Tomorrow (Tuesday, November 8th) the United States will have an election that could either vote in a Democrat or the Chancellor turned Sith Lord who turns the Galactic Federation into the Empire with extreme responses to acts of rebellion, shoddy weaponry systems and attempts to wipe out a religion because it’s considered a threat to the Sith’s rule.
Setting aside the sheer foolishness of having polls open on a working week day without a sausage sizzle in sight-an act that would surely lead to street riots in Australia- the latest poll on Real Clear Politics showed only one point difference between four years of continuity in the United States and the last four years the United States might ever have.
However, in 2012,voter turnout was only 57.5% and when the approval rating of both candidates is at historic lows, it is unlikely that this election will see a dramatic increase in that number; this means that the countries future is in the hands of the minor few instead of the majority.
Compulsory voting is only enforced in twenty-two countries across the world (and one Swiss canton) and in those countries the fines for not voting are typically so low as to be considered symbolic more than a diversionary tactic. One of the more common arguments against compulsory voting in America is the first amendment of the Constitution which allows for freedom of religious practise, which for over one million Americans who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, means the right not to participate in political happenings. More famously, it allows for freedom of speech, for which it is claimed that compulsory voting is compelled speech and thus a violation of that right. In this case America’s liberty might be its downfall.
My first summer job was shit, and I mean this literally. When I was still in school, I worked in a local hospital as an underpaid cleaner and helper to the nurses. Not born an early riser, this meant dragging myself out of bed every morning at 3 a.m. to start my shift at 4.30 a.m. One day, my boss asked me to clean a bathroom that was “quite contaminated”. After that experience, which as mentioned was literally crap, I could clean anything I ever encountered in my many student homes. That summer I learned that with gloves, I can face most anything.
“That summer I learned that with gloves, I can face most anything.”
Summer is already here but you might still hope to be spending your Euroculture-free summer working at a nice place. Maybe that place, too, will turn out to be a little out of the ordinary. And possibly you will get some useful lessons for life there – with or without gloves.
I wanted to know where other people have worked to make a part-time living so I spoke to three former summer workers in the MA Euroculture network. Testing alcohol levels, teaching history to ignorant tourists, interviewing celebrities – Euroculturers have had some peculiar jobs.
Rieke: Hunting drunkards
When Rieke applied for her summer job, she could already sense that it was a job out of the ordinary. A bunch of weird people, a lot of strange interview questions. “When my friend and I got out of there, we burst out laughing!”
“A summer job with handcuffs”
Still, she and her friend decided to take the job and the next thing they knew they were standing in big fairs in the German countryside with handcuffs. She was sent out as a “Promille-Girl”, an alcohol tester dressed in a fake police uniform and equipped with a measuring instrument to check people’s breath. What is feared on roads, proved to be popular among party people.
“Some people even handcuffed themselves to me
and stole my police hat.”
“You didn’t have to know much,” Rieke remembers. During daytime the job was easy, but when night fell and alcohol levels rose, fair visitors would crowd around her. During working hours she had to be completely sober of course – but everyone else was heavily drunk. “A terrible situation!” she recalls. “Some people even handcuffed themselves to me and stole my police hat”, Rieke laughs. It was mostly men who wanted to test their alcohol levels and sometimes even deliberately drank a shot before. Not everyone trusted the measuring device though. “Some doubted the results and sometimes we got an “Error!” message when people had way too much alcohol in their breath.”
The “Promille-Girls” charged 2,50 euro for testing, but only got 20 cents of that themselves. On a good day, they would earn 90 euro each. Rieke only worked as a “Promille-Girl” for one summer. “Getting to the fairs often took a very long time,” she says. Before and after this alcohol experience, she worked in other promotion services – with less of an alcoholic element.
Rieke studies MA Euroculture in Groningen and Bilbao.
Giota: Giving history lessons to tourists
As a sales person for tourists in Athens, Giota did not have ideal working conditions: a normal day meant 11 hours of work with a rude boss that liked yelling at employees. But the salary was okay and the co-workers were great. “I was working six days a week and I never knew when my day off would be. But I needed the money so that I could stay in Athens.”
“You sold me a broken Parthenon!”
Giota’s favourite customers were from the USA and India. Working with tourists was at times even amusing. “Once a guy came and wanted a miniature of the Parthenon. I gave him a replica of how it is today and he replied that he wanted another one because the one I gave him was broken!” The customer was not joking and Giota had a hard time educating him about the state of the ruins. In the end, she told him that he could buy the other half in London where half of the real temple is today!
“I learned that I can do anything if I want to.”
Even if the job was not always enjoyable, Giota feels that she gained some useful insights. “First of all, I learned that I can do anything if I want to. If I want, I can go past limits and work many hours.” Her interest in working with people from abroad was also fostered through her job as a tourist helper. It helped her to realise the differences in culture and mentality.
She quit her job after a while and is now looking for a Master’s programme. MA Euroculture would be an interesting choice to her.
Giota is from Greece and likes The Euroculturer magazine. She heard about it through her friend Penelope, our News Editor.
Murat: Interviewing KGB agents
Murat Tutar had a television intermezzo in his most random summer job. For three weeks last summer, he worked at a TV channel in his home country of Turkey. “It was everything”, he remembers, “Fun, passion, pain, gossip, lies, discipline!”
“You discover what is happening behind the screen.”
Working conditions were, however, precarious. No contract, no payment, no insurance, but he wanted to gain experience in the media world. Like so many other students working in summer jobs or unpaid internships, he recounts feeling “like a slave” at times. Murat describes the TV station as the CNN of Turkey: to get the opportunity to work at Habertürk TV was in itself a success. “You actually learn a lot in a short time”, he sums up, “because you discover what is happening behind the screen”. How to prepare a broadcast, talk to people on the streets, search for news, as well as familiarising himself with the rules and regulations of media work was part of his job. Knowing everything was the dictum.
His position was very informal: he was an intern, correspondent, interview, advertiser, and reporter – all at the same time. “You just go and work there, you learn, show what you can do”, Murat remembers. The employers wanted to see if he would be suited for a job at the TV channel. Getting hired was an option, but the Euroculture office called and offered him a spot in Krakow instead.
“Anna Chapman is in Istanbul now. Go find her and do an interview!”
The most exciting incident happened one afternoon when Murat’s boss walked in and asked if he spoke English. “Here is your mission”, his superior instructed him. “Anna Chapman is in Istanbul now. Go find her and do an interview!” A lot of questions popped into Murat’s head. Questions that he had to answer in the five minutes before the cameraman and the taxi were ready. “Who exactly is Anna Chapman, where is she, and how can I find her?” In the streets of Istanbul, with a population of 14 million, Murat set out to find the Russian ex-spy and now TV host, Anna Chapman. He did manage to find her, in a café, and convinced her to accept his interview request. “It happened entirely spontaneously. That was what I liked so much about my job: you go into the office in the early morning and it seems like nothing is happening, but then suddenly everything is turned upside down because of a particular piece of news,” Murat explains.
After this job, he does not watch the news like he did before. Working at the TV channel changed his perspective: “I know how much they cut and skip now. I don’t believe everything so easily any more”. To see the whole process of research and broadcasting was an enriching experience for him. Murat had taken media classes before, but real-life TV was a whole new world. Still, he is glad today that he exchanged the TV camera for the student’s desk again. “Euroculture is so many amazing topics to discuss. It’s new and exciting”.
Murat is a current MA Euroculture student at Jagiellonian University, Krakow and Palacky University, Olomouc.
What was your weirdest or best summer job? What do you think about working conditions for part-time workers? Let us know in our commentary field!
Helen Hoffmann, Creative 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).
In this article, I do not intend to frame music to its origin, or to generalise music composition into representation of a certain culture. Instead, what I wish to demonstrate is how I see Toru Takemitsu’s Requiem as a response to his personal life experience of war, as well as how the music reflects the beauty of Japanese aesthetics.
Wong Tsz 王子
Requiem for strings (弦楽のためのレクイエム) was Toru Takemitsu’s (武満徹 1930 – 1996) early composition in 1957. It remained unknown to the world until 1958, when Igor Stravinsky visited Japan and heard Takemitsu’s composition. The music had been mistakenly selected by staff of the Japanese national broadcast station NHK as work of the Russian composer, but Stravinsky insisted on hearing it to the end and expressed admiration for the work. In a later press conference, he praised its “sincerity” and “passionate” writing. Stravinsky subsequently invited the Japanese composer to lunch; Takemitsu later described it as an “unforgettable” experience.
“Stravinsky insisted on hearing it to the end…”
Composed as a tribute to his mentor, composer Fumio Hayasaka (早坂文雄 1914 – 1955), Requiem for strings shows the composer’s avant-garde style of composition which absorbs elements of various forms of music (namely Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern’s Second Viennese School); with great resemblance to Western classical music. Requiem also shows a highly ‘non-Japanese’ commotion that audiences may find difficult to relate to anything Japanese.
In this article, I do not intend to frame music to its origin, or to generalise music composition into representation of a certain culture. Instead, what I wish to demonstrate is how I see Takemitsu’s Requiem as a response to his personal life experience of war, as well as how the music reflects the beauty of Japanese aesthetics.
World War II
“I hated everything about Japan at that time because of my experience during the war…”
Largely self-taught, Takemitsu’s first encounter with Western classical music occurred after World War II. Western music had been banned during the war in Japan. In an effort to learn music, he would walk through the city searching for the sound of a piano, whereupon he would “ask to touch the piano for five minutes. I was never refused!”
Takemitsu worked for the US Armed Forces, but was soon hospitalised in 1953 for a long time due to tuberculosis. During his time in hospital, he spent many hours listening to Western music on the US Armed Forces network radio. The discovery of Western classics helped Takemitsu to recover from his terrible war trauma. “My first teacher was the radio”, said Takemitsu. The composer recalls his military life after conscription in 1944 as “extremely bitter”. The composer explained much later in life that, for him, Japanese traditional music “always recalled the bitter memories of war”. For many years he considered Japanese traditional music as a symbol of the horrible war. “I hated everything about Japan at that time because of my experience during the war,” he said.
Influenced and inspired by composers such as Debussy and Messiaen, Takemitsu rediscovers music with a modern perspective. He co-founded Jikken Kobo (実験工房Experimental Workshop) with Joji Yuasa (湯浅譲二), Katsuhiro Yamaguchi (山口勝弘), Akiyama Kuniharu (秋山邦晴), and 10 other young artists in 1951 and conceived electronic music, especially Musique concrete (Concrete Music). At the same time, Takemitsu demonstrated great strength in mastering Western orchestration, of which Requiem could be regarded as his earliest large-scale orchestral work.
I share with you here a notable recording of Takemitsu’s Requiem for strings, played by the New Japan Philharmonic in 1991 under the baton of the renowned Seiji Ozawa:
Mono no Aware
Despite its ‘non-Japanese’ tonality and orchestration, what I find most ‘Japanese’ in Requiem is its sense of speechlessness beyond music itself, the relatableness to traditional Japanese aesthetics of Mono no Aware (物の哀れ). First described in the Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji by Japanese philosopher Motoori Norinaga (本居宣長1730 -1801), ‘mono no aware’ exhibits an important aspect of what is seen as traditional Japanese aesthetic consciousness. The component ‘aware’ portrays sorrow or misery; ‘mono no’ points this ‘aware’ to the things of the world, taken usually in the abstract sense; often to signify a sad but ephemeral beauty which is conspicuous in traditional Japanese cultural expressions. Mono no Aware’s sad, “fleeting beauty” is most closely connected to the Japanese notion of transience (無常mujō) or sensing-impermanence (無常觀mujō-kan): “nothing in the world is permanent, that all things, both beautiful and painful, must inevitably pass away”.
Nothing in the world is permanent, that all things, both beautiful and painful, must inevitably pass away…”
Requiem is composed in ABA format; Lent – Modéré – Lent. This taut structure delivers intensity throughout the piece. Gradually magnified by muted violins, Requiem transports a beautiful but hollow, later solid homophony; surrounded by a mist of lower strings, the continuous smooth passages of crescendo and decrescendo imitate the grizzle inhales and exhales of a singer:
<Fig.1 Lent ♩= 56 Bar 1-3 >
The ‘breath’ of the music is highlighted in red, one can tell from the score that it is in steady crescendo, decrescendo, crescendo and decrescendo again. Takemitsu described this use of monotonic change of one single note as a River of Sound (音の河), where a background of audio flows in contrast to the movement of motive, which is highlighted in blue. The composer recalled “One day in the year 1948, I was trapped in a tiny train carriage; I had the thought of mixing one single noise into accurate notes, to be more precise, this noise is the channel which goes through sound in our life”. He further noted that by mixing noise into accurate notes, it implies to him linking all sounds together, and thus is named the River of Sound. He finds the River of Sound on one hand exterior to the rest of notes and, on the other hand, he also finds himself exterior to the world he knows. This motive is then ended by a short viola solo, relocating the homophony into a richer tonality.
<Fig. 2 Modéré, ♩= 86 Bar 45-47.>
The second section is even tenser with a faster tempo and more passionate syncopations which demonstrate grievances. This is further demonstrated by the use of two violins on an octave interval (highlighted in blue in Fig.2). With the use of only two violins, the composer marked rall. (rallentando) molto, which means slowly and drastically, which is against the overall tempo of modéré, giving sharp changes to both the volume and tempo.
The last passage recalls the opening theme, which is slightly shortened. This carries a reminder of the past which brings the beauty of sadness, and in my view, implies a Samsara vision of life, which can be related to the composer’s experience of struggling for life against illness.
“Mono no Aware is a sentiment towards nature and life, that life is part of death and death is part of life…”
I construe Mono no Aware as a sentiment towards nature and life, two main themes which often occur in Takemitsu’s compositions; thus, life is part of death and death is part of life. Through this sentiment, one may overcome the transience of life and uncertainty of the future. All the soreness of life is momentary, and only by fully recognising the truth and retaining a peaceful mind, can one achieve a realm of eternity. At this particular time, when the tension between Japan and China, as well as among nations in Southeast Asia, grows, the recall of such aesthetic value is sorely needed for all mankind to keep in mind the astringent memories of war and the common desire of permanent peace.
Requiem for strings demonstrates a heavy influence of Western classical music in Toru Takemitsu’s early composition. The composer once said that, “I used to believe that I could only compose when I am confronted with a big mirror of Western Music, only after knowing the music of my own country, I realise that mirror is not just one-dimensional”. Indeed, one may find more use of local traditional elements by the composer in his later experimental works, which highly correlates with elements from nature.
Takemitsu left over 100 compositions of chamber, orchestra, and film scores after his death in 1996. My own interpretation of his Requiem serves to only glimpse into the composer’s life and his imaginary world, and I certainly wish for more listeners to carry on this discovery.
Burt, Peter. The Music of Toru Takemitsu. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
 Mark Meli, “Motoori Norinaga’s Hermeneutic of Mono no Aware: The Link Between Ideal and Tradition,” Michele Marra ed., Japanese Hermeneutics: Current Debates in Aesthetics and Interpretation, University of Hawaii Press, pp.60-75, Feb. 2002
 Any single section of music consisting of phrases or other musical sections could be represented by ‘A’. This musical section can be repeated to create an ‘AA’ form. If put together with a new section, ‘B’, the musical form is then called ‘AB’, showing two contrasting musical sections. Thus, when ‘A’ is repeated (even with modification), it forms an ‘ABA’ structure.
 For more detailed descriptions concerning River of Sound, please refer to Toru Takemitsu’s book 音楽を呼びさますもの (Music Awakened), Tokyo: Shinchosha Publishing, 1985
 See: Music of Tree (1961), Winter (1971), The Spirit of Love (1979), Rain Coming for chamber orchestra (1982), Twill by Twilight—In Memory of Morton Feldman (1988), Tree Line for chamber orchestra (1988), How slow the Wind (1991).
Takemitsu, Toru,《武滿徹Essay選，朝向語言之海》(Essays from Toru Takemitsu, Towards the Ocean of Language), Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo Publishing, 2008, pp.30.
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.
This article has had many incarnations. I think I have written at least ten different versions: some leading to nihilism, others to (unrealistic) optimism. Hopefully, this one will be somewhat in the middle. Let’s begin with a story:
“In a new building, we philosophers were now going to see the light…”
In my ‘senior’ year of undergrad (which was actually my 6th year of college: one might have seen that us Humanities majors do not always take the most direct routes to things), my university received a grant from some very wonderful people for a new, glorious Humanities building. The Philosophy Department for many years lived a very shadowy existence, crammed up a small stairwell, in a small hallway of an old building. We Philosophers were now going to see the ‘light’. And so the ‘hobbit’ area got turned over to the unfortunate souls of Economic majors who had been kicked out of their place because the Engineering Department was expanding (I know it doesn’t make sense but I think they just drew the shortest straw).
“Who are you?”
“The Philosophy Department”
“Um… Oh yeah, come back in two months…”
The project was completed two months ahead of time. The whole Philosophy Department moved out, boxes in hand, gazing at what would be our new home. The construction workers came out wiping the dust from their hands to greet the crew of pale, disheveled, tweed jacket folks known as Philosophy professors. “Who are you?” one of the workers asks. “The Philosophy Department” was the reply. “Um… Oh yeah, come back in two months”. The Humanities building had forgotten Philosophy (sure, it wasn’t the building’s fault but it is best we place blame there since I don’t want to get in trouble with my university).
Just in the nick of time, with wet paint still on some of the walls, the Philosophy Department had a new home on the top floor. Of course we would never say we are the highest of the Humanities or anything like that, or that we have the best view of things… We would never say that.
“With wet paint still on some of the walls,
the Philosophy Department had a new home on the top floor…”
In previous versions of this article I wanted to make just that analogy. We Humanities majors ‘get’ it: how studying Philosophy is awesome and you become wise (it is the study of wisdom and all). In the end, it all works out. But once I walked down from my ‘ivory’ tower, reality hit. It was more like I was pushed from that fourth floor and I landed hard. Philosophers don’t really ‘fit’ into society anymore. And graduating in the middle of America’s recession and loaded with student loans did not help. (Just for clarification: while studying Philosophy, I also studied Sociology and Criminology to possibly soften my landing, and because I believe the fields are related. Then again, I also believe Philosophy is related to every subject matter.)
“Once I walked down from my ‘ivory’ tower, reality hit.
I was pushed from that fourth floor and I landed hard…”
Call it aversion, call it love for my field, call it just plain craziness, I went on to get my Masters in Euroculture. So, to the question at hand: what are the real benefits of studying Humanities, and say Philosophy specifically. This leads to another similar question: what do you do with a Humanities degree? Yeah… Um. Things are not looking good in this article. But I am going to keep going, hopefully we’ll swerve just before hitting nihilism. The purpose and benefits of studying Philosophy, as mentioned, are gaining wisdom, such as understanding the mind, and what is real. Additionally, learning about knowledge (and its limits), logic and reason. Basically, it is the study of the quintessence of being human. Now, the ‘practicality’ is another matter.
“I will be honest…”
I’ll be honest: I do not have a ‘career’; I have two part-time minimum-wage jobs (starting to nose-dive, Abort! Abort!). I was given tools from studying, such as problem-solving, asking questions, thinking outside the box, virtues, morals, logic, the power of aesthetics etc. But I have not used these tools to their full-effect (yet). More on this later.
Philosophy is a grand subject and personally, I believe Humanities would not exist without it. As I said, all subjects connect back to Philosophy one way or another. In an ideal world everyone would have to take a Philosophy class and the world would be a better place.
“In an ideal world everyone would have to take a Philosophy class…”
But the world is not ideal. Philosophy, as with almost all the Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences, has a hard time outside of academia. Previous contributors to this column did a nice job in describing the essences of being a Humanities major: being a ‘finicky bunch’, being a ‘generalist’ and understanding ‘different perspectives,’ for example. We are somewhat a lost people: we huddle around, dissecting and creating great ideas and hoping for a better future. But in the meantime we are cold, often poor, and hungry in our bellies and our souls.
Well crap, we nosedived again. I am not going to say one should not take the Humanities, I fully believe in everything the previous contributors said. Society, although not appreciative, needs us. But in a way we also need society (unless the solitary life really appeals to you) and while the constructs of society might be changing, and it might very well be because of us, change is sometimes slow. Sure, there might be great stories told of us later on, but some of us, like myself, would like to lead/have the great story now while I am still alive. The benefits are abstract and we don’t fit (yet). Reality hurts and it hurts bad.
“Society needs us and we also need society”
“Be a part of it, even if it might hurt…
Make a parachute and survive the landing”
If you are going to get pushed out of academia (or perhaps stay and never face ‘reality’), what I can suggest is to make a parachute, something I did not do. We are great minds and we need to be in society so therefore we have to make ourselves fit, which means you need to survive the landing. Borislava Miteva’s comments on this column about concentrating your studies are helpful, but I believe being too specific is just as much of an issue as being too general; you will have to figure out this tight-rope balancing act. Miteva’s other point is on target: you need to be able to show how what you learned is applicable to the job you are applying for. Basically, have a game plan, an idea of what exactly you want to do with your degree (this should be done before you graduate, parachutes work best when they are put on before you jump). Nothing is set in stone, you can have drafts, you can change your mind, but you have to have something ‘on your back’ when you leave academia. Do internships, network(!), and work. Yes, I am going to say it: almost any job is better than no job. In the end, don’t just talk about society: be a part of it — even if it might hurt. We are Humanities majors after all: strong, daring and resilient. We can take it.
If you want to read previous articles from Why Study Humanities Series, also read
Chelsea King, Copy Editor Chelsea was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. She graduated from the University of Utah, with degrees in Philosophy, Sociology and Criminology. After spending a year abroad at Södertörns Högskola, Stockholm, Sweden and University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, knew she had to come back to Europe. She is recent graduate from the Euroculture Program from The University of Göttingen and University of Groningen. She likes traveling, meeting new people and has many pensive moments.
Thank you very much for your answer! We wish you the best with your (Post) Erasmus Mundus life!
The result of the poll will be collected and delivered during the General Assembly of Erasmus Mundus Student and Alumni Association (EMA) which will take place on 14-15 June 2013 in Barcelona. The EMA General Assembly (GA) will gather Programme Representatives from over 150 Erasmus Mundus Masters and Doctorate Programmes to enhance the quality of your Erasmus Mundus student lives. If you have any other concerns about your Erasmus Mundus life that have not been covered by this poll, feel free to contact Eunjin Jeong, 2013-2014 Programme Representative of MA Euroculture via firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Erasmus Mundus student and alumni Association, visit here and also find it on Facebook.
How can European-level democracy work in reality? How should it relate to the established national political spheres and identities in Europe? How can a European political sphere be established?
As a Euroculturer, you will have certainly come across these and other questions on the legitimacy of the European integration process. The following article presents how European-level political foundations concretely work with these issues – and how you can perhaps contribute to their projects as an intern.
Daan Hovens │ email@example.com
Political foundations exist on both the national and the European level. They are organisations that are allied to, but independent from, political parties. The size, functioning and societal impact of political foundations varies widely, but their core tasks are usually based around political education, in the broadest sense of the word. This includes, for example, organising seminars, conferences and public discussions, as well as disseminating publications, launching websites and running social media accounts. With some political foundations, tasks can even go as far as political consultation, international development cooperation, and distributing education and research scholarships.
“The core of political foundations’ tasks are usually based around political education, in the broadest sense of the word.”
Political foundations are almost entirely financed by public money, which should make it possible for them to work quite independently and based on the political ideology they identify with. Due to this independence, political foundations can help to insure that a variety of ideological perspectives is represented in the public sphere, and that citizens’ political education is not dominated by only one single ideology. Since political foundations also contribute in engaging citizens in general, some people view these foundations – at least in theory – as crucial elements in the establishment of a democratic political culture.
Why European-level political foundations?
Yet, in different national contexts, citizens and authorities have different ideas about the added value of political foundations. As these foundations are mostly financed with public money, their size differs widely across countries. Perhaps not surprisingly due to its 20th century history, Germany stands out as a country where political foundations are strongly subsidised by the state and therefore relatively powerful.
Concerning European-level political foundations, the European Parliament has financed such foundations since 2008. The motivation behind this seems obvious as the European political sphere is still weak while European-level decision-making has become ever more meaningful for the daily lives of EU citizens. The main goal of European political foundations can be defined, in other words, as to bridge the often experienced ‘gap’ between the EU and its citizens.
“The main goal of European political foundations is to bridge the ‘gap’ between the EU and its citizens.”
Naturally, Eurosceptics could put this in a different perspective: questioning the assumed ‘general interest’ of establishing European-level political foundations, and criticising the legitimacy of European-level foundations having an impact on the national political sphere. On the other hand, Eurosceptics can also make use of the right to establish European political foundations in order to spread their own ideological perspectives. This has already been done in the shape of, for example, “New Direction, the Foundation for European Reform”.
How much should ‘Europe’ spend on European-level political foundations?
Still, legitimating the use of public money – and more importantly, how much public money – to subsidise political foundations can be a sensitive issue in current European debates. In reality, although the budget of European political foundations has gradually increased since 2008, this financing is still limited to a maximum of about 4 million euro – the amount received by the political foundation allied to the largest political group in the European Parliament (the centre-right European People’s Party). This is more than the money that, for example, the Dutch authorities spend on their national political foundations, but it is only a fraction of the annual subsidies received by the German centre-right Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is more than 100 million euro.
“Although the budget of European political foundations has gradually increased since 2008, this financing is still limited to a maximum of about 4 million euro.”
An advantage of the limited budgets is that they encourage European foundations to cooperate with national foundations, which could bring the political discussions on both levels closer together. A disadvantage, on the other hand, is that due to the strongly differing national circumstances, national foundations from states that spend much money on these foundations (such as, as mentioned above, Germany) might hold a rather powerful position within the European networks this way, as the possibility of carrying out certain projects could become financially depending on their willingness to cooperate.
“Another criticism comes from the fact that the current system may help, in other words, to conserve the existing power division.”
Another criticism towards the financing system of political foundations comes from the fact that the amount of public money that a foundation receives depends on the size of the foundation’s affiliated political party in the European Parliament. This means that the current system benefits the spread of ideological perspectives of parties that are already well-represented in the Parliament, whereas it is more difficult for new and smaller parties to present their ideological perspectives in the public sphere. The current system may help, in other words, to conserve the existing power division. Yet, it seems difficult to come up with a financing system that appears fairer, as the current situation can at least be legitimated by the outcome of supposedly free and open democratic elections.
What concrete projects do European political foundations work on?
“Let’s have a look at some of the projects carried out by these foundations to tackle the questions…”
Another way to tackle the question of the legitimacy of spending public money on European-level political foundations is to have a look at the concrete projects carried out by these foundations. I will name three examples of projects here that I have contributed to myself as an intern for the Green European Foundation (GEF) in 2012.
First of all, GEF runs a website called the “Campaign Handbook”, on which it gathers campaign experiences of (mainly) European Greens and NGO actors. Together with some theoretical information on how to set up an effective campaign, this serves to inspire and help anyone who is interested in becoming politically active – especially in those countries where Green issues do not play a prominent role on the political agenda.
Secondly, GEF organises an annual seminar, the so-called “Toolkit for the European Green activist”, which brings together young Green activists from all over Europe for three days of workshops, discussions, interactive classes and guided tours in Brussels. The idea behind this is to make young activists with different national and regional backgrounds more aware of the functioning of European-level decision making, as well as their own opportunity of engaging in this decision-making process. Within this context, the annual seminar can also serve as a potential for young Green activists to set up a European network.
Lastly, GEF regularly organises expert seminars, for example a seminar on “Populism in Central and Eastern Europe”. Since populist parties have become quite prominent in several European countries in recent years, it can be useful for Green actors throughout Europe to exchange opinions on whether one can speak of this recent populism as a truly ‘European’ (or perhaps rather ‘Western European’ and ‘Central/Eastern European’?) phenomenon, and to exchange experiences on how to deal with the political challenges that Green parties face when dealing with populism. With these goals in mind, the seminar is mainly aimed at an academic audience, as well as certain people involved in Green politics. After the seminar, a publication reflecting the input and conclusions from the seminar discussions is made publicly available by GEF.
If you are interested in different European-level political foundations and if you want to know more about their activities – and perhaps even look for the possibility to work as an intern there – you can find the websites of all thirteen European political foundations via the following links:
During the first 18 years of his life, Daan practically lived on the Dutch-German border (just slightly at the Dutch side), in a village called Tegelen. Having this in mind, it may not come as a surprise that he has studied Euroculture and German. Besides that, he has a background in Scandinavian languages and cultures, which he decided to study out of his love for films, music and languages from Northern Europe. Daan’s two Euroculture Universities were – for obvious reasons – Göttingen and Uppsala, and he also did a research track at Osaka University. The internship for the Green European Foundation in Brussels was Daan’s first work experience after graduation.”
In the spring of 2006, I was accepted to the MA Euroculture programme in Poland. Childhood memories suddenly took over me: my Mom playing Chopin – ballad, nocturne, waltz and mazurek (mazurka). Music filling the house. A lovely cake with a similar name, full of walnuts and raisins baked by my Granny. This specialty, consonant with Polish dance, is an integral part of Polish cuisine. These memories are my first links to Poland. The flavour and fragrance of the cake turned the music of Chopin from a subject of aesthetic addiction into an integral part of home warmth and comfort. Amusingly, other memories are also connected to those gustatory and odoristic aspects. I remember the taste of Polish strawberry jam and oatmeal biscuits, szarlotka, trickled pastries and other Polish dishes. Our grandmothers knew how to cook them because, due to similarity of circumstances, they appeared in Uzbekistan together with Poles. We have bright sun, generous nature, and an abundance of fruits, vegetables and berries. For that reason, wonderful fruit and berry aromas of Polish cosmetics, popular in our country, felt close and familiar.
“I remember the taste of Polish strawberry jam and oatmeal biscuits, szarlotka, trickled pastries and other Polish dishes. Our grandmothers knew how to cook them…”
My childhood memories about Poland are fragmentary, chaotic, irregular. Books on the shelves: Adam Mickiewicz, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Jerzy Stawiński, and brilliant aphorisms of Jerzy Lec. I remember the movies of Andrzej Wajda, fine faces of Polish actors, perfect beauty of actresses: Beata Tyszkiewicz, Ewa Szykulska, Barbara Brylska with delicacy, culture and healthy dignity always impressive in their characters. Incidentally, these features carried to the point of absurdity had frightened us in Russian operas where Poles were portrayed as vain, arrogant people.
Besides Chopin, Poland has other famous brands, reflecting the scope and depth of the scientific, artistic and spiritual potential of the Polish nation. Copernicus, John Paul II, Krzysztof Penderecki: graduates and honorary doctors of Krakow’s Jagiellonian University which supplement the city’s list of brands. And this was the university where I was going to be studying.
“Krakow…Copernicus, John Paul II, Krzysztof Penderecki: graduates and honorary doctors of Jagiellonian University which supplement the city’s list of brands.”
The childish joy I experienced through my acquaintance with Poland is hugely strengthened in Polish restaurants, delicious food distributed by someone’s generous hand in open air cafes. The hospitality, warmth and generosity of Polish people make you feel as if you are surrounded by your closest relatives.
Wonderful Polish homemade food
“Living in Poland, be prepared to gain extra weight.”
In Poland, you are invited to homes, you are surrounded with care and love every minute. For that reason, it doesn’t take long until you perceive Poland as your second home and get excited every time you hear a Polish word uttered.
Living in Poland, be prepared to gain extra weight. Hanging out with friends is intrinsically combined with delicious café experiences. And in Krakow it becomes an addiction. Probably, the most famous Polish specialty worldwide is pierogi(variation of dumplings). These yummy stuffed pies amaze you not only with their number of fillings like mushrooms, buckwheat, berries, strawberries … but also colours. I have never tried such beautiful and colourful pierogi in all my life! Polish soups are also a special part of the menu. The most traditional and remarkable to me is zurek, which is usually served in freshly baked bread. This rather substantial combo often turns out to be your meal of the day!
If you are in Krakow for Tłusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday), you will have the chance to try fabulous local donuts, pączki, filled with rose petal jam. Once again, a return to childhood! My Granny made rose petal jam as our garden was full of roses! The best place for pączki is Rynek Główny (Main Market Square), where the largest number of donuts is distributed. You are too late? Don’t worry! You can try this dessert in one of Krakow’s numerous coffee houses along with excellent hot chocolate, kawa(coffee) or herbata (tea). The selection of herbata will surely amaze your imagination. It may contain all types of berries, herbs and even flowers from local forests. It was in Poland that I tried blueberries for the first time, and they immediately became one of my favourite berries. In Krakow, you buy berries, fruits and vegetables not only in shopping malls but also from farmers’ markets (in Uzbekistan we know them as bazaars). For that reason, food in Poland has a wonderful taste that you always think about.While travelling between cities of Poland you can admire the beautiful farms that produce the food you can then enjoy.
“Poland is famous for its desserts…Also, amazingly, the Poles even add poppy seeds to pasta!”
Poland is famous for its desserts, especially szarlotka, sernik(cheesecake) and makowiec (pastry with poppy seeds). Amazingly, the Poles even add poppy seeds to pasta! Even having lived in a warm country, I have never seen poppy seeds in such huge quantities as in Polish cookies. Szarlotka in Krakow is also worth trying! It seems quite unusual to me. First, it comes warm, while we serve it cold. Second, the apples were thinly sliced, while in my country we usually slice them in rather large pieces. It tasted fabulous, in candle light and accompanied with kawa!
Luckily, I also experienced winter time in Krakow, when I saw beautiful Christmas decorations and ate carp, kiełbasa (sausages) , several types of zapiekanka(bread roasted with mushrooms and cheese), wonderful smoked cheese (oscypek) with jam as well as flavoured ginger breads. Don’t miss the local liquor based on honey, mied, along with Żubrówka (vodka with herbs), which are both are available in shops and restaurants.If you favour a vegetarian diet, bar sałatkowy(salad bar) Chimera at ul. Św. Anny 3 will be a true discovery for you, with the best choice of vegetable and fruit salads.
“Lastly, it is of crucial importance to know wonderful cafés…”
As a student, it is of crucial importance to know a wonderful café in the old part of town: Massolit at ul. Felicjanec 4. Massolit has a great choice of books in English which you can read in the café while sipping herbata. Books can be either bought or exchanged.
Several years have passed since I graduated from Jagiellonian University but the warmth and hospitality of the people, and the charm and ancient spirit of the city and university remain in my heart.
Suzanna Fatyan, Contributing writer
Suzanna is from a city of Oriental fairy tales – Samarkand in Uzbekistan. She studied English language and literature in Samarkand State Institute of Foreign Languages for BA. In 2008, Suzanna graduated MA Euroculture from Jagiellonian University in Krakow and Deusto University, San Sebastian. Suzanna works as tour guide in Samarkand, writes blog for Uzbek Journeys in Australia and travels as much as possible.
The Euroculturer has invited Florian Fritsch, IP 2013 Krakow intern to ask what it’s like to be an IP intern.
Florian Fritsch│ firstname.lastname@example.org
Q1. Hello, Florian. How did you become an intern with the IP 2013 Krakow team? How long did the internship last?
Hello! Well, last summer I found an interesting internship in a different field but they eventually turned the offer down, mentioning financial difficulties. A few days later Juan (from the IP team in Krakow) called me wondering if I was still available for the job, as I had applied for it a few months before. Project management is a professional area in which I would love to work after I graduate from MA Euroculture so I said yes! Let’s say the team was quite lucky to get me in the end!!!
Q2. What kind of work did you do as an IP intern?
Everything was focused around project management. My main responsibility was the Career Day of the IP 2013: organising the day, contacting and inviting people and professionals to the event, logistics, brainstorming, etc. I was also in contact with students, answering questions or queries they had, and I contributed most of the information on the ‘practical info’ section of the blog or the vignettes (the IP newsletter). I was able to bring my own experiences of last year’s IP in Bilbao, Spain, looking at what was successful and enjoyed and what could have been improved. I was in charge of finding the volunteers to assist the students during their stay in Krakow, looking for ways to reduce cost in food, and a lot of other things (including going out in the evenings and other surprises that I won’t reveal now – it’s top secret!).
Q3. Can you describe your day as an IP intern?
My day started very early in the morning, around 9am, with a cup of coffee with Juan. Then we went up the hill to Przegorzały where ‘the castle’ (as it is commonly known in Krakow) and the Institute of European Studies is situated (students will understand what I mean when they are in Krakow). Mornings usually began with a meeting with the team about the IP. This was sometimes followed by a ‘brainstorm session’ in order to bring in new ideas to make this IP the best one ever! Afterward I completed administrative work such as looking for information on the internet, calling people, meeting with people, and exchanging ideas with other members of the team. We sometimes had fun with a little office basketball game (but, to be honest, we were all quite bad at it).
“Mornings usually began with a meeting with the team about the IP. This was sometimes followed by a ‘brainstorm session’ in order to bring in new ideas to make this IP the best one ever!”
Q4. How was working with other members of the IP team?
Great! Amazing! Splendid! It really feels good when you work with people like Karo, Juan and Luc. They are really helpful and it was a lot of fun to be around them.
Q5. What skills/qualities do you think an IP intern needs?
I think self-management is the main thing. You have a lot of responsibilities and the team is not always going to be looking over your shoulder at what you’re doing. You need to set your own goals and agenda. Communication wise, well, you need to have easy contact with people, trust yourself and your English language skills, and you must to be motivated about your work and be willing to do work for students you don’t know.
“You have a lot of responsibilities and the team is not always going to be looking over your shoulder at what you’re doing. You need to set your own goals and agenda.”
Q6. What skills/qualities do you think you have acquired during your time as an IP intern?
I have two. Firstly, I learned how to manage myself, set my own goals and deadlines. I’m much more organised now. Secondly, I feel more comfortable contacting new people, and I really enjoy meeting potential partners or sponsors.
Q7. What’s your best memory from the internship?
Probably my visit to the French Consulate. At first I went there just to get some contacts for the Career Day, I didn’t expect to participate in a meeting at all. I was on my way back from the gym, not really dressed in a formal way. The interesting thing was that, despite my embarrassment, I learned a lot about diplomacy and partnership during this 45 minute meeting. To add another one, maybe the incident when Juan broke the back window of his car while trying to park, I don’t know!
“Despite my embarrassment, I learned a lot about diplomacy and partnership…”
Q8. What’s your worst memory from the internship?
I don’t think there are any bad memories.
Q9. Would you recommend the IP internship to other MA Euroculture students?
Oh yes. I learnt a lot and really felt like a member of the team, not just a trainee who gets asked to bring coffee and make photocopies. You also learn a lot about project management in a practical setting, working on a serious conference of which you already have some experience. Finally, I think you also learn a lot about Euroculture.
Q10. You lived in Krakow for two semesters. How was it living there? Tell us what you liked most about Krakow.
Yes, I spent a year in Krakow. Krakow is a lovely city, probably the second most beautiful city in the world after my hometown of Strasbourg (who said I was being super subjective?!). It has some really beautiful architecture. It is also a dynamic student city. It can be really cold and snowy during the winter, but the weather is very nice in June when you can enjoy the sun on the Main Square with a beer or do some tanning on the shore of the river near Wawel. There are also a lot of bars, pubs and clubs with €1 beers and vodka shots – but be careful or you might have trouble following all the interesting activities we prepared for you during the IP!
“The weather is very nice in June when you can enjoy the sun on the Main Square with a beer or do some tanning on the shore of the river near Wawel.”
Thank you very much for answering our questions. We heard that you will be in Krakow for the IP to help the team. Good luck and have lots of Euroculture fun!
Thank you very much for having me, I’m looking forward to seeing the students at the IP in June!
Florian is from France and started the MA Euroculture programme in 2011. He graduated from the University of Strasbourg with a BA in Applied Modern Languages in English and Japanese. He spent his first Euroculture semester in Strasbourg, second and third semesters in Krakow, and is now back in Strasbourg to write his Master Thesis to win the ALBA thesis prize. His main focus of studies is the role of sport in European identity and the influence of American culture on the changing sporting habits of young Europeans.
On a sunny day in Krakow I met with IP organisers Juan, Luc and Karolina at cozy café Karma, one of the favourite hangouts of some of the team members. Here, I had the chance to ask them all about the upcoming Intensive Programme. Because, as we all know, IP 2013 is getting closer. In June, MA Euroculture students will travel to Krakow from every corner of Europe to experience a mind-blowing week full of lectures, discussions, presentations and urban challenges. A week’s worth of memories for every Euroculturer and an excellent opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones. The IP team is working very hard to make this week a great success. Now it’s time to ask them about their experiences with organising IP 2013!
Who is in the IP team?
Karolina (middle), the feminine side and head of the crew, steers and manages all activities related to MA Euroculture and the IP. A Polish-Canadian with a weakness for cinnamon-oatmeal muffins and peanut butter, she brings enthusiasm and comradeship to the team.
Juan (right), one of the few Mexicans dwelling in Krakow, runs the programme’s PR, visual ‘identity’ and acts as a student advisor. He will take good care of you and if you’re lucky (and have a gusto for spicy food) he might allow you to taste some his famous tacos.
Luc (left), Kung-Fu apprentice and an expert on transport and geopolitics of the North, comes to us from Quebec and assists the programme as an internal advisor. His fine sense of humour will guarantee an all-but-boring stay in Krakow.
Hey guys… Uhm, everything under control?
(Whispers amongst each other: “don’t mention the… you know what”)
J: No, all jokes aside, it’s going great!
(All three nod in agreement)
Could you describe IP 2013 in one sentence?
K: A fun opportunity for students to meet, exchange and engage with each other and produce something within their environment, at the local level, and as much as possible in an eco-friendly, gender-balanced, budget-conscious and stimulating way. Oh, and in a fun and welcoming atmosphere!
(But that was two sentences?!)
How did you decide on the theme and subthemes of the upcoming IP?
J: Last summer, we had a few sessions with other people from the institute in which we asked ourselves ‘what are the issues concerning Europe nowadays?’ Those were really nice sessions.
K: One important issue we knew that had to be addressed is of course the crisis, which is hanging over Europe like a dark cloud. However the idea was to reframe it by asking the question: how can we move forward?
L: Yes, we wanted to approach the crisis not as a crisis, but as a period of change and adaptation.
If you had to write a paper yourself for the IP, what would it be about?
J: I would definitely choose the subtheme ‘Change and the City’. What I’m interested in is the link between cities and literature: how the city is imagined and created within literature.
K: I would definitely focus on the subtheme ‘the Shifting Borders of Inclusion/Exclusion’. My own research interest is in integration policies and how such policies construct ‘the other’.
L: I would write something on mobility and transport. In Europe transport is very expensive and there is much discrepancy between people who have access to it and people who don’t have access; between people who control their mobility and who don’t control their mobility. It’s a social and geopolitical issue.
While planning the upcoming IP, what was some important feedback from previous years that you had to take into account?
J: Student engagement and student participation. Students wanted to be more involved and not only listen the whole time; so not only input but also output. Therefore we focused a lot on student engagement and participation. We are quite confident that this indeed will happen.
What distinguishes IP Krakow from the previous IPs so far?
L: We draw on what has already been done before and try to innovate. Every IP has brought something new. I think the key thing this year is the urban challenge. Also, we are working in a different setting and staging, we are trying to make it more cool and fun.
Could you describe the group dynamics within the IP team?
L: Well, we are friends before co-workers. We know each other very well and communication always goes easy. Sometimes we don’t even need words to understand each other. I also think that we have complementary skills and assets.
K: If you find a document that’s color-coded: Luc made it. You see a funky blurry postmodern design? Definitely Juan.
J: Karo brings all the skills together and makes it work. The fact that we are all friends is definitely an extra motivation. By the way, Karo plays basketball at the office; it relaxes her when she’s stressed. Oh…and she has a whip.
What is the biggest challenge in organising this IP?
L+K+J: Money…(rubbing thumb and fingers together).
K: There were also some smaller challenges, but the fact that this year we had a smaller budget definitely caused the biggest challenge.
J: However, because the budget got smaller we were forced to adapt to it and actually became very creative. We have a different mindset now and are adapting very well.
L: In the end, it is OK to have less money. We’ve become quite inventive and discovered that there are still a lot of possibilities with a smaller budget.
Could you tell me why the budget got smaller?
K: (seems a bit reluctant to talk about it) Let’s say for reasons beyond our control. We don’t have any external funding that we usually get.
Students now have to invest more in the IP themselves (like costs for transport and meals). Could you tell me why students should still be excited about the IP despite the financial burden for them? What do you expect students to gain from IP Krakow this year?
J: It’s going to be an unforgettable experience!
K: Well, I would like to rephrase that. The IP has always been the most central event of the MA Euroculture programme. If you miss out on the IP, it’s as if you’re taking the heart out of Euroculture. It’s a way to really experience the mobility aspect of the programme. Also, one should take into account that a few years ago, students relatively paid much more for their IP.
L: The costs should be taken in context. For a ‘real’ conference one would have to pay much more. Also, people have to pay for their meals wherever they are. Besides, Krakow is a cheap city compared to other places in Europe and we have made arrangements with several places wherefore it will be even more affordable.
Could you tell us something about the place we are going to stay?
J: It’s a comfortable place within walking distance from the city centre. During the previous IP in Krakow the residence was up the hill, outside the centre. However, taking into account the themes of this IP, we decided that staying in the centre was more suitable.
What about the lecture rooms?
K: Most lectures will be held in ‘Auditorium Maximum’, close to the city centre. However, there will also be a sneaky special… Namely, in a certain castle up the hill!
(The students who have studied in Krakow will be familiar with this castle)
Could you tell us something about the speakers?
(Luc points at the speakers in the café hanging from the ceiling: “those speakers?!”)
K: Follow the website! A lot of information is already there, also about which speakers will come. We will make one last vignette that contains all the important information.
L: One thing about the speakers though: we’ve made an effort to engage as much as possible with young researchers and also practitioners. So we didn’t only focus on scientists. Also, there will be Euroculture alumni coming to speak, who will also be there during the career day. Don’t be shy to grab them by the elbow and ask them questions! They are resources. Oh, and one more thing: don’t be afraid to challenge the speakers and be critical of what they have to say!
What can we expect from an urban challenge?
L: It’s creative urban planning, done by students. Together students will improvise and generate ideas to creatively solve urban challenges.
What will the gala dinner be like? Do we have to dress fancy?
(Luc imitates a scavenger and jokes about a Flintstones theme)
L: The gala is always a very special occasion; and it has a special place within this IP. It’s an opportunity to meet, talk and share. It won’t be like the Cannes Film Festival, but people are going to dress nice.
If someone wants to travel after the IP to other places in Poland, where would you recommend?
L: The Tatra Mountains!
L: If you have 3 days, I’d say, go to the mountains (Zakopane). One week? Go to Warsaw. Two weeks? Go to Mazury in the North-East of Poland.
K: If you want to undertake some sociological research while on holiday, you should go to the Eastern borderlands of Poland. These places are something entirely different and definitely interesting. Also very interesting is Białowieża forest. It is one of the last remaining primaeval forests of Europe.
One last question… What’s up with the penguins?!
L: They are symbols of change and adaptation, they are… unexpected!
Last special message from Luc for all the upcoming IP participants: The IP is a fantastic opportunity for students to experience a conference, while still being a student. You might find it stressful to present your paper and to participate in the discussions, but remember that everybody has something to say, whatever they work on. Just go and don’t forget that you will have something interesting to say and that people are going to listen, that they are interested. You are a community.
Floor Boele van Hensbroek, Junior 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.
The Euroculturer has invited Prof. Janny de Jong, Director of Studies of Euroculture Groningen, to ask how to describe MA Euroculture when asked by a stranger, why Euroculturers are perfect candidates for jobs in EU institution, human rights NGO or cultural organisation, who should (or should not) go into PhD after graduating from MA Euroculture, what were her own Master’s years like, and lastly, which books and movies she recommends to Euroculturers who are at the crossroads of their lives.
Q1. Hello, Prof. Janny de Jong. How long have you been involved with MA Euroculture? Could you briefly introduce yourself and your job as the Director of Studies of MA Euroculture at the University of Groningen?
Hi, nice to get in touch. I am a historian, specialised in Modern History and with particular interest in political culture in Europe and East Asia. I have been involved with the MA Euroculture programme since 2005. Since 2009, I am Director of Studies (DoS) in Groningen. Briefly put, the DoS is in charge of the smooth-running of the programme. The DoS, for example, chairs the Groningen Euroculture Board that meets frequently to discuss the state of affairs and possible (solutions to) problems. By the way, there is always a student representative on this Board.
The Groningen team has a course coordinator and a course manager, Marloes van der Weij and Eloise Daumerie. Marloes is also internship supervisor and student councillor. The members of the teaching staff come from different academic disciplines ranging from Modern and Contemporary History, Cultural Studies, International RelationsTheory, Sociology, to European Law. The majority of the staff have been teaching in this programme for several years. This already indicates that they enjoy teaching a group of international students with different academic backgrounds coming from different cultures! I, myself, am also involved in teaching: with my colleague of Contemporary History, Ine Megens, I teach a course in Cultural History: Domains of European Identity (1stsemester). With another colleague, Herman Voogsgeerd of International Relations/International Organisation, I teach a research seminar on the comparison of integration in Europe with integration processes in East Asia (2nd semester). Furthermore I am involved in a tutorial in thesis writing (4thsemester). This is a nice way to get to know the Euroculture students who are studying in Groningen in person, which of course is very important.
Q2. What is the best way to describe MA Euroculture to a stranger? According to a recent Euroculturer poll, it was ‘European Studies’.
Well, yes, I think ‘European Studies’ would be the first description that comes to mind if asked what Euroculture is about. But Euroculture is different from more conventional European Studies programmes. I think the approach in which citizens and culture, instead of structures and models, form the central point of attention and reflection stands out. This is the key element that differentiates it from any other European Studies programme. We pay special attention to the breaking up of previous political loyalties and (collective) identities and to the constitution of new ones. One of the learning outcomes of the programme reads as follows: “a deep understanding of European identity, civil society, the ongoing European unification process in itself, its cultural and social dynamics and the consequences for its citizens and the wider world”. The fact that ‘identity’ and ‘civil society’ are mentioned ahead of‘the European unification process’ is, of course, no coincidence.
There are also other elements that are specific in Euroculture: the attention to specific skills, Eurocompentences, and of course the option to choose either a work placement or research track. The fact that a selection of our students also have the opportunity to study for a semester in India, Japan, Mexico or the US is also an important asset of the programme.
So, even though I would give the same answer as the majority of the students in this survey, it certainly is not an ‘ordinary’ European Studies programme.
“One of the learning outcomes of MA Euroculture? A deep understanding of European identity, civil society, the ongoing European unification process in itself, its cultural and social dynamics and the consequences for its citizens and the wider world”
Q3. If you were the employer in an EU institution, human rights NGO or cultural organisation, why would you hire MA Euroculture graduates?
Perhaps it is best if I refer to an independent survey that was conducted from December 2010 to March 2011 among Euroculture alumni and internship supervisors. The internship supervisors of several different institutions that were interviewed had quite positive opinions of the skills of their Euroculture interns. Euroculture students especially scored high because of their high level of academic skills (including analytical, research and writing skills) and their theoretical knowledge. Those are exactly the qualities that I would mention to employers, together with their interdisciplinary and intercultural skills.
Q4. Why do you think the MA Euroculture degree is also valuable to students from non-European countries who have relatively limited access to the European job market?
That is an interesting question. I think the degree is valuable for a number of reasons. First of all, Euroculture is not only about knowledge of Europe, but it also teaches what is often called ‘soft skills’. In 2012 the International Herald Tribune released a highly informative Global Employability survey. The importance of skills like adaptability, communications and teamwork were considered of particular importance by international recruiters. These are the competences that Euroculture graduates certainly have acquired during their stay at different universities.
Then, let us not forget that knowledge about Europe is not only useful and important within Europe but, of course, also ‘in the wider world’. Global institutions and organisations come to mind, but of course also governments or companies that relate to Europe. The ongoing economic crisis should not let us forget that Europe is still the world’s largest economic zone. It is, for instance, the largest trading partner of both the US and China.
Lastly,the fact that you study Euroculture does not necessarily mean that you can only be employed in Europe.
“The ongoing economic crisis should not let us forget that Europe is still the world’s largest economic zone. It is, for instance, the largest trading partner of both the US and China.”
Q5. Approximately how many students have pursued a PhD after graduating from MA Euroculture, and how many have completed it successfully? Judging from your extensive experience working in a university, what are the good attributes of successful PhD candidates and who should NOT go into PhD?
According to our knowledge, about 10% of the Euroculture alumni are currently engaged in a PhD programme or employed in a research function at a university. As well as these current PhD students, 7.7% of the alumni have in the past completed a PhD.
A PhD track can be very helpful and is of course necessary if you want to pursue an academic career. A successful candidate needs to have an inquisitive mind, analytical skills and most of all, needs to like doing research. Furthermore, tenacity and perseverance are necessary qualities. Never start a PhD if you are not convinced that you really want to research a specific topic for a number of years. Also, but I think that it is self-evident, it is necessary that your grades were above average, and it certainly is helpful if your thesis can act as evidence of your academic writing and research skills.
By listing these qualities and skills it is also evident who should not pursue a PhD track. Which, I hasten to add, by no means implies that these alumni are of a ‘lesser quality’, they just have other interests. Many Euroculture students (about 75 %) opt for the ‘professional track’ with a work placement instead of the research option. A recent American report on what employers are looking for when they evaluate graduates for a position, stresses for instance the importance of internships and work experience. Both academic and practical skills and competences are important.
“Never start a PhD if you are not convinced that you really want to research a specific topic for a number of years.”
Q6. How were your own Master’s years like? Looking back, what’s your impression of your academic journey to date? What were the challenges and how did you overcome the difficult times?
Ha! Well, when I graduated ‘Bologna’ had not yet been invented, nor a credit transfer system called ECTS. Almost nobody studied abroad. So the system was very different from today. Times have really changed now and I always advise history students to take the chances they have to study abroad. Somehow they are not always eager because of girlfriends and boyfriends, or fear of getting homesick.
When I graduated I was extremely fortunate that my research proposal was selected and I was able to start with a PhD project in the same year. At that time there were no graduate schools, so it was a project that basically involved my promoters and me. But the topic was very interesting and I really enjoyed the experience. I became a member of the staff of Modern History at the University of Groningen and was involved in various European projects, such as Clioh-World.
Sometimes it was a challenge to combine a full-time job with the care of two children. But on the whole I did not encounter major difficulties. So I am a happy person!
Q7. Any last advice to MA Euroculture students and alumni who are at the crossroads of their lives? (Good quotes, books, films, other tips, etc.)
Well there are a few books that I think everyone should read. Somehow only this year I came to read Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. A classic masterpiece. Very different but absolutely wonderful and stunning is The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, first published in 2010. Films are even more difficult to choose. There are some films that I find particularly important, such as an anime called Grave of the Fireflies, about the effect of war on two children. A very different approach, even humorous, to the same topicis John Boorman’s Hope and Glory. All these examples relate closely to history, I am afraid. Let’s just say that is a coincidence! I would like to add just one specific history book: Tony Judt, Post War. Absolutely one of the best books written about the history of Europe since 1945. Most definitely a must read.
But really, there is so much to see, do, read and watch! Of course sheer fun, without any serious undertone whatsoever, is also important. Allow time for social activities, sport or just to relax. My own experience is that this tends to be quite difficult…
“Tony Judt, Post War. Absolutely one of the best books written about the history of Europe since 1945. Most definitely a must read.”
Thank you so much, Prof. Janny de Jong, for sharing your MA Euroculture insights with us. We wish you the best in everything you do!
Thank you. It was really nice talking to you.
Editor’s words: We express our sincerest gratitude to Euroculture Mentor Prof. Janny de Jong who gladly agreed to share her extensive knowledge of academic and professional aspects of MA Euroculture and also her invaluable personal experiences with The Euroculturer.