Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper & Paola Gosio
Marcella Zandonai is an Euroculture alumni (cohort 2015-2017) from Trento, Italy. She spent her first semester at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and continued her Euroculture studies in Bilbao, Spain. After doing some volunteering, travelling in New Zealand and working for a local NGO in Trento, she joined Euroculture again in 2020 as the Assistant Coordinator at the University of Göttingen.
Euroculture Magazine (EM): What were your expectations when you applied/started your job position as professor or coordinator and does it match the reality?
Marcella Zandonai(MZ): I have to say that I started my job in a very unrealistic period of our Earth´s life. The 2020 health crisis completely changed my perception and my work tasks as well. When I started, there were actually hints of a return to normal life around July 2020. However, a couple of months later, the virus came back and I started working remotely I only had a vague idea of how my job was supposed to be, since I did my MA in Euroculture as well. I was seeing my (now) ex-colleagues doing a lot of work, being outside, traveling, being with students, and enjoying themselves. I supposed that in a utopian world my job would be hectic and I would be always on the move, meeting up with people and exchanging smiles with students.
So, my answer is: no, the job expectations did not match reality. But unfortunately, there is no one to blame. Maybe it would be easier if there was but…oh well: such is life.
When I applied I thought that the first wave would have been the first and only. But then this turned out not to be the case. We are living in uncertain times.
Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper & Paola Gosio
Maite Sagasti holds a BA in History and Cultural Heritage and an MA in Spanish Heritage Management. She is currently the Euroculture course-coordinator at the University of Deusto, where she started working in 2006 and became since then a point of reference for all the Euroculture students studying at Deusto. Next to Euroculture, Maite also coordinates other Erasmus Mundus graduate programmes at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Deusto.
Euroculturer Magazine (EM): What were your expectations when you started your job position as professor or coordinator and does it match the reality?
Maite Sagasti (MS): I started to work at the Euroculture master programme in 2006. At the beginning I knew very little about how university networks work. In my previous jobs, I had the chance to work in interdisciplinary teams but always in the same institution/organization. When I started the new position, I had to do the same (at the university level) but also in the consortium level (different work cultures, languages) and for me this has been challenging but also the best part of the job. It has been really interesting to learn how the European Higher Education Institutions work together, to face the challenges and find the solutions jointly, take part in the common project to improve the programme, to work in the European Accreditation System and last but not least, the relationship with the students. I must say that this latter point is for me one the pillars of this job. Moreover, I also learn from students, from their interests and needs, which push me to update my competencies and skills constantly.
Without any doubt, the job has far exceeded my expectations.
EM: What is your academic background and can you tell us about your previous job experience before starting to work for Euroculture?
Rhys Nugent (2019-2021), from the UK and Ireland, spent his first semester at the Georg-August-University of Göttingen and the second at Universidad de Deusto. He holds a Bachelor degree in Modern Languages and decided to apply for Euroculture to develop his interest in European affairs and culture while taking advantage of the social, professional and personal opportunities that formal education provides. He is currently residing in Bilbao, Spain and working as an intern at the European Citizen Action Service.
Euroculturer Magazine: What were your expectations when you applied/started the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?
Rhys Nugent: I had expected that studying in multiple countries would challenge my preconceptions, improve my language skills and enable me to gain better insight into the cultural and social dimensions of Europe. I had also hoped to meet students from around the world, learn about new projects and opportunities and make memories to cherish alongside new friends around Europe. Needless to say that a global pandemic had not been at the forefront of my mind when applying for MA Euroculture but, alas, here we are. Most of my expectations were met during my first two semesters of MA Euroculture. I was able to study in two fascinating countries that lie close to my heart. I managed to improve my German language skills in my first semester while refreshing my Spanish language skills in my second semester. I feel like I have a significantly better understanding of European affairs and politics, partly thanks to my degree and partly thanks to my extracurricular activities, and I have made new friendships which I value greatly from all corners of Europe and beyond. I am particularly grateful for the flexibility that both universities have provided me, whether it was their relaxed approach to class attendance or how generous they were regarding essay deadlines. This might seem an odd point to make but one of my greatest fears in returning to formal education was that my epilepsy might disrupt my studies and hinder me from making my deadlines – fortunately, both universities were incredibly compassionate when I faced issues. In this regard, my expectations have certainly been met.
Eduardo Eguiarte Ruelas (2018-2020) comes from Mexico and embarked on the Euroculture adventure after a BA in Latin American Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He spent his first semester at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, and the second one at the University of Deusto, Bilbao, Spain. He applied for Euroculture after having gone on exchange in Québec and Berlin, which convinced him that he wanted to study abroad. A lot focused on the political and cultural relations between Latin America and Europe in his BA, he saw the master as an opportunity to understand these relations from different perspectives. He was also swayed by the opportunity to get the Erasmus Mundus grant. For his third semester, Eduardo chose to do the research track at the University of Deusto.
Euroculturer Magazine:What were your expectations when you applied/started the MA Euroculture? And does it match the reality at the moment?
Eduardo Eguiarte Ruelas: Honestly, I did not have any particular expectation for the program. I imagined that it would be a great opportunity to get to know different people, speak different languages, and travel around Europe, and here the program has not failed me. Beyond that, I did not have any particular image of how it was going to be.
Ana Alhoud (2018-2020) is an American who traveled across the pond to start her Euroculture life in Göttingen, Germany. Before Euroculture, she studied Communication and International Studies for her Bachelor’s degree. She applied for Euroculture because she loves learning about different cultures and the many ways they interact. Ana is about to finish her first semester in Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany, and she will be continuing the next semester at the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain.
Thank you Ana, for taking the time to answer these questions!
1. What was the most difficult thing that you had to adjust to when you started the programme?
For me, the most difficult thing to adjust to was the language barrier. Even though I have experience with other languages, German threw me a curve ball because the languages I do know are not super similar in structure or sound. However, I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn German and overcome the challenge it presented. Continue reading “Student Profiles: Ana Alhoud (US, Göttingen-Bilbao)”→
After discovering the various perks of the hidden gems and the Northern wonders of Euroculture’s consortium, it is time to discover the last two EU universities: Bilbao and Strasbourg. Both are extremely different due to their location; both are amazing picks to study. From the rainy shores of Spain to “La Petite France” picturesque architecture, here is what to expect from these two cities.
Bilbao: The Other Side of Spain
When heading to Spain, most students expect sunny and warm days. Perhaps it shouldn’t be your main motivation for picking Bilbao, though, since the city is among the rainiest of the country – “don’t forget your umbrella” is the main recommendation, quite accurately. If this is the price to pay to get both the sea and mountains at the same time, though, it might very well be worth it! Time is a notion that Spanish people learned to design according to their lifestyle. This also applies to Bilbao and to student life there. It might be rainy, but you will experience what Spain does best: tasty food and joyful leisure time. Not that studying will be any less important than elsewhere, don’t be mistaken – deadlines will just be served with a side dish called “work-life balance”. Continue reading “Euroculture: From Seaside to Europe’s Heart”→
To my surprise, I was a bit tongue-tied when I first met Alex in front of Pushkin’s statue in Pushkin Square, Moscow on a Sunday afternoon. He was emitting aura which made me forget what I had prepared to say. What am I doing in Moscow? Unfortunately, it seemed like I couldn’t remember why I was there. This is embarrassing. I wanted to sound like a real journalist but apparently it was not working. I just wished I could fool him for the next two hours.
The timing Alex appeared in my life couldn’t have been better. Six weeks before, during the Euroculture Intensive Programme (IP) in Bilbao, Spain, I was anxiously preparing to start an online magazine, The Euroculturer, in the MA Euroculture community. I was also looking for ways to bring alumni back to Euroculture. I heard Alex speak on Career Day and thought that his story could be a great example to many Euroculture students wishing to expand their horizons during their studies. What would be the best way to cover him? I wanted to find out something other than what he already presented on Career Day. Then I got an idea. After the IP, I contacted Alex to ask if I could meet him in Moscow. A few weeks later, in the middle of August, I found myself in Moscow, lost in Cyrillic but full of spirit.
On the way to the restaurant from Pushkin square, as I relaxed a bit, Alex gave me a few details of his life. He studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Scottish men wearing skirts came up in conversation and he told me that he also had a kilt. He wore it for various occasions but mainly in his ceilidh band, Achtung Ceilidh, where he played bass for a few years. He has played guitar for about 15 years and music has always been a big part of his life. Cool.
At the restaurant, Alex ordered for both of us, my Russian not being so hot. I wondered how good his Russian was and he said it was functional to the extent that he could communicate with his Russian colleagues. When asked why he chose to work in Russia, he told me that he had worked in Moscow before he started the MA Euroculture programme. He hit it off with the city and that’s why he decided to come back when he got a job offer. I asked about his current job at BKC International House Moscow where he has a mouthful of a title: Executive Centre Assistant Director of Studies. The job is a healthy mix of teaching, management and training teachers. It’s the variety that makes it, he said.
When the food arrived, I asked more questions about his Euroculture years. He started Euroculture in 2009 at Uppsala University. Outside of the classroom, he was hired as International Secretary of the Uppsala Association of International Affairs, helping to organise weekly public lectures. He joined the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA) just before moving to the University of Deusto in Bilbao for the second semester. In the EMA he was selected as course representative for Euroculture and was given the chance to participate in the Madrid General Assembly and Communications Conference in Bordeaux. After joining EMA, he wrote regularly for their in-house magazine, EMANATE, and worked closely with the EMA communications team. The idea of his most recent project, Human[i]ties Perspective, was born out of this network, but also from a joint initiative of the EMA and OCEANS Network called Realise It.
Our plates were almost empty when his research interests came up. While keeping himself busy with EMA activities, Alex found the topic of cultural diplomacy interesting. He wrote his IP paper on town twinning, a form of cultural cooperation between two cities, which he further developed in his Master’s thesis. He completed an internship with an EU-funded project, Monitors of Culture, hosted by the University of Deusto, on the role of cultural observatories in Europe in the future. Talking about Bilbao reminded me of his charity marathon which impressed me so much − Forrest Gump being one of my favourite movies – that he had spoken about on Career Day during the IP. Rather enthusiastically, I asked about his marathon and he told me the story in detail. Back in 2010, Alex and a friend of his, George, decided to raise money for charity by running the Bilbao Night Marathon. He’s a passionate runner so it was not intended only for charity, but also for fun. The marathon was a great success and they raised over 4,000 US$ for charity: to help build a well in northern Ethiopia. The support from his Euroculture colleagues, both financial and emotional, was amazing, he said. His charity work, highlighted by the marathon in Bilbao, was one of the reasons why Alex was selected as 2012 EMA Star. Other reasons include his dedication to the EMA communications team and his role in Human[i]ties Perspective, an annual two-day conference with which he has been actively involved since 2011.
Before we parted, Alex said that Euroculture, which distinguishes itself from other Master’s programmes mostly by its mobility aspect, could also be a ‘platform’ for the wider world once you start to see how to get involved. I asked if joining the EMA was one of the critical moments of his life. The word ‘critical’ seemed to entertain him fairly but he soon admitted that it was pretty important because it widened his Euroculture experience and eventually brought Human[i]ties Perspective into his life, not to mention an amazing group of friends from all over the world. Cool, I thought and wished that more Euroculturers would take advantage of what EMA could offer. Then we both looked down at our watches. He had to interview some new staff at work shortly and I had no more questions left. It was time to go.
Eunjin is from South Korea and studied Education for her BA. She began MA Euroculture in October 2011 in the University of Göttingen, later studied in the University of Strasbourg, did a research track in Uppsala University and currently finishing her MA thesis in Strasbourg. Her research interests lie in finding ways for diaspora groups to feel as ‘citizens at heart’ in host countries. Eunjin is a part-time realist and a full-time idealist.