I have spent hours formulating my questions, over and over again, so that they are precise but cannot be interpreted as provocative or too critical. Despite my intensive preparation, we reach a crucial point in the interview and I am nervous. I want to confront my interviewee, ask him why he says X thing happened, when official memos quite clearly state Y event was key instead. The look in his face tells me he doesn’t think I know about it, nor that I am likely to put him in a sore spot.
I ask him an easy question first, let him paint a pretty picture, before I move on to the meaty stuff. Then I aim my metaphorical weapon. I make sure my posture, face expression and voice all reflect an adequate sense of gratefulness and respect for his time and knowledge. My efforts are rewarded as I get a somewhat honest answer, if one that also vastly underestimates my knowledge in the subject.
When I exit the office, however, I do not feel exultant or accomplished; I am actually angry with myself and with my interviewee for the charade. For having had to feign ignorance and slow thinking in front of officials I have researched. I know, however, that others approaches (confident assertiveness or jovial camaraderie) would have not worked. As a female researcher, the ‘good girl persona’ is my only realistic approach to interviewing powerful institutional elites.
Richard Blais (2018-2020) is a French Euroculture student who spent his first semester in Olomouc, Czech Republic and his second semester in Groningen, Netherlands. He did a double bachelor degree in History and English Civilisation, language and literature in Paris, France. Upon graduating, he did a one-year civic service at a house of Europe in Bordeaux, France. He applied for the Euroculture Master because of his interest in social sciences and the international aspect of the degree. For his third semester, he did an internship at the Alliance Française of Edmonton, Canada.
Euroculturer Magazine: What were your expectations when you started the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?
Richard Blais: I imagined myself moving a lot. And I was not disappointed! Moving around Europe implied a lot of expectations of course, like meeting new people and discovering new cultures. And as cliché and corny as it sounds, it really widened my own horizons! Doing the Euroculture degree helped me to meet a wide variety of students who had the same tastes for discussions, political issues, international culture, arts, and so on. It helped me gaining a more international profile which is probably what I sought when I enrolled in the programme.
Arianna Rizzi (2018-2020) is an Italian and Swiss Euroculture Student who spent her first semester in Strasbourg, France, and her second semester in Groningen, Netherlands. After studying Communication Sciences at the Università della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland, she applied for the Euroculture MA because she wanted to switch her study path towards political and cultural studies. She also wanted to add an international experience to her resume. For her third semester, she did an internship at the Council of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.
Euroculturer Magazine: What were your expectations when you applied for the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?
Arianna Rizzi: When I applied for Euroculture, I had no specific expectations: I just liked the idea that, as follow-up to my Bachelor’s in Communication Sciences, I could delve into European political and cultural studies. Maybe I expected the degree to be more focused on Europe and the EU in political terms, but in the end I really appreciated its sociological take on many Europe-related issues.
Crossing the street in the Netherlands for the first time is a sort of adventure. You get closer to the road in a shy manner, you prepare to step and cross it, and a bicycle passes. Then a second one and a third and you lose track. You get patient, and when finally the right moment arrives another bicycle passes again, and a second and then a third. It is an endless cycle. Dutch people have the reputation of being born on wheels, and after a semester in Groningen I can testify that this assumption is below reality.
After a year in Bordeaux, a city where cycling became a very common practice, I assumed the situation in Groningen would be extremely similar. A terribly wrong and underestimating assumption, resulting probably of the famous French arrogance. It was when I first arrived in front of the Rijksuniversiteit, the University of Groningen, that I realised my mistake. If we talk of a park for bicycles, the Dutch style consists in long thickets made of bicycle, where gears, chains and handlebars replace the branches. A park found in all circumstances in front of the main building of the university, despite the (usual) rain and wind. A true anecdote: some days, I have spent more time looking for my bike than riding it to university.
Moving around in a Dutch city is to experience a specific setting seemingly designed for bicycles. With the omnipresence of cycling tracks and a – almost – disappearance of any ground elevation, it seems that the Netherlands has been constructed specifically for the two-wheelers. After I rented my bike in this city I noticed how much my daily life has changed for the better and I became an immediate lobbyist for this means of transportation around me arguing against the few unfortunate friends who had not been touched by the holy (dynamo) light. Indeed, there is always a cycling track for the cyclist, either on the side of the road, or on a separated portion. They have their own circulation-lights, and the notions of one-way streets do not apply to the person riding a bike. Reflecting on this, I asked myself the following question: are the cities built around a means of transportation?
Thinking of it, means of transportation are part of the experience of a city. Modern (Northern) American cities have been conceived in a manner which makes the car essential to daily life. The capital city of Bolivia, La Paz has set a system of urban cable-cars, particularly relevant for a city standing 3,000 meters above sea-level . Moving in a city is part of its experience. The German historian Hartmut Kaelbe, reflecting on common elements which were constituting this elusive European identity we try to grasp in this master have noticed that the scale of the European cities could be a possible element of it, as it is possible to just “walk” in them.
To study the favoured mode of transportation in a city is to study society itself. Looking at the 20th century, and consequently the boom of the urban growth in Western society helps at understanding the societal changes and how they are reflected in the conception of cities. At the beginning of the century, the most adapted manner to have public transportation in the mind of urban-planners is to have a tramway, or even better, an underground metro system for the largest cities in order to save some precious space. This is why by travelling to Portugal or Czech Republic, the tourist may find a tramway network of a certain age, with a charming feeling of authenticity.
And then, the Second World War occurred, and following this tragic event, the rise of car production in the 1950s and 1960s made the tramway an obsolete thing. The average person preferred to public transportation their own automobile which was, as Barthes commented, associated with positive values such as self-liberty. When the individual transportation was triumphing, the collective ones are transforming differently depending on the region of Europe. Mass transit is not in the mind of city-planners in the Mediterranean countries and remained focused on the automobile. On the other hand, countries of the Soviet Bloc kept pushing for this egalitarian common system of urban transport. That is why every student who had the chance to discover the wonderful city of Olomouc (my vision might be biased after a semester there), surely noticed the vintage tramways circulating around the city.
The ambition to keep urban policies primarily focused on the car-usage slowed down at the end of the century for a few reasons. The first one is a saturation of the road network and the disagreements it causes. The car, symbol of freedom, is soon perceived as a constraint, the one of pollution, traffic, and expensive road maintenance. And the oil crisis of the 1970s and the sharp increase of the price of fuel pushes for a new reflection on urban policies.
It is in this specific context that older means of transportation resurfaced in the mind of city-planners. The tramway shifts from its outdated image to a symbol of a modern urban asset. Modern tramways are tied to the goal of having a sustainable society and increase the value of the urban spaces located around their rails. In the Netherlands, the holy-land of the two-wheelers, bicycles only became a norm after the oil shock of 1973. Following the sharp increase of the price of black gold, cities are re-thought to adapt the bicycle to the daily experience of the city, by developing infrastructures to fit the usage of the cyclists through construction of bike parking, cycling tracks etc.
However, sustainable development and the price of fuel are not the only arguments which push for greener means of transportation. A broader range of reasons pushes the inhabitants of city to prefer a certain means of transportation than another. It depends as well on local culture, the attitude of consumers (their own experience, lifestyles), physical constraints, or the manner in which the city is constructed.
Each city or country has a dedicated manner to move around which is the most adapted to its own context. Movement is part of its local culture and is a reflection of its society. In a similar fashion with museums, landscapes, streets, houses, means of transportation are part of the local city culture. To experience bike-riding in the Netherlands is to take an interest in Dutch culture. The experience of a similar manner to move around locally creates a group of individuals sharing an experience. Codes, habits, conditions – either terrible or excellent – are all elements shared by those who experience daily the city. It is extremely easy to know if someone is a tourist or not in public transportation. Online, Facebook groups and Twitter accounts exist to jokingly criticise means of transportation in some cities. These groups rely on a shared experience of users who posses keys to understand humour creating an informal community of users. Moving in a city seems to be one of the elements of local urban culture.
However, considering all these information will not prevent you to curse at this continuous flow of Dutch people people on bikes, until you master the delicate art of crossing a street in Netherlands.
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.
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.
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
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/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1249
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
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
“On the road again…I just can’t wait to get on the road again…” -Willie Nelson
Few experiences expose you to the constant movement that Euroculture does. Amongst the careful searches for accommodation, endless negotiations with landlords, costly shipping of suitcases, frequent (un)packing, farewell get-togethers, moving in rituals and eventual redo of the entire process, students abroad are educated about being adaptable in changing situations more than most of the population…but what are we missing in the midst of so much movement?
One of the major lures of Euroculture is its mobility requirement, in which each student is required to study in at least two universities as well as a research/ internship placement. This unique element encourages Euroculture students to not only learn in different environments, but to immerse themselves in many manifestations of lifestyles and cultures. Whether we realize it or not, the mindset we adopt throughout this process is key to succeeding academically as well as growing personally.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs , the physiological needs for food, water, safety and warmth must be achieved before embarking on the next steps toward self-realization, a process of growing and developing as a person in order to achieve individual potential. Vedic knowledge concerning the chakras  also refer to this critical requirement of basic physical stability, associated with the root chakra , as the foundation for the increasingly social aspects of fulfillment that come afterward. For the most part, students abroad technically meet this first level of fulfillment (though Ramen noodles don’t always do the trick), but how do we counter the negative effects of instability  when moving so frequently? Continue reading “At Home on the Road”→
Béline Hermet (2017-2019, FR) has a background in International Development with a minor in Italian Studies. After a couple of years in Canada, she wanted to go back to Europe. For her, Euroculture was an obvious choice. Apart from her interest in the issues the programme attempts to tackle, she finds additional appeal in the mobility opportunities that the programme offers, which allow her to study in different universities and countries in a multicultural environment with international students.
Béline started her Euroculture life in Uppsala and Göttingen. She spent her third semester doing an Editorial Assistant internship at Eurozine, a network of European cultural journals and an online magazine, headquartered at Vienna, Austria.
Thanks Béline for taking the time to share your experience!
1. So, why an internship?
I know I don’t want to do a PhD, so I was sure from the beginning that I wanted to do an internship to have professional experience and opportunities. I have not yet had the opportunity to do an internship that is of longer duration, and I wanted to get a better idea of what I want to do after Euroculture.
Marc Kendil (2017-2019, DK) started his Euroculture life in Groningen and Strasbourg. He completed his third semester by doing an internship at European Movement International (EMI), the largest pan-European network of pro-European organisations, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, as an EU Affairs Trainee. With his multinational identity and upbringing, he considers himself a child of the EU project. Marc has a background in American Studies with a minor in International Relations, which is rooted in his long-standing interest in North American society, culture and politics. Wishing to bridge the gap between his upbringing and former studies, he took up MA Euroculture and hopes of pursuing a diplomatic career in the future.
Thanks Marc, for taking the time to share your experience!
1. So, why an internship?
I wanted to do an internship during my third semester for several reasons. A research track did not interest me as I do not want to carry on into the field of academia nor do a PhD. More importantly, I wished to acquire some concrete experiences from a professional perspective during my Master’s in order to increase my chances at finding employment/internships right after graduation. Doing an internship during a MA is also incredibly beneficial to supplement the theoretical.
For many young people around the world, Europe is not too unfamiliar as a travel or study destination. In the context of globalization, regardless in geography, economy, politics, art and popular culture, our lives more or less intertwine with others’. As Euroculture students, we should have no problem adapting into this melting pot. I thought to myself, what would it be really like to live in Europe and with European students?
For many Asian families, being 25 years old when you start exploring the world is not too late of an age, especially after studying very hard to graduate from university and working in a company for some years, yet still unsure of what kind of life experience one really wants to have. Unlike me, almost all the classmates I met here have lived a cross-cultural life and possess study/volunteer experiences during their university education. Many of them have “dual identities” and regard themselves proudly as European, no less, or even more, than their nationalities. When these two kinds of people meet, culture shock is inevitable.
As a foreign student, I would like to share my observations on the culture of hanging out and making friends during my time in Strasbourg. Continue reading “A Perspective on the Culture of Hanging Out”→
Katharina Geiselmann (2017-2019, DE) or also known by her classmates as Kat, spent her first and second semesters at Uppsala and Krakow. Kat studied English Studies in her Bachelor’s, with a minor in Languages and Cultures. After her Bachelor studies, she looked for a completely interdisciplinary Master’s programme that allows her to live in more countries and become familiar with more languages, which led her to start her Euroculture adventure. Kat has just finished her internship at the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, which she did for her third semester. Thanks, Kat, for taking the time to share your experience!
1. Why did you decide to do an internship for your third Euroculture semester?
To be honest, I was quite undecided about which option would be better for me, simply because I did not know if I wanted to pursue a PhD after this programme or work. In the end, I chose to do an internship because I was offered one with the German Foreign Ministry, which has been on my wishlist for quite some time. They also only take interns who can prove that it is an obligatory part of their studies, so I might not have had the option of doing the internship at another time. In the end, I think you can have great experiences both with the research track and the professional track, as long as you find a vacancy that makes you curious. I found that it really helped me to talk about my options with friends, because sometimes you only realize why you want to do what only when talking about it.