Euroculture: The Hidden Gems

By Maeva Chargros

Applying for a master programme is not an easy task; applying for an Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme such as Euroculture, offering eight universities in eight different countries… can be even more complicated. Indeed, during the application process, candidates have to pick three universities they are interested in for the first semester. Of course, the courses taught there, as well as the specialisations of each university or the monthly budget are important; but sometimes, one needs something more personal to be convinced.
This first edition of universities’ presentations is focusing on what we could call the “hidden gems” of Euroculture: the universities you might not think of at first, some cities you could not even place on a map before going there, but they turn out to be life-changing decisions you’ll never regret.

Creativity: a keyword for all three cities

Why would you study in Central Europe? Life there is affordable (or even cheap), with many options to travel. This is what every Erasmus student answers during their first week here. A few weeks later, they still consider the place to be affordable and practical for trips, but the list of good reasons to study here extended slightly. The very dynamic cultural life, for instance, shows up suddenly. Continue reading “Euroculture: The Hidden Gems”

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So, where is Europe?

One week ago, the Euroculture programme was celebrating its 20th anniversary during the Intensive Programme held in Krakow. This time, the theme was “Where is Europe?”, which inspired all students to write papers on various topics, from law and borders to ecology and environmental issues, from linguistics to history, new technologies, multiculturalism and many more.
The Intensive Programme (IP) is the final part of the first year; it summarises all that has been learnt during the first semesters in terms of research methodology, academic writing, discussions, peer reviews, paper presentation. It is also a unique opportunity for all students of the same cohort to meet (again or for the first time). Indeed, it is the only time everyone is gathered during the whole duration of the programme.

Continue reading “So, where is Europe?”

IP Euroculture 2018: The “Backstage”!

 

As the Intensive Programme 2018 is about to start, the Euroculturer Magazine decided to offer you a sneak peek into the most intense, challenging and exciting part of the programme’s 1st year. Senka Neuman Stanivukovic, from the Rijksuniversiteit in Groningen, and Karolina Czerska-Shaw, from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, accepted to answer a few questions for us…
Indeed, this year’s IP has been co-organised mainly by these two universities – though as you will discover in this article, an IP is never about just one or even two universities’ teams! So, what does the “backstage” look like?

Let’s first look back a few years ago… Can you tell us how and when the Euroculture adventure started in Krakow?
Karolina Czerska-Shaw: “Yes, I remember it well! It started in 2004, when I came to study at the Jagiellonian in the Euroculture programme. It was then a 1-year MA, and the IP was in February. Luckily that year it was in Udine, which was a relief after the very cold winter in Poland… Our Director of Studies (and now the Dean of our Faculty), Prof. Mach, was the man behind the JU’s ‘entrance’ into the Euroculture team, and the rest is history. Well, sort of.

What about the IP, how many times did Krakow and Groningen co-organised or hosted the event? Any funny stories to share with us?
Karolina: “I’m beginning to lose count… 2008, 2014, 2017, 2018. Am I missing one? As for funny anecdotes, funny during or in retrospect? Hmm, there are certainly some, but my mind is a blur. I’m sure the past students have many of their own. Check Facebook!
Senka Neuman Stanivukovic: “I think twice or even three times, I am not sure?! As for anecdotes and funny stories, the IP has nothing to do with fun or funny, it is only hard work, hard work, very hard hard work!

Just in case we were not panicking enough just yet, thank you for the reminder Senka!
But by the way, could you please introduce yourself and the team behind this year’s IP? Continue reading “IP Euroculture 2018: The “Backstage”!”

A weekend in Stockholm

Elena Mitryukova is a Euroculture student who loves the international experience of the two years of the Master programme. She loves travelling, looking for adventures and running from the routine. “The most amazing adventure for me is the people I meet on the way and what I learn from them,” she says. “Right now I am living in Krakow, Poland. Originally I am from Volgograd, Russia. And I am not sure where I will be in several years. To be honest, I like this. I had barely travelled until 21 and until my first big trip to the United States for 4 months. And then I could not stop myself. I like planning trips and can give a lot of tips on how to spend less or to find something special while travelling. I will be happy to share my experience.”

This is a short report about several days I spent in Stockholm, some tips on how to save money there and what to do. I do not claim being the best expert and certainly do not compete with the students studying in Uppsala. However it is from my friends who asked, persuaded and questioned me on my trip, that this report was born.
Stockholm is a beautiful city, tolerant, democratic, open-minded, interesting and worth visiting. However, probably not all of this is true in February… Before arriving in the city, I had been advised three times to come in summer instead. However I still enjoyed it and would like to see what Stockholm is like during the warmer seasons.

stockholm1stockholm2stockholm3

Continue reading “A weekend in Stockholm”

Muslim for One Day

Having a Muslim woman in our midst, we as the second semester Krakow girls were dying to find out what it felt like for our classmate to be a Muslim woman in Poland. 

Floor 2
From left to right.: Eike Hinz, Floor Boele van Hensbroek, Marielle van Heumen, Fauzia Ariani, Claudia Lübbers, Emma Klever.

Floor Boele van Hensbroek│floorbvh@gmail.com

Having a Muslim woman in our midst while living in one of the most homogeneous countries in Europe, we as the second semester Krakow girls were dying to find out what it felt like for our classmate to be a Muslim woman in Poland. So, we conducted an experiment. For one day we pretended to be Muslims and covered up from head to toe. How did we experience this? Did it change our perceptions on Muslim veils such as hijabs and headscarves? Read here my personal reflexions on this little experiment.

Background: Veils in the West

In Europe, the Muslim veil is not free from controversy. In multiple countries there have been heated debates on whether or not to ban the headscarf. In France, the decision has been made to ban burqas in public spaces. Why? Partly because many Westerners believe that obligating a woman to cover her body is a restriction of her freedom and emancipation. J.C. Young argues in his book ‘Post-Colonialism: A Very Short Introduction’ that “for many Westerners, the veil is a symbol of patriarchal Islamic societies in which women are assumed to be oppressed, subordinated, and made invisible.” This perception can be partly explained by looking at the process of emancipation in the West.

“In the West, showing your body indicates public presence, visibility and freedom of self-expression…”

In Western societies, dress liberation has meant ‘participation in society’. It meant being able to ride a bicycle and board a train. Showing your body indicates public presence, visibility and freedom of self-expression. However, westerners might be taking it one step too far when criticizing veils and defining them as backward and degrading. Blogger Liz Connor argues that “They (Western woman) have developed, it would seem, a rather delimited view of what public visibility might mean to different woman (…). The possibility of covering up is not necessarily a backward step.” Apart from this, it has been argued that denying people their religious expression can equally be defined as oppressive. Moreover: western beauty standards for woman are not free from oppression either!

“I have always believed that covering your body actually reinforces the focus on sexuality…”

Being a western woman myself, I must admit that also I have been critical towards headscarves. I always found it hard to understand why Muslim women cover their bodies to such extent that sometimes even their faces are hidden. Knowing that they can only show themselves to their husbands gave me the impression these woman are somewhat ‘owned’ by their husbands.  Also, I could not see how the obligation to wear all those clothes could be comfortable in any way. Thus, women suffer because of it, I thought. Moreover, I have always believed that covering your body extensively in order to avoid sexual attention actually reinforces the focus on sexuality. Think of African bush women walking around bare-breasted all day. All the attached meaning to the body immediately evaporates, and the body becomes just a body; like an instrument. Obviously, all these opinions and thoughts of mine were full of prejudice and misunderstanding. However, this I only found out much later, after I had dressed up as a Muslim woman myself for a day.

Muslim for one day: the start up

Floor 1_scarves

It was during a lovely dinner time in June that the idea was born: we, the girls of the second semester Krakow class would all wear headscarves for one day. In this way, we hoped to be able to understand how it had been for our classmate, Fauzia Ariani, to live in Poland as a Muslim woman. Fauzia, who has come all the way from Indonesia to Europe to study MA Euroculture, would be our guide during the day. In practice, this meant she would provide us with headscarves and tie them fashionably around our heads. Obviously, the experiment soon became an experiment in fashion as well. I learned there is a booming fashion industry for Muslim women and looking at the pictures of famous designs very quickly got us in the mood.

“Wow, this is actually not so bad…”

We agreed to meet at Fauzia’s place in the morning and first have breakfast together. (You can’t become Muslim on an empty stomach! Everyone knows that). After breakfast, the fun part began. Fauzia showed us her suitcase full of headscarves. Then – oh wait, yes you read that correctly, a suitcase full of headscarves – we all chose a nice colourful combination. I found out that a headscarf is not just a headscarf; it actually consists of several elements: an under-scarf or turtleneck, a shawl and an optional headband. Fauzia arranged them skilfully, choosing different styles. When I looked in the mirror afterwards, I saw a completely different me. ‘Wow, this is actually not so bad!’ I thought. However, I still looked far from presentable. Having left my apartment with the illusion I looked modest, Fauzia soon helped me out of this dream. ‘You are too naked!’ she said. ‘I can see your under arms and legs. Oh, and your dress is see-through!’ ‘Right.’ For your information, it was 35 degrees that day. Still, I put on an extra legging and long sleeves and finally, got permission from Fauzia that we were good to go. Although I still cheated a little as I was wearing flip-flops meaning, my feet were naked. But, flip-flops with socks? I reckoned Allah wouldn’t mind…

What the Quran prescribes in terms of woman’s dress

“Let me briefly explain…”

Before continuing, let me briefly explain what the Quran actually prescribes in terms of woman’s clothing. (To find out, I unfortunately did not read the Quran but visited some forums instead). It turns out, there are two requirements in terms of woman’s clothes. First, a woman’s body has to be covered in such ways that only her face, hands, and feet are revealed. Secondly, the clothing must be loose enough so that the shape of the body is not visible. Also, women should not dress so as to look like men, they should not dress in a way similar to those who don’t believe in God and the clothing should be modest, neither ragged nor overly fancy. Obviously, different interpretations exist of what is said in the Quran therefore every Muslim applies the rules in different ways.

Let’s hit the road

Floor 3

As soon as we left the house I noticed one thing: being a Muslim woman can indeed be torturous. It was so hot! How do those women deal with this heat? My respect grew with every second. Sweat was dripping down from my face and back. I looked with envy at the krakowian girls in their light summer dresses and skirts. How nice it would be to feel the wind through my hair and cool off my skull. At the same time I became very conscious of naked skin. And naked skin was everywhere. I saw girls wearing hot pants and short tops. ‘Wow, they know no limits!’ I thought. The headscarf was starting to work on me. Secretly, we inspected the way people looked at us. It was hard to tell what they were thinking as we did not receive many ‘telling’ looks. However, with the exception of the children. When spotting us, they would grab their moms’ legs and point at us with bewildered looks. Maybe the adults could hold back their first reactions unlike children? If we got any reaction at all, though, it was quite positive. People smiled and looked at us with wonder. I actually felt a little special and exotic.

“I became very conscious of naked skin…”

We bought ice cream and sat down at the Rynek. In a way, it felt nice to be so covered up. I felt less exposed to the outside world, being literally and figuratively less ‘naked’. Emma told me afterwards that she appreciated wearing the headscarf. ‘Except for some worries about how people would respond, in some way or the other I enjoyed being hidden inside all those clothes, I’m not sure why.’ Claudia said she was surprised that it felt so normal wearing a headscarf but also added ‘As soon as we left the flat, I had almost forgotten about it.’ And forget we did. In the afternoon when we went for lunch, we talked freely about topics like homosexuality and partying. Okay, now people started to stare! At the end of the day I was happy to remove the headscarf, simply because it felt more comfortable. Would we have done the experiment in wintertime, I might have kept it on a few days more…

A reflection

Probably, you have an opinion yourself about Muslim veils. You might see them as a symbol of repression and subjugation, obviously as a symbol of religion. What else do you associate the Muslim veil such as the headscarf with? ‘Tradition,’ ‘conservativeness,’ ‘gender,’ ‘masculine culture,’ and ‘immigration’? What I suspect that will not cross your mind are ‘mysteriousness,’ ‘fashion,’ ‘culture,’ ‘Indonesia,’ ‘morality,’ and ‘protection.’ After having met Fauzia, and wearing a headscarf myself for one day, my perception has changed. Whereas beforehand I was critical and sceptical about Muslim veils, I now see that I misunderstood. Now, I can appreciate the headscarf as a cultural expression and I like how it makes woman’s hair (something so trivial in Western culture) into something highly mysterious.

“Now, I can appreciate the headscarf as a cultural expression…”

Exactly for this reason, I appreciate being part of MA Euroculture so much, as it enables me to meet people from various backgrounds. Studying Euroculture is not just about gaining scientific knowledge and skills; it is about learning to understand others and tackling prejudices. It is about becoming a better person. I will finish this article with a few words from Fauzia:

Floor 4

This experiment was not just about some European girls’ headscarf-curiosity (or my hijab fashion experiment over the girls’ hair). It was about understanding, respect, and tolerance. People in the world were created differently in order to get to know each other, weren’t they?!

About my one-day experiment being a Muslim woman and wearing a headscarf in Europe: I have passed through tough experiences of wearing a hijab in Europe. However, I see it as an opportunity rather than a setback on my path. I know I have to be no one else but myself. And I still have faith that good people will come to know each other by person and not by prejudice.

Floor profileFloor Boele van Hensbroek, People’s Editor

I am Floor, Dutch, and 25 years young/old. I studied interdisciplinary social sciences at Utrecht University before starting with Euroculture. I love travelling, dancing, art, theatre, documentaries, tasty food, classy wine and.. actually a lot of other things. I was born in the bush of Zambia with a bush of black curly hair, although now I’m blond as blond can be. I’m a cynical optimist, that looks for truth even though I believe that all truth is constructed.

My life as an IP intern?

The Euroculturer has invited Florian Fritsch, IP 2013 Krakow intern to ask what it’s like to be an IP intern.

florian profile smaller Florian Fritsch│ florian_fritsch@hotmail.fr

Q1. Hello, Florian. How did you become an intern with the IP 2013 Krakow team? How long did the internship last?

Hello! Well, last summer I found an interesting internship in a different field but they eventually turned the offer down, mentioning financial difficulties. A few days later Juan (from the IP team in Krakow) called me wondering if I was still available for the job, as I had applied for it a few months before. Project management is a professional area in which I would love to work after I graduate from MA Euroculture so I said yes! Let’s say the team was quite lucky to get me in the end!!!

Q2. What kind of work did you do as an IP intern?

Everything was focused around project management. My main responsibility was the Career Day of the IP 2013: organising the day, contacting and inviting people and professionals to the event, logistics, brainstorming, etc. I was also in contact with students, answering questions or queries they had, and I contributed most of the information on the ‘practical info’ section of the blog or the vignettes (the IP newsletter). I was able to bring my own experiences of last year’s IP in Bilbao, Spain, looking at what was successful and enjoyed and what could have been improved. I was in charge of finding the volunteers to assist the students during their stay in Krakow, looking for ways to reduce cost in food, and a lot of other things (including going out in the evenings and other surprises that I won’t reveal now – it’s top secret!).

Q3. Can you describe your day as an IP intern?

My day started very early in the morning, around 9am, with a cup of coffee with Juan. Then we went up the hill to Przegorzały where ‘the castle’ (as it is commonly known in Krakow) and the Institute of European Studies is situated (students will understand what I mean when they are in Krakow). Mornings usually began with a meeting with the team about the IP. This was sometimes followed by a ‘brainstorm session’ in order to bring in new ideas to make this IP the best one ever! Afterward I completed administrative work such as looking for information on the internet, calling people, meeting with people, and exchanging ideas with other members of the team. We sometimes had fun with a little office basketball game (but, to be honest, we were all quite bad at it).

“Mornings usually began with a meeting with the team about the IP. This was sometimes followed by a ‘brainstorm session’ in order to bring in new ideas to make this IP the best one ever!”

Q4. How was working with other members of the IP team?

Great! Amazing! Splendid! It really feels good when you work with people like Karo, Juan and Luc. They are really helpful and it was a lot of fun to be around them.

Q5. What skills/qualities do you think an IP intern needs?

I think self-management is the main thing. You have a lot of responsibilities and the team is not always going to be looking over your shoulder at what you’re doing. You need to set your own goals and agenda. Communication wise, well, you need to have easy contact with people, trust yourself and your English language skills, and you must to be motivated about your work and be willing to do work for students you don’t know.

“You have a lot of responsibilities and the team is not always going to be looking over your shoulder at what you’re doing. You need to set your own goals and agenda.”

Q6. What skills/qualities do you think you have acquired during your time as an IP intern?

I have two. Firstly, I learned how to manage myself, set my own goals and deadlines. I’m much more organised now. Secondly, I feel more comfortable contacting new people, and I really enjoy meeting potential partners or sponsors.

Q7. What’s your best memory from the internship?

Probably my visit to the French Consulate. At first I went there just to get some contacts for the Career Day, I didn’t expect to participate in a meeting at all. I was on my way back from the gym, not really dressed in a formal way. The interesting thing was that, despite my embarrassment, I learned a lot about diplomacy and partnership during this 45 minute meeting. To add another one, maybe the incident when Juan broke the back window of his car while trying to park, I don’t know!

“Despite my embarrassment, I learned a lot about diplomacy and partnership…”

Q8. What’s your worst memory from the internship?

I don’t think there are any bad memories.

Q9. Would you recommend the IP internship to other MA Euroculture students?

Oh yes. I learnt a lot and really felt like a member of the team, not just a trainee who gets asked to bring coffee and make photocopies. You also learn a lot about project management in a practical setting, working on a serious conference of which you already have some experience. Finally, I think you also learn a lot about Euroculture.

Q10. You lived in Krakow for two semesters. How was it living there? Tell us what you liked most about Krakow.

Yes, I spent a year in Krakow. Krakow is a lovely city, probably the second most beautiful city in the world after my hometown of Strasbourg (who said I was being super subjective?!). It has some really beautiful architecture. It is also a dynamic student city. It can be really cold and snowy during the winter, but the weather is very nice in June when you can enjoy the sun on the Main Square with a beer or do some tanning on the shore of the river near Wawel. There are also a lot of bars, pubs and clubs with €1 beers and vodka shots – but be careful or you might have trouble following all the interesting activities we prepared for you during the IP!

“The weather is very nice in June when you can enjoy the sun on the Main Square with a beer or do some tanning on the shore of the river near Wawel.”

Thank you very much for answering our questions. We heard that you will be in Krakow for the IP to help the team. Good luck and have lots of Euroculture fun!

Thank you very much for having me, I’m looking forward to seeing the students at the IP in June!

Have you met the IP 2013 Krakow organisers? If you haven’t, it’s never too late! Resistance, Resilience & Adaptation: Getting Ready for the IP

Florian Fritsch, Contributing Writer

Florian is from France and started the MA Euroculture programme in 2011. He graduated from the University of Strasbourg with a BA in Applied Modern Languages in English and Japanese. He spent his first Euroculture semester in Strasbourg, second and third semesters in Krakow, and is now back in Strasbourg to write his Master Thesis to win the ALBA thesis prize. His main focus of studies is the role of sport in European identity and the influence of American culture on the changing sporting habits of young Europeans.