Behind the scenes: meet the Euroculture Staff – Marcella Zandonai

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.

Continue reading “Behind the scenes: meet the Euroculture Staff – Marcella Zandonai”

SOS Eurocompetence II! Groningen, Uppsala, Göttingen & Strasbourg

By Bryan Trannin Bayne

Choosing, starting, and managing a project often are daunting tasks. The Euroculturer conducted a series of short interviews to showcase some of the many projects Euroculture students came up with in the Eurocompetence II course. These interviews were designed to give current and future students an idea of what has already been done and to learn from previous experience.

We asked each student the same three questions: What was your Eurocompetence II project? Did you put it into practice? How was your experience? Here are their testimonials:

Virginia Stuart-Taylor – Uppsala 2017 – War on Truth

Our class in Uppsala 2017 decided to plan, fund, and run the ‘War on Truth’ international conference on the topic of fake news, bringing students and locals into contact with leading figures from academia, think tanks, the media, and start-ups from across Sweden and the Netherlands. Held in May 2017, only months after Trump’s 2016 election, misinformation and fake news were crucial issues, making the conference well-attended and a big success. 

The hardest part of working together on the project was the ideation phase and picking a feasible, realistic, and sufficiently stretching project. We looked to examples of previous Eurocompetence II projects for inspiration and scope but also scoped out our own skills, interests, available resources, and pressing issues it would be worthwhile to address. Once we settled on running a conference, the division of roles within the team and execution of our individual responsibilities was easier, and regular meetings helped us make decisions, keep on track and manage the project. Overall it was satisfying to complete such a tangible project as a conference, with our post-conference report being a good physical outcome.

Continue reading “SOS Eurocompetence II! Groningen, Uppsala, Göttingen & Strasbourg”

SOS IP! Rhys Nugent (2019-21, Göttingen – Deusto)

Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper

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.

EM: How has the pandemic affected your studies?

Continue reading “SOS IP! Rhys Nugent (2019-21, Göttingen – Deusto)”

SOS IP! Celia Onsurbe Castellanos (2018-20, Göttingen – Strasbourg)

Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper

Celia Onsurbe Castellanos (2018-2020) is from Tomelloso, Spain. She started Euroculture in Göttingen and spent the second semester in Strasbourg.  She has a background in Translation and Interpreting, holding a bachelor’s degree from the Autonomous University of Madrid (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid). After graduating, she applied for Euroculture because she wanted to do a Master programme in European Studies where she could also live and experience Europe in different countries. During the third semester she went to Mexico for the Research Track (UNAM) and was able to do an internship afterwards at the EU-LAC Foundation in Hamburg, Germany, before starting her 4th semester.

Euroculture Magazine: What were your expectations when starting the Euroculture MA? Did they match the reality? Continue reading “SOS IP! Celia Onsurbe Castellanos (2018-20, Göttingen – Strasbourg)”

SOS IP! Stanislava Milankov (2019-21: Göttingen – Udine)

Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper

Stanislava Milankov (2019-2021) is from Serbia and before starting Euroculture, she graduated with a Bachelor in Sociology from the University of Novi Sad, Serbia. She applied for Euroculture because she wanted to deepen her knowledge in European affairs and gain professional experience within the EU through the professional track. Stanislava spent her first semester in Göttingen, Germany, and the second one in Udine, Italy. She is currently in Brussels, Belgium, doing an internship at the Assembly of European Regions.

EM: What were your expectations when you applied/started the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?
Stanislava Milankov:
I expected to learn more about Europe from a political, societal and cultural perspective, to find internships which would help my professional development, to gain intercultural experience and meet people from all walks of life and, last but not least, to find new friends. All expectations have been fulfilled for now.

EM: Can you tell us more about your IP paper and the overall topic of the IP 2019/2020 ? How did you manage to find a suitable topic?
SM: The overall topic of the IP 2019/2020 was “A sustainable Europe? Society, politics and culture in the Anthropocene”. I wrote a paper as part of the subtheme “democratic sustainability”. Taking into account that there is apparent dichotomy between the European liberal democratic ideals and the actual situation in some member states, like Hungary, and candidate countries, like Serbia, I compared the internal and external perceptions of the EU as an actor that can foster democratic changes.

Continue reading “SOS IP! Stanislava Milankov (2019-21: Göttingen – Udine)”

Insights into the Stasi: a surveilled life in former Eastern Germany

By Hannah Rittmeyer

“Happy slaves are the bitterest enemies of freedom.” – Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

In February 2020, I attended a seminar of the Konrad-Adenauer-foundation, where I am a scholar and where I was honoured to spend a day of interesting lectures and readings with Dr. Karsten Dümmel, a contemporary witness of the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). This experience made me think about how little this important part of German history is discussed in schools and by people in Germany, but probably even less in other parts of Europe and the world. With the current corona crisis, one can observe the long-lasting effects of the DDR regime, particularly with regard to surveillance and the considerably higher fear of many Germans, compared with their European neighbours, of measures like a corona tracking app, curfews and compulsory vaccination. This article wishes to provide some insights and a deeper understanding of the DDR, especially regarding surveillance, mainly pursued by the Ministry State of Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit)commonly known as the Stasi. Continue reading “Insights into the Stasi: a surveilled life in former Eastern Germany”

Covid-19 in developing countries: the case of Peru

By Johanna Pieper

Disclaimer: This article deals with Covid-19 news. Thus, the information contained here may be subject to change.

On March 15th, the Peruvian president Martín Vizcarra announced to the nation in a televised message  the closure of borders and a mandatory quarantine nationwide. The government decided to implement radical measures to prevent the virus from spreading. Covid-19 had arrived in the country on March 6th and today 28.699 cases are confirmed. One can say that the Peruvian government has acted quite fast to prevent the country from experiencing a tragedy. But what is Peru actually experiencing right now? 

Tiaré López, a Peruvian who studies in Germany, was staying in an Airbnb apartment with her boyfriend when the quarantine was announced. “I arrived in Lima on February 17th due to an internship which I had planned for March. Honestly, I did not expect this to happen here. And suddenly the situation in the country changed so fast”, she reports, although she was informed about the impact of the virus in China and then in Italy and how Europe was shutting down. I do think that the government made the right decision. Everyone knows that our health system is not capable of handling a pandemic and I am glad the president acknowledged this importance to save the citizens and to put them above the economic well-being of the country. The measures were necessary to avoid tragedies as in Ecuador, where corpses have been abandoned on the streets.”  Continue reading “Covid-19 in developing countries: the case of Peru”

My Third Semester: Internship at COMECE, Brussels, Belgium

Interview conducted by Hannah Bieber

Emilio Dogliani (2018-2020) is Italian and studied Euroculture at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and at the University of Strasbourg, France. Before applying for the master’s degree, he did a BA in European Languages and Cultures at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. He applied for Euroculture because the programme allowed him to combine politics and culture and gave him the opportunity to do an internship, but also because he wanted to study in Germany and practice his German. He chose the professional track for his third semester and did an internship at the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) in Brussels, Belgium.

Euroculturer Magazine: What were your expectations when you applied/started the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?

Emilio Dogliani: When I applied for Euroculture, I expected the programme to be very strict and with in-depth and specific courses that would allow me to learn a bit more about political sciences and European institutions, in a very international environment. The international dimension of the programme certainly was there, I continued in fact to work and study with many people from abroad, as I had already done during my BA. The focus on political sciences and the depth of the courses lacked a bit, as far as I am concerned. I expected the courses to be very specific and the workload to be pretty heavy, since Euroculture is in the end a Master’s. However, I found that the interdisciplinary aspect of the Programme, which is a plus compared to other monothematic MAs, was in some cases a hindrance to the knowledge that we as students could acquire. I also expected the evaluation methods to be more strict and knowledge-based, as almost all students come from very different academic  backgrounds, but in the end the skill-learning seemed to fairly prevail on the topics learnt.

EM: What was the most difficult thing you encountered after starting the program? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at COMECE, Brussels, Belgium”

My Third Semester: Research Track at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma of Mexico (UNAM)

Interview conducted by Hannah Bieber

Joyce Pepe (2018-2020) is a Dutch-Italian Euroculture student. She did a BA in European Languages and Cultures before applying for the MA, and decided to embark on the Euroculture adventure mainly because of the interdisciplinarity of the programme. She spent her first semester at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and her second semester at the University of Udine, Italy. For her third semester, she chose to do a research track outside Europe, at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico City, Mexico. 

Euroculturer Magazine: Why did you choose the research track? And why did you choose to study at UNAM?

Joyce Pepe: I have to be honest and say that my decision to apply for a research track was quite sudden and improvised. If you had asked the version of me that just started attending classes in Göttingen, I would have told you that I would apply for an internship position. And here I am now, one year later, living in Mexico City. When we received the booklet with all of the information regarding the research track, I initially disregarded it, convinced about my decision to continue with the other path, but when I started looking into the different courses offered at UNAM, I grew more and more interested. For one, I believed it would have offered me the opportunity to improve my spanish, which was already a B2 level. Second, I deemed the possibility to move and study in a university across the ocean a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Thirdly, while I liked the idea of starting putting into practice what I had been learning for the past four years, it saddened me to know that if I had opted for an internship it would have meant the end of my life as a university student, as I would have no longer have attended classes, other than those regarding my thesis. Finally, I was extremely interested in the classes at UNAM, which link my interest in Europe with that in Latin America.

EM: What is the research track like at UNAM?  Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research Track at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma of Mexico (UNAM)”

The avalanche of Erfurt

By Guilherme Becker

In the mountains of Thüringen, the lack of snow points to a mild winter. On the ground floor of its capital Erfurt, however, an avalanche has been spread and felt all over Germany. For the first time a far-right populist party has helped electing a governor. At first, it may not look so serious, but in Germany it has been considered a completely unexpected, surprising, and worrisome taboo breaking. A blast that is hurting the political spectrum nation-wide.

What a time to be in Erfurt, from a journalistic point of view. When I started my internship at Thüringen Allgemeine, I could not imagine that I would live in such a vivid and turbulent period. Not at all. As I am currently working for the biggest newspaper of the state, in its capital city, I would like to explain what went on and what might go on regarding the state parliament leader election, its effects and the great repercussion that led even chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) to respond directly from South Africa on February 6th.

Some weeks ago I spent the whole Friday (31.01) hanging out, watching sessions, interviews and keeping my eyes close to the work of the reporters at Thüringen Parliament. It is a kind of experience that fits really well into a journalist and Euroculture student’s life. I even got time for a joke when walking through the corridor reserved for politicians from far-right populist party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland/Alternative for Germany), well known for its xenophobic, racist and anti-immigration policies. “Am I allowed to be here? You know, I am a foreigner…”, I asked a journalist. He laughed and promptly joked back: “Yes, true, but you have German blood… So don’t worry…” We all laughed.

The time for jokes ended soon after, precisely on Wednesday (05.02), when the election of the new Thüringen governor was about to happen. The predictions and expectations were all set for the reelection of leftist Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke). But then the most unlikely scenario led to the election of centrist-liberal candidate Thomas Kemmerich (FDP), at the last minute. Unexpectedly, instead of voting for their own candidate, AfD politicians decided to support Kemmerich to defeat the left. That is not the only problem: CDU (conservative right-wing) also supported Kemmerich, which means that two traditionally moderate parties made an unpredictable – if not unbelievable – “connection” with far-right extremists. A complete shock for Germany.

The impact was so huge that protests erupted – and keep happening – not only in Erfurt, but in many other cities of Germany. In the capital of Thüringen public transport was highly affected with delays not only on that Wednesday, but also on the following days given the demonstrations that followed the election.

Then on Thursday (06.02), only one day and 34 minutes after the election, the then newly-elected governor Kemmerich announced his resignation. On Monday (10.02) Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer resigned the CDU leadership. Therefore, she will not run next year in the national election as a possible substitute for Merkel. Some days earlier, Merkel had fired Christian Hirte, then minister for former East German states and secretary of state for the economy and energy. The reason? He greeted Kemmerich’s election on Twitter. One avalanche after another.

But why? Why so much anger and outrage over a vote? Well, let’s start from the beginning.

Thüringen state parliament is made up of six different parties: Die Linke (29 seats), followed by AfD (22), CDU (Christian Democratic Union, Angela Merkel’s party, conservative right, 21 seats), SPD (Social Democratic Party, socialist left-wing, 8), Grüne (environmentalist left-wing, 5) and FDP (Liberal Democratic Party, liberal centre-right, also 5).

The governor election is indirect. Therefore it is necessary to have a majority through the seats to elect the governor – and then have a future majority on approval or rejection of projects and laws. National conservative and liberal centre-right headquarters parties, such as CDU and FDP, have always claimed and made clear that any “connection” – even informal alliances – with AfD was not allowed and should not happen at all. But it did happen. Usually AfD does not give and does not get any support to or from any party. This time, though, they decided to vote for FDP instead of voting for their own candidate. A completely unexpected political trick.

I see this scenario as a sign that two traditional parties, by accepting AfD support – even not being allowed to do that -, may be ignoring national premises and acting independently to come to power. The point is that the parties’ headquarters strongly condemned the election primarily arguing that Kemmerich should not have accepted the outcome of it. But he accepted, and only later on decided to resign after seeing the pressure and the protests coming from all sides. CDU’s more conservative wings have already flirted with the possibility of approaching AfD. For the most part, however, it has been avoided at all. Moreover, the result of this election might be a message that AfD is gradually getting closer to the “political game” and attempting to gain power under any circumstances.

The reason for the shock in Germany is obvious: parties, politicians and civil society from all political backgrounds abominate the possibility of the far-right approaching power. They voted for and elected politicians precisely to not do what they just have done. In their minds, it is something completely unacceptable which I definitely agree with. When traditional right-wing and centre-right parties (such as the CDU and the FDP) accept AfD’s support, the ideology fades away, and the subsequent message is that what really matters is to come to power. A great offense, so to say.

Another great concern is that this “connection” among these parties leads people to question and consequently disregard even more the traditional parties, which in the last elections have significantly lost votes to extremists. As Kemmerich resigns and a new election is blinking, maybe CDU, for example, will connect to Die Linke, which, in my point of view, can make the electorate migrate even more to the extremists, namely AfD. In other words, it all means that there might be a huge loss of confidence in traditional parties and a vote of confidence for extremists.

The rise of AfD in Thüringen might have come along through many reasons, such as a strong conservatism, but also from some trauma left by DDR, and some subsequent economic reasons. Estearn German states have never got as industrialized as their Western neighbours, for instance. A study launched two weeks ago, for example, pointed out that only 22% of Eastern Germans are completely satisfied with democracy. The number is almost half of the 40% that said being satisfied with it in former Western German states.

At the same time, I see Die Linke as the current majority more as a result of the so-called utilitarian vote, in order to avoid a majority for AfD, although the region remains a traditionally working-class region, what might have led part of the electorate to migrate to the extremes, be right or left.

I do not think that I need to explain the concepts and the political agenda preached by AfD. It is actually more than only conservative. It is racist and xenophobic. One need only to google Björn Höcke and will certainly soon realise what I am talking about.

In the end, what happened some days ago in Erfurt was actually a strong and unprecedented taboo breaking. Germans are aware of the weight of their own history. They know that it was in Thüringen that the country had the first state government with the involvement of the Nazis. Incidentally, it was also in February, 90 years ago, that Hitler’s party gained substantial power. In Erfurt. In Thüringen. That was the first taboo breaking that later led Europe to the ruins, and Germany to collapse. Hopefully a majority of people are not in the mood to repeat some obvious and terrible mistakes.

Picture: Links Unten Göttingen / Flickr