wanted to shift her career towards the public sector. Ultimately, pursuing the Euroculture M.A. was a fundamental step in her career, as it enabled her to re-orient towards politics, public affairs and foreign policy.
Euroculturer Magazine (EM):What were your expectations when you applied/started the Euroculture M.A. and do they match the reality at the moment?
Virgina Stuart Taylor (VST): I started the Euroculture M.A. shortly after the UK’s Brexit referendum and, as I’m British, the vote added a certain element of drama to the course. I was excited to study among so many different nationalities, after 4 years predominantly working full-time in London. I was so thrilled about the freedom of the student experience that I over-subscribed to practically everything Groningen had to offer: Dutch and Russian classes, the Honours College, a Photography course and even some ad-hoc paid work for Study in Holland. I quickly discovered that the MA course at Groningen is really demanding too, so I did struggle to find time for everything. I learned my lesson and was subsequently more realistic with my extracurricular activities in Uppsala for the second semester. Despite that, I was thrilled that the course was so rigorous, as it meant I learned quickly and absorbed a lot of knowledge, which I’ve used in my jobs after graduation. Following the Brexit referendum, there has been a lot of demand in the UK job market for expertise in European Affairs. While studying though, I tentatively hoped I might settle in the EU with a residency and work permit. Fast forward 4 years and I’ve used my Euroculture experience to start a career in the UK Government, specialising in UK-EU relations and negotiations, and I unfortunately no longer have the right to work in the EU. My network of friends and contacts in the EU is huge however, both in Brussels and spread across the continent, and I catch up with many of my Euroculture friends when visiting Brussels for work. I would ideally like to have a more accessible route and the right to work in the EU again, but I’m also happy that my career has remained EU-focused, even when I’m physically based in London.
Valentina Musso is Italian and was part of the Euroculture 2018-2020 cohort, studying at the Universities of Krakow and Strasbourg. Before starting Euroculture, she successfully completed a Bachelor in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Pavia in Italy. She applied for Euroculture mainly because she wanted to gain a cultural and social perspective on Europe but also thanks to the Euroculture curriculum which enables students to choose a professional track in their third semester. Namely, she was eager to undertake the professional track, her first professional experience. Currently, she lives in Brussels and works as a Project Assistant at the European Commission, more precisely at the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA).
Euroculturer Magazine (EM): What were your expectations when you started the Euroculture M.A. and do they match the reality at the moment?
Valentina Musso (VM): When I applied for the Euroculture M.A. Programme I expected to gain an outright European experience that would offer me academic enrichment and contribute to my personal growth. From a personal point of view, the M.A. definitely enhanced my intercultural skills by building long-lasting relationships with people coming from all over Europe and beyond. However, from an academic perspective, the M.A. did not fully match my expectations, since I believe certain classes would have been more suitable for a Bachelor’s level. Furthermore, I found some courses’ content redundant.
Euroculturer Magazine: You are currently doing a Schuman Traineeship at the EPLO in Budapest. Why did you choose this organisation? Dorottya Kósa: On the one hand, I felt I was getting comfortable with academia and research in general, and in order to move out from my comfort-zone I wanted to try my luck in the professional field as well. On the other hand, after spending many years abroad in various European countries, this time I wanted to make use of my knowledge in my home country. I just felt like working as a Schuman Trainee at the EPLO in Budapest was really my call. I perceived it as a perfect opportunity to incorporate my international experience into the local context, as well as a great chance to get involved in the vital work of the European Parliament.
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!
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.
Depending on the university you attend, you either have just started your Euroculture journey, or you are about to embark on it. Surely the coordinators of the programme have sent you some explanations and instructions already (and they will send you many, many more, so brace yourself for the next two years). But don’t you wish you had that older brother, that friend from the previous year who could tell you what it is really like to cram European Law at night at the library, to understand the culinary culture of your new host country, and to find a place that does not rip you off for printing your thesis? Here comes the good news. Your older siblings exist – if not biologically, then at least euroculturally – and we have asked them for their best pieces of advice.
Learn to pack light
When I spoke to Rumen (Euroculture 11-13), a Bulgarian who studied in Sweden and France, the first thing that came to his mind is the skill of packing light. (for more tips, go to http://euroculturer.eu/2012/10/14/miss-help-packing/) “It could happen that you spend three or even four semesters in different countries. Putting your whole life together in a 20-kg suitcase is an art,” he says. Radostina (Euroculture 11-13), who studied at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, recommends bringing formal attire. “Go to at least one gasque,” she advises future Uppsala students on the traditional dinners in the Swedish university town.
Get ready for the intercultural ride of your lives
With packing comes moving, and Rumen emphasizes that he regards this as the most enriching part of the MA Euroculture programme. Learning to adapt quickly and making the most of the new environment is vital, he believes: “Brace yourselves for the intercultural ride of your lives!” Rumen urges new students to make the most of the opportunities they are presented with, even though moving between countries is scary. Getting out and seizing every day of the short time you spend in your host countries is the thing to do. Alexandra (Euroculture 12-14), an American euroculturer in Germany and the Netherlands, agrees. “It is key to make sure you don’t spend all of your time on Skype with friends and family back home,” she remembers.
Large parts of your life will be spent in the library – acquaint yourself with it
With a programme as stressful and demanding as MA Euroculture, you will sooner or later need a social net to fall back on. Befriending the people around you is her advice. Having a coffee in one of the cozy cafés of Uppsala, Udine, or Göttingen might also spark good ideas for class projects and later lead to a relationship that lasts longer than your study time. Peter (Euroculture 11-13), a Dutch student who has been from Holland to Spain, and then to Costa Rica and back, even suggests securing a friend on the first day – a friend with library access: “Be sure to have all library services accessible to you, you are going to need them a lot!” As long as your administration with the university and library is not taken care of yet, you are bound to fall behind. Do not miss out on the library introductions, and learn how to use their resources, which probably are handled in different systems at all of the different MA Euroculture universities.
Make friends – also with professors
Alexandra has felt that professors are approachable and therefore emphasises the importance of keeping in touch with them. “It will also help alleviate a lot of the stress,” she adds. Networking is also important during your two years as an MA Euroculture student. “Taking every opportunity to meet with alumni, professors, fellow students, and anyone else expressing interest in the programme is beneficial to one’s success as a Euroculture graduate,” she suggests.
Learn your host country’s language
Try to learn the language of your host country. You might not become a fluent speaker in the short time you are there, but it is an excellent opportunity not to wander around in complete oblivion and accidentally get on the wrong bus because you cannot read the signs. Multilingualism is common among MA Euroculture students, and most of your classmates will speak three languages. Be part of the linguistic environment, and make sure you have that other language your future employer might be looking for. “Don’t tell yourself: ‘I’ll only be here for one semester.’ You never know where you’ll end up,” Rumen says. Once you establish a basis in Swedish, Basque, or Dutch, you can easily learn more of the language later on.
Radostina points to modern technology as a means of making your life easier. Get involved on Facebook and join the relevant groups for your university. You might be amazed what you can get from there: furniture and bikes, mentors and parties, study groups and job hunts. Join the student unions, and turn to them when in doubt. Often you can get things cheaper there, like print outs for those many theses that you will submit.
Take care of yourself
Noodles and toasts were fine when you were an undergraduate, but not so much now that most of us have passed the age of 21. Olga (Euroculture 11-13), a Russian Euroculturer, stresses the importance of living healthy to survive the programme. “Work out and eat healthy!” she says. Getting sick is not an option, Peter adds. “As long as you are not in a casket, drag yourself to university,” he says. Let go of your illusions, and try to prepare the social contacts you have had so far about how busy you will be, Peter warns with a twinkle in his eye: “You are a Euroculture student now. This means you will have very little time. Many relationships will not survive this test.” You will meet your friends at airports and feel like you are constantly speed-dating your partner.
Make the most of it
As frightening as this sounds, all Euroculturers unanimously declare that while you should work hard to stay on top of things, you should also make time to play: go out for drinks with your classmates, take part in university events, and enjoy the unique experiences your cities offer. You might never be able to come back – max out the opportunities.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
“The calling of the humanities is to make us truly human in the best sense of the word” – J. Irwin Miller
Eunjin Jeong │firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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 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.
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.
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.