“May I help you?”

Reverse culture shock: A comparison of the expression of hospitality in Sweden and Taiwan

By Huiyu Chuang

As mobility makes up one of the core values of the Euroculture program, every Euroculturer more or less has cultivated a certain level of “Cultural Intelligence” (CQ) in order to handle all sorts of situations related to intercultural adaptation. Before moving to a new destination, we consciously or unconsciously take different approaches (that are influenced by our personal motivations, and personality) to better prepare ourselves for new cultural encounters. However, when we have to temporarily break away from the culture we have become so comfortable with — or even to go home, back where we come from — we are at the frontline in experiencing possible reverse culture shock.

Reverse culture shock is the process of readjusting, re-acculturating, and re-assimilating into one’s own culture back home after having lived in a different cultural environment for a long period of time. I wonder how my fellow European classmates (who share a common sense of European identity yet are still differentiated due to their unique national cultures) go through the emotions and experiences of reverse culture shock as I do. Crossing over more than five thousand miles from one culture to another, I found that the moment I landed on my homeland (Taiwan), within a week, I felt a weird feeling that strikes me as strong as a typical subtropical typhoon rain. The best way to get out of the storm without getting soaking wet is not to compare cultural aspects of another country with what cultural aspects in our country lack. Aspects that we see as positive in one culture could not be “transplanted” from one place to another without taking fundamental differences and local conditions into consideration. Thus, in this article, I aim to share my experience by showing you the different ways to express hospitality in Taipei (Taiwan) and Uppsala (Sweden) and how this reflection once again reminds me of my responsibility of studying cross cultures.

May I Help you_Article_ByHuiyu Chuang

The most beautiful scenery is…

“The most beautiful scenery in Taiwan is its people.” This is a famous slogan that the Taiwanese tourism sector proudly uses to highlight how hospitable Taiwanese people are. Its credibility is endorsed by international media and many foreign travelers’ testimonies. I have never doubted it, but honestly, I do so based on national pride. For local Taiwanese people, Taiwanese hospitality has never been consciously appreciated because we are so used to it, that to some extent, we take it for granted. This is especially true in the service sector. In the context of Taiwan, it is important to keep in mind that the majority of customers wish to be served hospitably as VIPs, so bosses expect their employees know this “common rule” as well as to provide their hospitable service to the maximum level. The career training often encourages employee to accept this rule by heart and show their hospitality sincerely and naturally as a habit. For those who are naturally critical of this, they might find similar awkwardness as I did in the following stories.

It was about seven o’clock in the evening. I accompanied my parents to a mobile telecom company service center. I did not realize this visit would become a one-on-three private lesson, which causes the staff to work overtime in order to maintain their highly valued “customer satisfaction”. The staff not only completed the basic demonstration and system setting for the new phones, she even accepted my dad’s request to set up everything on the new phones exactly the same as the old phones. Two hours later when everything finished, she came out from her counter and said goodbye to us. I asked my parents: how much do we pay her for her help? Of course, I knew the answer by heart. The service charge covers only the phones — so why is she willing to provide her service to such a degree, and how can customers like my parents be that happy while being served “extra” as the staff did, knowing it is not fairly remunerated? I carried these complicated feelings on my next purchase at a Taiwanese pharmacy chain store. 

It was the final day before my coupon expired. When it was my turn to pay, the staff smiled and said, “I am sorry, the gift mentioned on the coupon is out of stock. However, you can wait until our next program starts which is next week, and use the coupon then.” Sounds pretty reasonable, so I brought those products back to the shelf, but she stopped me and explained which of the products I chose were going to have its prices raised next week (so I should buy them today) and which ones will retain its current price. I was embarrassed because she thought I cared about the price difference, when actually what I really cared about was the coupon. It seems that she knew the customer’s concern, so she actively responded by that suggestion even though I did not mean it and ask for it. But, I still appreciate her unexpected hospitable customer service for a poor student. During the following days, similar patterns keep happening in different cases, in noodle restaurants, in the household registration center, and so on.

In Taiwan, 60% of the population contributes their labor in the service sector, which accounts for 63-65% (2010-2017) of the GDP. The notion of supplying a person’s service as his act of labor implies that whoever can provide better service, decides who can win over customers’ hearts and their money. Drawing on my own observations so far as well as information from local Taiwanese magazines, “good service” is defined by maximum customer satisfaction. In many cases, Taiwanese people care more about affection than rationality. Staff is always expected to figure out what customers’ request is and try to satisfy it. If they can’t satisfy the level of “rationality”, they have to take care of the customer’s affection, usually by giving them alternatives, further suggestions, compensations such as discounts or gifts, or any possible way to make them feel better for the inability to attain the customer’s request. Gradually, some customers are spoiled by the so called “customer first” or “customer is always right” philosophy. Then a term, “奧客” (ào kè direct translation — difficult customer or problematic customer) is created, referring to a customer who places unattainable requests. They follow the original price set, but try to ask for more benefits, and make the supply-and-demand relationship out of balance. To handle this type of difficult customer, the Taiwanese service sector is trained to be super caring to the extent that it becomes my reverse culture shock.

Ask, and it shall be given you

Reverse culture shock is usually derived from a comparison a person makes with a different cultural environment in which he/she has grown accustomed to. In my case, the expression of hospitality I have received in Sweden is different. There is a balance between showing an amount of hospitality (which is considered as “appropriate”) and how much the recipients express his/her need of it. If a person does not express his/her need for help, then another person would usually not interrupt his/her silence (a laissez faire approach, so to speak).  I learned this lesson by going through several interesting stories. Many times, I have difficulties making my mind to buy either item A or B. While I was struggling, I noticed I have a lot of personal space in the stores in Sweden. Even so, once I asked for some opinions from the staff, they were sincere in offering their knowledge, but just the information they think they know. This perfectly corresponds to a saying, “To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.”

Besides the retailor sector, I also found similar proof in other aspects of my daily life. While staying in “corridor style” dorm, I enjoyed the balance between having my own space in my private room and social life in the common areas. My “corridor life” was composed of four people in a house. One is Swedish, one has lived in Sweden for more than ten years, the third one is an Italian learning Swedish language and culture, and me. Coming from a culture that cherishes collectivity, I got used to it quickly. However, when hard times came and I needed help, I found that my roommates have been holed up inside their respective rooms for many days, or often rushes into their own rooms right after coming back home. I thought I had better forget my need, but later I realized it does not necessarily mean they are shy or cold like the stereotypes about Swedish people. Once I took my first step to ask, I got tons of helpful responses. Sometimes, if concrete help is not available at that moment, it is very possible that it comes a while later. Several times, I found a sticky note written with the answers to my question on my room door next day. Or similar to another surprise I received from the language center, they informed me of a chance suddenly emerged after my request was declined due to high demand for their language consultancy.

After comparing the different expressions of hospitality in Taiwan and Sweden, I notice the position of “the giver” is stronger in the former case, where one is more active in exerting his/her hospitality as a natural gesture of friendliness, or a trained reflective habit to cater to his target. As for the later case, it takes a step back perspective to embody the concept of egalitarianism in interpersonal relationship without leaving trace of intrusion and pre-assumption.

Do similarities or differences attract each other? 

The theories of similarity attraction and complementary principle are not that unfamiliar to most people. Though in interpersonal relationship perceived similarity is more proven as a factor to result in human liking by scientific researches, complementary principle still explains those exceptions. For example those people who are into intercultural exchange. When we are exposed to various cross cultural input during our study, one of the relevant topics constantly being discussed is the attitude to immigration and the tolerance to cross culture underlined by it. Generally, older people are more concerned about immigration than younger people. One of the reasons is the difference of birth cohorts that decides what life experiences they could have.

Young generation has many chances to receive diversity training (e.g. Erasmus program, international voluntary projects, overseas working experience). These opportunities empower us to shape our future society as open and friendly to cultural differences, which can better collaborate with cross cultural organizations beyond the governmental level. However, this vision would happen only when we are fully aware of the responsibility we are taking to reflect on our attitudes across cultural differences. It is important for people who learn culture to be able to sensitively observe and possess sympathy to differences by using our creativity, passion, and bravery to question why things are the way they are.

Featured picture: Chris-Håvard Berge/Flickr

References

Anne-Marie Jeannet. “The Greying of Europe and Public Opinion about Immigration.” MPC Blog, May 20, 2019. https://blogs.eui.eu/migrationpolicycentre/greying-europe-public-opinion-immigration/ 

Chaban, Natalia, Allan Williams, Martin Holland, Valerie Boyce, and Frendehl Warner. “Crossing Cultures: Analysing the Experiences of NZ Returnees from the EU (UK vs. Non-UK).” International Journal of Intercultural Relations 35, no. 6 (November 2011): 776–90. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2011.03.004 

“Cultural Intelligence (CQ).” Redhead Communications (blog). Accessed August 12, 2019. https://www.redheadcommunications.com/cultural-intelligence-cq/ 

Gaw, Kevin F. “Reverse Culture Shock in Students Returning from Overseas.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations 24, no. 1 (January 2000): 83–104. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0147-1767(99)00024-3 

Klohnen, Eva C., and Luo, Shanhong. “Interpersonal Attraction and Personality: What Is Attractive–Self Similarity, Ideal Similarity, Complementarity or Attachment Security?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85, no. 4 (October 2003): 709–22. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.85.4.709

La, Suna, and Choi, Beomjoon. “The Role of Customer Affection and Trust in Loyalty Rebuilding after Service Failure and Recovery.” The Service Industries Journal 32 (January 1, 2012): 105–25. https://doi.org/10.1080/02642069.2011.529438 

Meredith, Willaim H., Abbott, Douglas A., Tsai, Rita, and Zheng, Fu Ming. “Healthy Family Functioning in Chinese Cultures: An Exploratory Study Using the Circumplex Model.” International Journal of Sociology of the Family 24, no. 1 (1994): 147–57. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23029805 

 “Most of Us Tend to Be Attracted to People Who Are Similar to Ourselves.” PsyPost (blog), March 28, 2017. https://www.psypost.org/2017/03/us-tend-attracted-people-similar-48596 

National Statistics Republic of China(Taiwan). “Employed Persons by Industry.” Accessed August 12, 2019. https://eng.stat.gov.tw/ct.asp?xItem=12683&ctNode=1609 

Office of President Republic of China (Taiwan). “2018臺灣服務業大評鑑 副總統:推展臺灣精神 打造臺灣特色優質品牌,” March 7, 2018. https://www.president.gov.tw/NEWS/23470 

RedHead Communications. “Cultural Intelligence (CQ).” Redhead Communications (blog). Accessed August 12, 2019. https://www.redheadcommunications.com/cultural-intelligence-cq/ 

“Reverse Culture Shock – The Challenges of Returning Home: Reverse Culture Shock.” Accessed August 12, 2019. https://2009-2017.state.gov/m/fsi/tc/c56075.htm 

Seyfried, B. A., and Hendrick, Clyde. “Need Similarity and Complementarity in Interpersonal Attraction.” Sociometry 36, no. 2 (June 1973): 207. https://doi.org/10.2307/2786567

Shu, Han. “Taiwan: GDP Breakdown by Sector 2017-Statista.” Accessed August 13, 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/321366/taiwan-gdp-breakdown-by-sector/

Simon Fraser University. “Stages and Symptoms of Culture Shock – International Student Advising and Programs.” Accessed August 12, 2019. https://www.sfu.ca/students/isap/explore/culture/stages-symptoms-culture-shock.html 

The Storm media. “服務業要滿足消費者到何種程度?-風傳媒,” September 26, 2016. https://www.storm.mg/lifestyle/170551srcid=73746f726d2e6d675f62383332326534656434326364353031_1565270776 

Treger, Stanislav, and Masciale, James N.. “Domains of Similarity and Attraction in Three Types of Relationships.” Interpersona: An International Journal on Personal Relationships 12, no. 2 (December 21, 2018): 254–66. https://doi.org/10.5964/ijpr.v12i2.321 

Uppsala University Housing Office. “Student Corridor Living.” Uppsala University Housing Office. Accessed August 13, 2019. https://housingoffice.se/staying-at-uuho/student/student-corridor-living/

Vanessa. “被服務業寵壞的台灣人 | Vanessa潛進世界 | 遠見雜誌,” January 18, 2018. https://www.gvm.com.tw/article.html?id=55645 

Wong, Maggie Hiufu. “Taiwan’s Most Beautiful Places | CNN Travel.” CNN Travel, April 22, https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/taiwan-beautiful-places/index.html

王一芝. “「奧客」與否,就在你一念之間| 遠見雜誌.” 遠見雜誌 – 前進的動力, January 6, 2016. https://www.gvm.com.tw/article.html?id=32805 

李佩璇. “服務業人力需求現況調查-1111產經新聞(1111 Job Bank),” September 4, 2018. https://www.1111.com.tw/news/surveyns/111919/ 

蕭西君. “笑容,永遠留給顧客 – 帶人領導 – 管理 – Cheers快樂工作人,” January 11, 2000. https://www.cheers.com.tw/article/article.action?id=5026100&page=2 

陸柔羽. “台灣服務業中「以奧為傲」的奧客怪象 – The News Lens 關鍵評論網,” January 19, 2018. https://www.thenewslens.com/article/87863

Advertisements

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

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

source: flickr/redbanshee/

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

  <Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle>

Steven Justice │ stevejustice1@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The real world demands a lot of attention…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve profileSteve Justice, Contributing Writer

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

 

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

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

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

Penelope Vaxevanes│prosiliomani@hotmail.com

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

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

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

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

2. How did you get the position?

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

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

3. How is the position related to MA Euroculture?

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

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

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

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

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

5. Plans for the future?

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

“Settling down is a challenge…”

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

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

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

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

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

penelopePenelope Vaxevanes, News Editor

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

Feature Interview③: Follow the wave, the OCEANS Network!

Heard about the ‘OCEANS Network’? If you are familiar with the work of the Erasmus Mundus Student and Alumni Association (EMA), you are more than halfway through in understanding the OCEANS Network. Valerio Callegaro, the newly elected Communications Coordinator at the organisation, is here to tell you more about the OCEANS Network and why we should care about it.

Valerio Callegaro, Communications Coordinator of the OCEANS Network
Valerio Callegaro, Communications Coordinator
of the OCEANS Network

1) Hello, Valerio. Nice to see you here. Could you briefly introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?

Hi, there! I am glad to meet the readers of The Euroculturer. I am from Italy, and I hold a master’s degree in communication strategies from the University of Padua and a degree in classical piano from the State Conservatory of Rovigo. Abroad, I studied at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (Madrid) and the University of California, Berkeley (USA), before landing my current job in marketing and communication at an online learning company.

2) What is the OCEANS Network? Also, what does the name ‘OCEANS’ stand for?

OCEANS is the Organization for Cooperation, Exchanges and Networking among Students. It is a students and alumni association, financed by the European Commission, for those who did or are doing a study exchange between the European Union and one of the following six countries — Canada, the United States, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. You might also like an introduction to OCEANS I gave at the last EMA General Assembly in June: Here

“OCEANS is the Organization for Cooperation, Exchanges And Networking among Students…”

3) How did you get involved in the OCEANS Network? Also, what made you become an active member of the network?

In 2011, I was invited to the OCEANS Annual General Meeting in New York, and then I joined the magazine team as a proofreader. A year later, I was elected Magazine Coordinator, and a month ago I got elected as the new Communications Coordinator. The main reason I became an active member is because I would have the opportunity to meet very talented and nice people, such as the members of OCEANS and EMA. So far my experience has been very positive.

4) Tell us about partners of the OCEANS Network and how the cooperation between them has been.

Our main partner is EMA, since both networks share a budget under the European Commission (30.000 euros, to be precise) for joint events between the networks. As an example, on September 22, both OCEANS and the EMA had a  negotiation training in Brussels. The cooperation between OCEANS and EMA has always been good, and when in disagreement we work hard to find the best solution. Other active partners we have include UN agencies and, of course, the European Commission.

“Our main partner is EMA, since both networks share a budget under the European Commission for joint events between the networks…”

5) What kind of activities does the OCEANS Network provide for its members? And what are the similarities and differences between the OCEANS Network and EMA?

Members benefit from OCEANS mostly from the events we organize. We try to provide both useful training in subjects that might be common to all the members’ backgrounds (such as soft skills) and socialization opportunities. Being a network, a big part of our mission is to create contacts between members in the hope they will bring good ideas to life.

Also, starting this year we’ll have a Professional Development Coordinator who will make connections with companies and agencies looking for talented young people to hire. We hope to find good matches for all our members looking for a job.

EMA and OCEANS are similar in their structure: they have a board elected by members that takes the decisions and organises the events. However, OCEANS is much smaller than EMA, since we have roughly more than 1,000 members, compared to the 9,000 of EMA. As I like to say, we are their little brother.

“Members benefit from OCEANS mostly from the events we organize…we also create contacts between members and help our members find good professional matches…”

oceans logo

“We are good partners…”

erasmus mundus association logo

6) MA Euroculture is an Erasmus Mundus Master’s Programme.  How can students of MA Euroculture be involved in the OCEANS Network?

Even though to be part of the OCEANS network you have to have participated in one of the listed exchanges, contributions are open and always welcome, especially for the magazine. In fact, we always feature articles from external sources.  We are also open to suggestions on how to improve the network and how to deliver value to our members and broader society.

7) As far as I understand, your work at the OCEANS Network is voluntary, and you are also a professional outside the organisation. How do you juggle between your work and responsibilities at OCEANS Network?

Normally I work two to three hours per week for OCEANS, except for high-commitment periods such as right before an event or a deadline. In the evening I check the emails of the day, and give my contribution to the board discussion. I have to say that the service provider, ICUNet, frees us from the administrative and organizational burden, leaving us free to be creative and shape the network.

8) Tell us about your other passions. How do you combine those passions with the work you do in the OCEANS Network?

One of my passions is spending time with smart people, and OCEANS fulfills it very well. Also, having studied and worked in communications, I’ll be able to both bring and gain further experience during this term as the Communications Coordinator. Last but not least, OCEANS has provided me with an excellent platform to improve my event planning and public speaking skills. I can definitely see how I grew thanks to OCEANS during the past year.

“OCEANS has provided me with an excellent platform to improve my event planning and public speaking skills…”

9) The OCEANS Network has its own magazine, The Wave. Briefly introduce some of the articles covered in the magazine so far so that we can get an idea of what it is about.

Gladly, since the magazine has been my main responsibility over the past year. We have three main kinds of articles in the magazine: articles and news about the OCEANS Network, reports about our members’ experiences abroad with other cultures, and general articles in the fields of education, public policy and intercultural awareness. External contributors are welcome, so if someone has an idea, he or she is welcome to drop us a line.

“Drop us a line, if you want to write for The Wave…”

10) Why should we care about the OCEANS Network in the first place? What is so special about the organisation?

It is special because of the people who belong to it. OCEANS members have been selected through multiple stages in their academic career, so everyone you meet is smart and committed. And the reason you should care about the network is that it’s a pool of open minded and talented young people, and we love EMA too.

11) Lastly, where do you see yourself in the next five years? Will you still be an active member of the OCEANS Network? Or are you dreaming of embarking on another exciting adventure?

In five years I see myself as an entrepreneur. I like the idea of inventing my own job and being more responsible for my success or my failure (even though, as we know, there are many external forces that influence outcomes). My ideal career path would be to create a strong company, manage it for 15 to 20 years, then hand it over to a CEO and start working full time to solve social problems, just like Bill Gates and others are doing.

“In five years I see myself as an entrepreneur…”

Thank you very much, Valerio, for introducing the OCEANS Network to our readers! We wish you all the best in everything you do, especially in your new job as Communications Coordinator, as well as the future adventures waiting for you.

Interview by Eunjin Jeong, 2013-14 EMA Programme Representative of MA Euroculture.

Feature Interview②: Erasmus Mundus, Food Policy for Thought, and a Passionate Life

Janina Grabs, EMA (Erasmus Mundus Association) Course Representative of Erasmus Mundus Master’s Programme, Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Policy Analysis, is certainly an interesting figure. In her old blog, she described herself as a Globetrotter, Foodie, Multilingual, and definitely a Chocoholic. She now runs a new and popular blog called ‘Food (Policy) for Thought. Her passion for food policy is admirable and even contagious. Therefore, The Euroculturer concluded it is of interest for our readers to invite Janina and learn more about her love for sustainable food policy, some simple tips that we can do in our daily lives to support more sustainable food systems, and also her amazing Erasmus Mundus life.

Janina Grabs
Janina Grabs, Student of AFEPA

Q1) Hello, Janina, nice to have you here. Could you briefly introduce yourself and your Erasmus Mundus Programme? In your opinion, what distinguishes your Master’s programme from others dealing with similar topics?

Hey there, thanks for having me! I’m originally German and was born in Berlin, but have lived in the USA, Switzerland, Canada, France, and Germany again since then. And I actually just moved to Sweden for the second year of my Master’s!

Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Policy Analysis (AFEPA) was born only 3 years ago and is a programme offered by the University of Bonn, Universite Catholique de Louvain, Corvinus University in Budapest, Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya in Barcelona, and the Swedish Agricultural University (SLU) in Uppsala. I think that AFEPA really manages to merge the different fields that are touched by our food systems – both from the environmental as from the economic and political side. Thus, we also have a fantastic array of students with very diverse backgrounds who can teach each other a lot, from the animal science of dairy production to the political economy of selling the resulting milk products.

“AFEPA really manages to merge the different fields that are touched by our food systems…”

Q2) You studied Political Science at McGill and Science Po for your B.A. How did that background help you understand your current subject better? Also, why did you decide to do your Master’s degree in Europe, when you could have gone to another part of the world?

I think studying political science expands your horizons on how decisions in some parts of the world can affect outcomes in very different areas. As a result you are prevented from being too narrow-minded in looking at the impacts of certain policy decisions. Also, we learned to read and digest great amounts of information very quickly, which is extremely useful when faced with a 900 page economics textbook.

I was drawn back to Europe both because of considerations for my future career – with a European passport, it was more practical to acquire experience that will allow me to work in governments and policy analysis in a European setting – and because I love the lifestyle here. I may be a globetrotter but Europe still feels most like home.

“I may be a globetrotter but Europe still feels most like home…”

Q3) What do you like most about being an Erasmus Mundus student?

I am a restless spirit that gets bored easily and so I love the challenge and opportunities of exploring new places, settling in new cities and being faced with new languages and cultures. But of course, the best part is the people you meet from all parts of the world who introduce you to more aspects of your field of study – and life in general – that you had ever considered before.

Meeting the new-born piglets on the visit of the pig farm with classmates
One of the class visits:
Meeting the new-born piglets in the pig farm

Q4) Let’s talk about your blog now. Tell us a bit more about ‘Food (Policy) for Thought’ and how it all started. Also, who are the people regularly visiting your blog and what are they looking for?

As you mentioned, I was already familiar with blogging, having kept a travel blog semi-alive over several years, but I really wanted to focus more on the one topic that I felt most passionate about. In addition, we had a very long exam period where I had a lot of free time on my hands and no obligations other than studying – and we all know we can’t do that all day long. The blog gave me an excuse to look deeper into issues I would have otherwise only skimmed and to try to explain complex topics to laymen like myself. I think my regular readers come from all walks of life: they are students, mums that are looking to cook real food for their kids, farmers – and actually a lot of people whose blogs I follow myself. This again is such a fun back-and-forth between people with different perspectives and expertise, and the comments and feedback are the one thing that keeps me coming back.

“The blog gave me an excuse to look deeper into issues…”

Q5) What is the best part of being a blogger related to the subject that you are currently studying? Also, many people have hard time keeping their blogs running. How do you juggle all the course work and blogging?

Writing the blog gives me a reason to take a look outside of my textbook and to see how the concepts that we study actually apply in day-to-day life. Also, it helps me to keep up with the current literature in my field of study, which is very helpful now that the time to write my thesis is coming closer and closer. And as for the balancing question – I just came back from a 3-week semi-hiatus when I was swamped with starting a new job, moving (twice), exams and summer school course work. I think it is important not to beat yourself up about letting it go for a while until the dust settles as long as you do come back to it with more motivation and passion again afterwards. The worst path in my opinion is to keep writing something drudgingly just to keep up appearances – do it with passion or don’t do it at all.

“Do it with passion or don’t do it at all…”

Q6) In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge that gets in the way of sustainable food policy making? Also, are there differences among countries? What about the cooperation between countries?

Most humans always prefer the status-quo to any consideration of change coming into their life, especially if that change is a little more uncomfortable from a certain perspective. Right now we live in an era of cheap, plentiful, woefully unhealthy food that is wreaking havoc on our natural resources, public health and on our appreciation of the magic of cooking and eating together. Changing the food system requires changing mind-sets – once that is accomplished, everything else is easier. Maybe the mind-set of ‘supersizing everything’ and the ‘American diet’ is one of the most extreme examples .The USA can be seen as a case that is particularly challenging. Its industrialised food system has expanded beyond its borders. On the other hand, a focus on real, organic, fair traded food can also become a movement that expand over borders, as many multinational NGOs show – so it can really go both ways.

“Changing the food system requires changing mind-sets…”

Q7) Please give us some simple advice on what we can do in our daily lives to support a more sustainable food system.

I will give you three tips: Replacing a couple of meals a week by vegetarian alternatives can reduce your environmental footprint by a lot due to the resource-intensity of meat production. Reducing food waste is also an easy step to save resources. And finally, if you choose organic products from time to time you support a production method that is much gentler with the elements we and future generations depend on for our food.

“If you choose organic products, you support a production method that is better for us and future generations…”

Q8) What are your other passions?

As a self-identified foodie, I love to cook (vegetarian dishes from around the world) and bake; I adore travelling; and I like to do endurance sports like running and triathlons. Oh, and I just discovered sailing this summer, which might be my new favourite thing yet.

Sailing is my new passion!
Sailing is my new passion!

Q9) What is the first impression you have upon hearing the name of MA Euroculture? Let’s put it another way. If you met a student of MA Euroculture for the first time, what kind of questions would you ask to keep the person interested?

Well, of course I would ask all about where they come from, why they are interested in European culture and what they are currently working on. I think your Master is so flexible that these couple of questions would lead to discussions that would be very different from person to person, but each time fascinating in its own way.

Q10) Lastly, could you please tell us about your plans after graduating from Agricultural, Food and Environmental Policy Analysis Programme? What kind of work do you want to do? Also, will you still be a sustainable food policy blogger then? 

Haha, I do hope I will manage to keep blogging for as long as possible! After finishing my Master, I would like to get my hands dirty either figuratively – working with European food policy for example in Brussels – or literally – doing some farming myself – before moving on to a PhD.

Thank you so much, Janina. We wish you all the best in everything you do, especially in your studies, blogging, and other amazing adventures waiting for you!

Interview by Eunjin Jeong, 2013-14 EMA Programme Representative of MA Euroculture.

Feature Interview①: Europhotonics, LeX Paradise, and EMA

The Euroculturer has invited Lex Tan Yih Liang, a student in the Erasmus Mundus Europhotonics Master’s programme to feature in this edition. Originally from Malaysia, Lex is an active member of the Erasmus Mundus Student and Alumni Association (EMA) as well as a founder of travel website ‘LeX Paradise’ since 2009, which is followed by over 3,000 people on Facebook. (http://www.facebook.com/LexParadise)

LeX Tan Yih Liang Profile
LeX Tan Yih Liang

1) Hello, Lex, nice to see you here. Could you briefly introduce yourself and your Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme, Europhotonics?

Sure, I am Lex from Malaysia, an ordinary guy that dreams big. I love technology, entrepreneurship, and traveling. I guess those interests lead me to this prestigious Master’s programme, which is the Erasmus Mundus Master’s program, Europhotonics. It is a Master’s program that focuses on ”light”, or “photon” as it is known scientifically. In the field of photonics there are endless areas to explore and develop. These include laser technology which is used in the medical field, but also in machinery; renewable energy such as solar energy, and wind energy; consumer devices such as lighting, smartphones, and screen panels; optical devices such as telescopes, microscopes, and cameras. I have to say it is a great Master’s programme and I am finishing it later this year 2013.

2) Why did you choose to come to Europe to study one of the Erasmus Mundus programmes? And after studying Europhotonics for over two years, what do you feel about the choice you made two years ago?

I choose this program because I have a strong interest in technology, especially in renewable energy and the IT sector. Secondly, the Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme is one you would not want to miss out on if you like to travel. Lastly, this Master’s programme also offers entrepreneurship training and courses in its curriculum. That’s why I am in this program right now.

What I feel about my decision to take part in this programme? Simply awesome! Totally! I made the right choice, no regrets!

Lex 2_LeX Paradise Banner
LeX Paradise Banner

3) Could you tell us about LeX Paradise? How did it all start?

I founded LeX Paradise back in 2009 when I was living  in South Korea. It was just a virtual space for me to write down my travel experiences in Korea. Four months into my stay there, Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) organised a contest for people that write about South Korea. I was really curious about the contest, and ended up joining.. I continued to write more about my travels and I was getting more familiar with Korea. At the end of the contest, I received an award as one of the top 30 travel bloggers. All of the winners were invited to a luxury trip around South Korea. I met many professional travel writers, youtubers, and entrepreneurs in the travel industry.  From that point on, I learned to improve as a travel writer, webmaster, and internet marketer.

Yes, that was how I started LeX Paradise!

4) There are many Erasmus Mundus students who wish to run their own travel website given that we travel a lot as part of the curriculum, but it is not easy to keep it running since we normally have very tight schedules. How do you juggle with your studies and your extra-curricular activities as a travel writer, especially considering LeX Paradise is getting bigger and bigger every day?

Really? I met some of them but not so many. Are you one of them? If anyone is interested to start one, let me know – we could discuss it. (You can contact Lex here).

You are quite right about the amount of work as Erasmus Mundus students have to complete. It is not easy to manage all the activities alone. For that reason, contributors play a big role of maintaining the website as well as ensuring that quality contents continue flowing into the website. So that’s mainly how I get by.

And finally, LeX Paradise is not as big as you think but yes, it is getting better.

5) Have you heard about the MA Euroculture programme before? What is the first impression you had upon hearing the name of the programme? Let’s put it another way: if you were to meet a MA Euroculture student for the first time, what kind of questions would you ask to keep the person interested?

I heard about it when I was at the EMA-General assembly. What came to my mind was a Master’s program that covers a wide range of European cultures, including politics, social issues, communities, and of course Culture.

As for the question, it would depend on where that student is from.

To a European student I would ask: “What has the main influence of European culture been over the past decades?”.

To a non-European student: “What is the main difference between European cultures and the culture of where you are from?”

Lex 1_EMA moment
EMA moment

6) You are an active member of the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA). Could you briefly introduce your job as Promotion Team Coordinator in the EMA-Southeast Asian Chapter (EMA-SEA Chapter)?

As a Promotion Team Coordinator, I am responsible for promotion-related activities in the region, managing social media platforms, brainstorming on promotional events, providing latest Erasmus Mundus information to all the potential candidates as well as representing EMA-SEA Chapter for EMA events. Those are the main features of my job.

7) How did you get involved with the association, and what do you like most about the EMA?

At the beginning, I was a member of EMA, just like anyone else who registers once they start their Master’s program. From time to time, activities were organized online, and I got involved in some of them.

At one point, I thought I should get more involved in the association by contributing with my experiences but also to gain new skills and expertise. For that reason, I ran in the board member election of EMA-Southeast Asian Chapter and I was elected. So, that’s the actual starting point from which I became very involved in the association.

EMA provides a platform for students and alumni to explore endless opportunities including social networking, soft skills, professional development, mentoring, activist, community development and many more. It is a hub for all Erasmus Mundus Awardees to connect, share and make the world a better place.

This is what I really love about EMA.

8) What is the easiest way for other Erasmus Mundus students to be more active in the EMA?

Since EMA members are spread out all over the world, it is hard to get everyone together to tell them more about the association. One of the ways to contribute that I could suggest for other EMA member is to start with online virtual events. For example, participation in webinars, online professional speed dating, online conferencing, as well as in the discussion board. This is one of the best ways to start, and it is the way I started as well. Another way is to get to know EMA members locally and start organizing events and hangouts in your area.

Lex 3_LeX Paradise moment
LeX Paradise moment

9) One of the two themes of the 4th edition of The Euroculturer is “Welcome home”. Have you been back in Malaysia yet since you started MA Europhotonics, and if you have, how did it feel to be back? Do you think your experience as an Erasmus Mundus student in Europe drastically changed your perspectives toward your home country?

I haven’t been back to my home country yet, but I can imagine how I am going to feel about it. I think I am going to feel very glad to be back home again after such a great time in Europe, feel loved and cherished to meet all my loved ones, and feel a sense of responsibility by being part of a local and global community that strives to make the world a better place.

I think my experience as an Erasmus Mundus student in Europe changed my perspectives toward my country, especially those perspectives that could improve and develop my country, Malaysia!

10) Lastly, could you please tell us about your plans after graduating from the MA Europhotonics Programme? What kind of work do you want to do? Also, will you still be a travel writer then? 

After Europhotonics, I will definitely return to my home country for a while and will be back again in Europe to do a PhD or to launch a start-up. As usual, my work will be very technological.

Of course, once travel writer, forever travel writer. Once EMA member, forever EMA member!  

Thanks, Lex for sharing your story with The Euroculturer Magazine. We wish you all the best with everything you do, especially your studies, LeX Paradise, and your engagement with the EMA.

Interview by Eunjin Jeong, 2013-14 EMA Programme Representative of MA Euroculture.

Finding Nordic Coconut

The work of a chef is extremely challenging. Numb heels, backache, cuts and burns are inherent, nothing to complain about. But the chef who wants to make it big today needs to not only master his kitchen but also become a farmer, a forager, a chemist, a fisherman, a researcher, a lean-mean-holistic-gastronomic-machine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Edith Salminen │edithsalminen@gmail.com

It’s August in Finland. Nature is showcasing its abundance, and the head chef Sasu Laukkonen and his team at restaurant Chef & Sommelier in Helsinki are enjoying it to the fullest. Since 1st August  I’ve had the privilege of being a part of the team as an apprentice. Yes, I have left steaming hot Italy, for the time being, in the need for fresh air, but also to put theory into practice. As we speak, I’ve been sweating and learning in the 9m² kitchen at Chef & Sommelier, alongside head chef Sasu for the past three weeks. Working sixteen-hour  days, five days a week might scare most people off, but for me,even though it took some time to adjust, it has been a deliciously mind-blowing experience  and I still have six weeks to go..

“I’ve been sweating and learning in the 9m² kitchen at Chef & Sommelier, alongside head chef Sasu for the past three weeks.”

Chef & Sommelier is much more than just a restaurant. Aside from it receiving the title “Restaurant of the Year” bestowed by the Finnish Gastronomes’ Association, I consider it a showroom of deliciousness, as the restaurant truly is a factory of new, exciting flavours with its ways of using Nature’s fruits. Sasu himself is the pioneer determining the restaurant’s firm philosophy. He belongs to a new generation of vibrant chefs who step out of their comfort zone, leaving pots, pan and knives aside in search for new edible delights to serve to the loyal customers. Many of those customers specifically travel  from places as far away as Australia, Korea and Japan,  to savour his creations. Believe me, he makes it worthwhile. Together with his farmer Janne Länsipuro (yes, he has his own farmer), Sasu and his team select their vegetables and greens from the very seeds. But it doesn’t just end there. A rigorous watering, farming and harvesting scheme has been put in place. Everyone takes part – naturally. This is about as intimate as one can get with the raw materials if you ask me.

He smells, he tastes, he observes and then, he starts to cook. Magic happens..”

When the final products start pouring into the restaurant, Sasu is like a proud father looking at his children. He smells, he tastes, he observes and then, he starts to cook. Magic happens.. Watching him work is truly an inspiration. Since Sasu and his team have a firm rule on keeping food waste to a minimum, almost nothing is discarded. And why would you throw away carrot or beetroot stems anyway? Have you ever tasted one or the other? They’re delicious, just for the record.

But it goes beyond food waste. Since we just happen to find ourselves in the less sunny and warm side of the hemisphere, we simply don’t have access to certain raw materials that are taken for granted let’s say in Italy for example. It’s a fact and it doesn’t help whining about it. At Chef & Sommelier we just wine, we never whine. Sure it’s a bummer not to have lemons, artichokes, capers and coconuts growing in the backyard;  it would be nice. But what if I told you that there’s a Nordic version of each of these yummy treats? Read and marvel.

This is how it happened. If most people would have a fridge full of parsnip leaves (if they had kept the leaves to begin with) they would probably blissfully ignore them and end up throwing them away when they’re rotten.  Not Sasu. When he knew his precious parsnip leaves would only have a few more days left, something had to be done, quickly. Sauté and fry them? Been there done that. He needed something new. Ice cream? No kidding. He made the base using milk, cream, raw cane sugar and gluten free flour. Once done, he added a big bunch of parsnip leaves into the mix and switched on the blender. Vivid green and velvety. Just before pouring it into the ice cream machine he added a touch of caramelized butter to enhance the flavour – the secret ingredient? As the ice cream started taking shape and texture, a familiar smell filled the tiny kitchen. Could it be? Yes indeed. It was coconut. To check his judgement he had all of us taste it. It was coconut, no doubt about it. For the cherry on top, he grated some dehydrated parsnip from the late harvest last season. The result: a masterpiece that he baptised the  “Nordic Coconut”.

“When curiosity meets talent and guts, anything is possible. “

The Nordic coconut is just one of Sasu and his team’s great discoveries. Sunflowers picked when still about to bloom, preserved in oil before pan frying in butter, taste like artichokes; tagetes flowers that grow perfectly well here in the north have a citrusy flavour that easily replace the acidity of lemons; pickled dandelion buds are a perfect Nordic substitute for capers,and the list goes on. When curiosity meets talent and guts, anything is possible. Well, almost anything.

edith combine

“There’s no other way, it’s essential and natural.

How should I do it otherwise?”

The work of a chef is extremely challenging, that has been made clear to me since the beginning. Numb heels, backache, cuts and burns are inherent, nothing to complain about. But the chef who wants to make it big today needs to not only master his kitchen but also become a farmer, a forager, a chemist, a fisherman, a researcher, a lean-mean-holistic-gastronomic-machine. The idea of a blurred threshold between the kitchen and the dining room has been Chef & Sommelier’s concept ever since they served their first customers in late September 2010. Today, Sasu is not only stepping out of the kitchen to personally tell the diners the story behind his raw materials. He  even steps out of the restaurant to make the best food with the best raw materials. “There’s no other way, it’s essential and natural. How should I do it otherwise?”

That’s what he says, and I couldn’t agree more.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEdith Salminen, Food Editor

Edith was born in Finland and has been travelling around the world since a young age. Edith obtained her BA in French Philology from Helsinki University and studied Euroculture at the University of Strasbourg. After completing the Euroculture programme she did another Master’s programme, this time in European Studies at Lund University, Sweden. Currently, she is pursuing a career as a food writer and is enrolled at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra, Italy. She’s a passionate food lover who fully agrees with Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”.

A love story about my limitless home

Borislava_home and love

Borislava Miteva borislava.miteva@gmail.com

Once upon a time, when I used to live between three continents and five houses, a friend of mine expressed her opinion that I would never settle down and have a home of my own unless I find THE love of my life. She was partly right.

After I graduated, I returned to my Canadian home, only to leave it again three months later to move back to Europe. I travelled around, got involved in various transnational projects, and in the meantime kept on trying to figure out where, out of all the incredible places in the world, I wanted to settle down. After two years of contemplations I still haven’t found the answer. Maybe I never will. How can I decide before I have seen the world?! I’ve explored only forty countries, but I know that there is so much more undiscovered beauty and interesting people.  And I want to see them all! Only time will  show whether I would succeed in exploring the entire world  in or finding  ‘the’ place to settle. But, what I am aware of right now is that I am far too curious to settle for the known, because “[l]ife begins at the end of your comfort zone” (Neale Donald Walsch). In open sea. In the sky. On top of the mountain. At the bottom of a canyon. Finding the strength to try. Taking the step to forgive. Following your intuition. Loving without reservations.

“I finally have a ‘home’ of my own now that I found THE love of my life. But don’t you dare imagine that I am talking about a cheesy-sweet love story.”

And here comes the correct part of my friend’s statement: I finally have a ‘home’ of my own now that I found THE love of my life. But don’t you dare imagine that I am talking about a cheesy-sweet love story portrayed in the Hollywood romantic movies! No, I don’t see pretty pink hearts in the sky instead of stars, and nor do I hear merry bird songs instead of traffic noise on the streets. The love that I am referring to doesn’t cancel out problems and doesn’t magically make all the dreams come true. But it is a love without reservations, doubts, insecurities or suspicions. Because it is profound. Because when THE love of your life is your best friend you are empowered to be your best self, to always be honest and forgiving, to listen and understand, to give your trust to him without expectations or fear.

“It is a love without reservations, doubts, insecurities or suspicions. Because it is profound…”

It’s understandable that a house (or any other construction for that matter) might not be a home. What I have to add, however, is that a home does not require such a physical shell in order to exist. My home is my heart, where my love is being nourished to grow stronger every next day.  I am happy because I don’t have to place boundaries around my home, and most importantly—I can carry it around me everywhere I go.  During my wedding, my home was on a boat in the Adriatic Sea, close to the Dalmatian coast. Then it travelled along the Tara Canyon in Montenegro, followed by breath-stopping mountains, sunflower-laden meadows and mineral basins in Bulgaria. And if all goes well, my home will soon witness the African savanna and its diverse wildlife…

Borislborislavaava Miteva, Copy Editor

Borislava is Bulgarian-Canadian and has a BA in Social Sciences (UBC) and in Italian Studies (UniBo). As part of MA Euroculture (2009-2011), which she undertook at the University of Groningen, Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and the University of Pune, she relied on her previous academic studies by focusing on sociological issues, often related to migration and discrimination practices. Since graduating from her MA, she has continued her commitment to these fields by becoming involved in a relevant trans-European NGO, thus exploring the respective legal and human rights approaches. When she’s not in work (and sometimes when she is), she laughs a lot, pretends to be a cook, and fights for her right to write.

 

“She works hard for the money”: Euroculturers’ most random summer jobs

Helen Hoffmann │helenhoffmann@outlook.com

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

RiekeWhen 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 inMurat Tutar @ Haber Türk TV 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 new profileHelen HoffmannCreative Editor

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

“Make a parachute, you philosophy majors, and survive the landing”

Why Study Humanities?

parachute smaller

Chelsea King │ akingjay1@gmail.com

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

1. The Beast of the field   2. Why Study Humanities? Confessions of a Humanities major

Chelsea King, Copy Editor
chelseaChelsea 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.