The Back Office: The Digital Age

All-focus

Albert Meijer

I’m a child of the eighties, which explains my love for mismatched coloring schemes, my Wham!-inspired wardrobe and the continuous Tears for Fears-soundtrack playing in my head.
One of the perks of being an eighties kid is growing up with Modern Technology. My parents sometimes still text me IN ALL CAPS, but my fingers have the adaptability of a Karma Chameleon. Shaped by Gameboys, Nintendo, cellphones, smartphones and the Cloud, I’m pretty confident about my tech skills.
That’s great, because in the modern-day Euroculture office, there’s a constant move towards the Digital Age. Two proud moments of this semester are the introduction of
our new and improved website, complete with a state of the art new application system, and the start of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). By now, 10.000 people, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, signed up to learn from some of our top professors. The Future Truly Is Now.
The next step – which is a small one for mankind, but a giant leap for a
  humble course coordinator – is bringing tech back into the Euroculture classroom. We’ve already included some students in the MOOC, but now we’re discussing classroom conferences, the ‘flipped classroom’ and ‘blended learning’ – fancy names for making cooperation between Euroculture students in different universities possible. Exciting stuff, as you can imagine!
The Dream of the Eighties is alive in Groningen – I’m just praying that in ten years, I won’t be replaced by an intelligent robot. 
     

Click here for more by Albert Meijer.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“Local Customs: Rhineland Carnival – Warum ist es am Rhein so schön?” by Mona Moentmann

“Is It Time To Panic? American Foreign Policy Under Donald J. Trump” by Lauren Rogers

“Erasmus for the World? Approaching Two Decades of the Erasmus Programme” by Daniele Carminati

 

                                                  

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What is an Erasmus Mundus Master’s Degree?

This week The Euroculturer is delighted to share this post from travel blogger and Euroculture student Virginia Stuart-Taylor. Virginia’s blog, The Well-Travelled Postcard, is a popular travel blog, aimed at inspiring people to get out and see the world.

Recently I moved to Groningen in the Netherlands to begin the Erasmus programme, Euroculture: Society, Politics and Culture in a Global Context. This degree programme has a slightly unusual structure where students move to 3 or more different countries in 2 years and I’ve had a lot of questions asked about the programme by others who are tempted by that idea! My Master’s degree follows a relatively unknown structure that not many people have heard about, but it’s such a great idea that I thought I’d explain it in a bit more detail. First off the name: it’s called an Erasmus Mundus Master’s Degree.

Is it like Erasmus?

You’ve hopefully already heard of Erasmus… If not, then you’re missing out! Erasmus is an incredible student exchange programme run by the European Commission (an EU institution) that allows Bachelor’s students across Europe to spend a semester or a full year of their degree studying at another university in Europe. It encourages and allows students to live abroad, meet other people from all over Europe, understand another culture and broaden their horizons. Not only that, but the EU gives students an Erasmus grant to help them afford it, which varies from uni to uni, but when I did my Erasmus semester in Córdoba back in 2010-11 it was roughly €350 per month. It usually also includes a free course in the language of that country. You can also do Erasmus work placements, such as the 6-month internship I did at Armani in Italy as part of my Third Year Abroad, and you still receive the Erasmus grant. I adored my whole Bachelor’s degree, but I have to admit that my Erasmus year was by far the best year! You can do an Erasmus both at Bachelor’s and Master’s level, although only if your Master’s course is long enough and allows it (which is normally not the case in the UK as they’re only 9-12 months long). Continue reading “What is an Erasmus Mundus Master’s Degree?”

Little Europe in Bengal: Patches of multi-national interests on the bank of Hooghly

 

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Kolkatta (formerly Calcutta) was once the centre of British power in the Indian subcontinent

Arnab Dutta

Whenever I tried eating Dutch spice cake, Ontbijtkoek, during my semester in Groningen or Swedish cinnamon buns, Kanelbullar, during my time in Uppsala I couldn’t but wonder at the long history of Europe’s culinary tryst with spices. It is these spices that allured Europeans to cross difficult terrains and set sail to distant shores. The fascination with spices made a group of Europeans take part in maritime trade across the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese were the first, the Dutch were not far behind, followed by the French and pursued by the Brits. Spice trade gradually gave way to trade in cotton, followed by Europe’s stake in the global slave trade and the mobility of indentured labourers. However, the nature of trade and the interaction in the early modern era between European traders and local communities in various littorals around the Indian Ocean were much different from what they came to look like in the days of high colonialism. In most of cases during sixteenth and seventeenth century, the European maritime powers could only access a few places nearer the sea, not the continental hinterland lying beyond it.

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Bay of Bengal

Our narrative is about such a patch of landmass known as the lower Gangetic basin of Bengal, where the Ganges, one of the mightiest rivers in Asia meets the Bay of Bengal. For strategic reasons the mouth of the Gangetic delta, the largest of its kind in the world, allured maritime traders throughout the early modern era. Land-based trading communities, such as the Turks and the Armenians in the India of that time were met with seafarers like Portuguese and Dutch traders. Conflicting interests controlled their destinies; and Gangetic Bengal became what would later be known as the potboilers of wandering traders and changing communities. Calcutta (now Kolkata), the capital of British India till 1911, and the second city of the vast British Empire, grew out of this unique story of conflict and reconciliation. However, this was never a unidirectional and easy narrative, for multiple political actors from Europe flocked into a tiny patch of landmass and made this region a unique exception in an otherwise homogenous story of British colonialism in the Indian subcontinent.

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A church is Bandel, a former Portugese colony in India

Long time before the Brits got involved in lower Gangetic Bengal, the Portuguese were busy operating their riverine ports of Hooghly and Bandel, some forty kilometres upstream on the river Hooghly (Ganges) from what would later become Calcutta. This dates back to mid sixteenth century CE. As the navigability of the river decreased with time the Dutch East India Company settled some three-four kilometres south of Portuguese Bandel. The Armenians got their fair share within Dutch territories, allowing them to operate Armenian Orthodox churches in the region. The French East India Company settled in farther South, nearer the sea, in a place they named Chandernagore, managing to keep it under their hold until 1952, five more years after India gained its independence from the British Empire. Greeks were in the next town called Bhadreswar, and the Danish were busy with the next town, Serampore, the only Danish colony in eastern India. With the decreasing navigability of river and a want to have a British fortress in an advantageous position closer to the sea, British Calcutta was founded some twenty kilometres south of Danish Serampore. To make this long story short, the essence of it is that for almost two centuries in this small patch of land on the bank of river Hooghly, hardly forty kilometres in length, there were trading posts or proto-colonies of so many European communities that it was not surprising for later historians to refer to this tiny area as ‘Little Europe’, way before Brussels got its theme park of the same name.

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Fort Gustavus in Dutch Chinsurah before its demolition

These small towns, which now make up the northern suburbs of the metropolis of Calcutta, were once very distinct from each other in their respective culture and architecture. Portuguese Bandel boasted its culinary distinctiveness, as it provided modern Bengal with Bandel cheese, a Portuguese variant of cottage cheese and were responsible for the invention of Bengal’s national sweetmeat, Rasagolla.  Dutch Chinsurah was an amazingly fortified city with a fort named Fort Gustavus. French colonialists were so invested with their Petite France in Chandernagore that they remodelled the Gangetic riverbank with French-styled promenades. The Danes followed suit. The church of St. Olav in the heart of Serampore and the Danish cemetery were distinct from the British architecture of Calcutta.

One might notice that although the different ‘national’ actors were competing with each other for more than two centuries in a tiny space like this, the political structures gradually became homogenised, as it was seemingly impossible to practice exclusivity within the otherwise British surroundings.  Brits were late in reaching the shore; but following the saying that slow and steady wins the race, Brits were the ones who remained in pursuit of colonial power and eventually got hold of most of these other European trading posts in exchange for something or the other. The Dutch East India Company left Chinsurah in 1825 in exchange for complete hold over Java in Indonesia. Brits gave up their stake in the Dutch East Indies, modern Indonesia, and occupied Chinsurah; the Dutch fortress got demolished and with the dismantled Dutch material they made a British Chinsurah. However, the civil institutions conceived during the final days of Dutch rule over Chinsurah remained as a bizarre mix of Dutch, British and indigenous Bengali customs. Hooghly Collegiate School, established in 1812 and the oldest European styled school in Eastern India bears testimony to this rare Dutch-English-Bengali conjunct.

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Danish Serampore’s fate was a bit different, mostly because of the Christian missionaries.  Since the late eighteenth century Danish Serampore had become a melting pot of missionaries coming from different European backgrounds, eventually making it a prominent centre of scholarship and printing. Whether or not all these activities were Danish or English or Scottish does not make the narrative less fuzzy and complex. Panchanan Karmakar, a master craftsman from Danish Serampore, assisted Nathaniel Brassey Halhed and Charles Wilkins, two Englishmen coming to serve the British East India Company; and together they made possible the first ever moveable typefaces for Bangla script. With this Danish-English axis in the background there came out the first ever book in Bangla printed with those moveable typefaces. A Grammar of Bengal Language by an Englishman Nathaniel Brassey Halhed was printed in 1778 in Hooghly, the erstwhile Portuguese port next to Dutch Chinsurah.

Chandernagore, ‘la petite France en Inde’ for the French colonials, was perhaps the only place that passionately resisted, for more than three centuries, the cultural influence the English could exert from its surroundings. Chandernagore, along with a few other French towns like Pondicherry in the south of India, remained a symbolic and ideal space of what could have been a French-influenced Indian subcontinent, had the British not defeated them in the Indian extensions of the Napoleonic wars. Chandernagore continued to be a French town up until 1952, making it a safe haven for French architecture and culture to flourish. It was the only town in eastern India to have a school-curriculum with French as the medium of instruction. Generations of Bengalis in Chandernagore were taught in Bangla and French, with little or no English interference whatsoever.

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Chandernagore’s riverside

In a nutshell, this small patch of land, affectionately called ‘Little Europe in Bengal’ garnered among generations of Bengalis a sense of Europe in its totality. This awareness of an ‘other’ Europe, a Europe outside the immediacies of British colonial interests, kept fascinating the Bengali psyche for a rather long time. Bengali revolutionaries who were struggling against the British Empire often took refuge in these non-British territories so as to avoid arrest, eventually taking French ships to flee to the mainland of Europe, the Continent in British parlance. This, in turn, gave rise to a different pattern of mobility that was quite different from usual colonial mobility within the metropolis and the margins of a single empire. Little Europe’s legacy transcends those otherwise homogenous patterns of binaries. Just like the  theme-park in Brussels, this Little Europe had also tried casting the idea and image of Europe in a multi-national and pluri-cultural mould. The narrative, however, does not end there. Permeating its historical specificity etched in a distant past, Little Europe has again started attracting various European nation states to have a closer look at the somewhat forgotten territories they had once occupied. The early twenty-first century has brought back Dutch historians to Chinsurah, allowing them to have a closer look at their forgotten Dutch-Bengal style of painting and architecture. Danes, as usual, are not far behind. The National Museum of Denmark, under a project named ‘Serampore Initiative’, has plunged into one of the biggest urban conservation projects in recent times, taken by a European state outside Europe’s territorial outreach. These renewed national interests are manifold, involving more and more historical nuances to unearth and contemporary narratives to explore. Little Europe continues to be an incessant point of convergence between Europe and South Asia.

Join us next week, when Arnab Dutta will continue our tour of “Little Europe in Bengal”, leading us into the contemporary conservation efforts being made  in the region.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“Five terrifying takeaways from the British Conservative Party Conference: Notes from a Lonely Island #3” by Emily Burt

“The Public, the Private, and the Privates: Europe’s Abortion Debate against Shifting Backgrounds” by Sophie van den Elzen

“Why does Ireland have the EU’s strictest abortion regime? Applying and Repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution” by Eoghan Hughes

Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK Migration work Post-Brexit?

 

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Johnson and May, although on opposite sides pf the referendum campaign, have both promised to reduce immigration post-Brexit

Eoghan Hughes

Months after it helped convince citizens to vote to leave the European Union (EU), migration remains at the heart of post-referendum politics in the UK. One promise of the Brexiteers was that a points system would be brought in to gauge the usefulness of various applicants for immigration. Another promise was that the freedom of movement of EU citizens into the UK would stop. However the newly minted but not so shiny Prime Minister Theresa May’s has made the decision to rule out introducing a points-based immigration system to the UK following the referendum result which has stirred media attention in Britain as the debate about the UK’s future immigration policy rages on.

May’s immigration blunder

May made the initial comments before her journey to Beijing to attend the 6 September G20 summit earlier this month, largely an exercise in trying to keep the UK relevant on the international stage and assure international partners that Britain would not become a disconnected island. The points-system referred to is modelled after the Australian immigration system which sees immigrants being given points for their various skills, qualifications and backgrounds, as well as behaviour, as the basis for their potential residency in the state.  May’s statement that there was not yet any proof such a system worked, emphasized that there was no “silver bullet” solution to reducing immigration to the UK. Upon her return, the British cabinet confirmed that the points system would not be part of their immigration policy. May promised, however, “some control” over immigration.

This seems a softer message following May’s 31 August pledge to her cabinet, that restricting immigration will be at the heart of any Brexit negotiations. So far there are less bullets, silver or otherwise, coming out of Westminster, and more vague promises. Continue reading “Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK Migration work Post-Brexit?”

The European Union’s ‘Game of Thrones’: Who Will Be The Next President of The European Parliament?

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EU Parliament in session

Bastian Bayer

Who will be the next president of the United States of America seems to be the big question of 2016, but in the European Parliament another game of thrones has begun.

At the last European Parliament elections in 2014, the conservative EPP and the social democratic S&D made a deal and signed a written agreement that meant that Martin Schulz, the S&D candidate, would become president for the first half of the legislative period and  that the EPP would pick the president for the second half.

Now with the first half coming to an end in January 2017,  the current president Martin Schulz does not seem to be willing to leave office, despite the EPP insisting on the instillation a new president from among their own ranks.

The face of EU policy

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Martin Schulz, President of the EU Parliament

Schulz has been, with interruptions,  president of the EP since 2012 and a Member of the EP (MEP) since 1994. He is often portrayed as a down to earth politician, ingrained and diligent. He is said to have strengthened the position of the European Parliament and even critics say he has made the EP more visible to the European public and the world.

He is considered to be the most influential president in the history of the European Parliament.

However his path to power and appreciation was rocky. The son of a police officer, he wanted to become a football player in his youth but a knee-injury made a professional career impossible. As a result this crushed dream Schulz became an alcoholic in the mid-70s which saw him lose his job and almost get thrown out of his own apartment.

However, despite this inauspicious start, Schulz eventually overcame his addiction with the help of his brother.

What followed is a remarkable career.  After a career  as a bookstore manager Schulz became mayor of his home town, Würselen, following his first engagement in the German Social Democratic Party. In 1994 he was elected member of the European Parliament and became its president in 2012. He reached a high point of his career when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize together with van Rompuy and Barroso on behalf of the European Union.

In 2014 Schulz wanted to become president of the EU Commission, but in the European elections the Conservatives became the largest party and their candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the Commission, a post he still holds to this day. Nevertheless, this setback did not stop Schulz from being re-elected as President of the EP.

Power play in the middle of the greatest crises in the existence of the EU

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Tusk, Schulz and Juncker

Schulz’s future, however, is unclear, as the first half of this legislative term comes to an end. According to the agreement, Schulz will be replaced by EPP member. However, for some, the agreement does not fit the new circumstances Europe finds itself in.

The S&D argues that with Juncker as President of the Commission and Tusk as President of the Council, already two of the key positions are held by EPP members; and to keep the balance between the largest EU parties, the presidency of the EP should stay with the S&D.

Even a prominent EPP politician and former competitor supports the idea of Schulz retaining the presidency after January 2017, with the simple reason:

“We need stability.”

Just recently Juncker spoke about the many challenges the EU faces in his ‘State of the Union’ address. Brexit, the refugee challenge, economic stagnation and youth-unemployment among many other things.

“Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis.” said Juncker.

To keep stability in these difficult times, Juncker would like to keep the leadership of the institutions as they are, namely, Schulz as president. It is no secret that Martin and Jean-Claude work closely together, Der Spiegel has even accused them of mutually securing each other’s posts.  Juncker said:”The relationship between the Commission and the Parliament has probably never been as good as it is now”, so “Why change a reliable team?”

However the EPP has made it crystal clear that they will not have Schulz for the next half of the legislative period. Schulz has been heavily criticised for not sticking to the agreement and the same critics have claimed that he has made the representation of the European people a one-man-. These critics claim that “if Schulz gave the parliament a face, it is primarily his face”.

On the other hand, if Schulz id removed; whom is the EPP going to nominate? For an internal primary on 12 December candidates need to be found. However, they lack strong candidates:

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Antonio Tajani

So far the Italian Antonio Tajani, the French Alain Lamassoure and the Irish Mairead McGuinness have been mentioned as possible successors to Schulz. However Tajani is weakened by being close to former Italian PM Berlusconi, who has been disgraced by many scandals.  Also as former commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, he supposedly involved in the emission scandal and has already been summoned before the investigation committee. All of this means that he is seen as unenforceable in the parliament.

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Alain Lamassoure

The other candidates have similar shortcomings. Lamassoure has the reputation of being uncontrollable and prideful, some say thinking of himself as the French president. McGuinness, as a woman, current EP vice-president and a representative of a small EU Member State, seems to have the best chances of getting  a majority in the parliament. Nevertheless she is perceived as a rather plain Jane candidate and has not excited much attention.

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Mairead McGuinness

Currently, Schulz is fighting to forge a coalition with Liberals, Greens and EPP renegades. Yet it seems to be unlikely that he will cobble together enough votes without the backing of the EPP.

So what is next for him? Luckily another throne, perhaps a greater one, is up for grabs. In Berlin, some people would like to see Schulz as chancellor- the candidate for the SPD in place of the unpopular Sigmar Gabriel, to challenge Angela Merkel in the elections for the German parliament 2017 Regardless, it looks like Schulz has only begun to play.

For more by Bastian, click here.

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“Who Polices the Internet? Content Removal v. Freedom of Speech” Julia Mason guides us through the trenches of the internet’s most contested battleground and asks is ‘Hate speech’ the same as ‘Freedom of Speech’.

“Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK migration work post-Brexit” Eoghan Hughes examines the promises, pledges and pitfalls surrounding the UK’s immigration policy in a post-Brexit reality.

 

The Back Office: New Students

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Albert Meijer

If someone asks me what my favourite part of working for Euroculture is, I get an emotional, teary look in my eyes and tell them: “the students”! Fresh faces every semester, eager beavers waiting to be filled with information. Students coming from all corners of the world, all sharing that Euroculture-gene of being triggered by intercultural affairs, with mouths that start foaming by hearing words like ‘Brexit’, ‘transnational’ or ‘identity discourse’. Being in charge of the general euroculture@rug.nl e-mail account, I’m often the first person an interested student talks to. It’s my duty to talk them into entering that great programme of ours.
                But with great power comes great responsibility, mostly in the form of a never-ending cascade of e-mails from students who just write ‘I want scholarship please I need it can I start tomorrow?’ and then expect us to transfer huge sums of money into their accounts. No joke. This happens. A lot.
                Even worse are those students who have enough brains and punctuation skills to trick us into believing they are genuinely interested in a position in our programme, who ask us to guide them through the application procedure, upload reference letters for them, prepare invoices and insurance certificates, and spend valuable time into ensuring a smooth transition into Euroculture studenthood, but who back out at the last moment by saying ‘sorry I’m not coming anymore, I’m going to Laos instead on a spiritual journey to find myself’.
                It’s time-consuming and annoying, but my bitterness never lingers – partly due to the great coffee bar in the vicinity of the consortium headquarters, but mostly because of that sweet sweet sound of a fresh new student knocking on my door, asking where they can find accommodation or how to open up a bank account. “Try the mobility office”, I tell them smilingly.

Albert Meijer works with the Erasmus Mundus Master of Excellence in Euroculture: Society, Politics and Culture in a Global Context, one of the most successful Erasmus Mundus programs. To read more of Albert’s work, click here. 

The Euroculturer Recommends:

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Portuguese Brexit? EU sanctions from the Portuguese perspective” by Elisa Abrantes

“Fellows in Persecution: Two months with the Irish Travellers” by Emily Danks-Lambert

(Europe needs all its voices to weather the challenges faces it today. Equip yourself with the knowledge you need to stand up for your Europe. Join the FREE online course, European Culture and Politics’ starting September 26.)

To find out more about the Euroculture program, visit their website here

Defending Human Rights? Euroculture Students on the Track of Human Rights In and Outside EU

Sabine Volk
Yke Wijnker
Edited by Catherine Burkinshaw

In October 2015, Groningen’s first year Euroculture students went on a three-day study excursion to Brussels. Together with our teacher and organizer of the trip, Albert Meijer, we visited EU institutions, namely the European Commission and Parliament, the EU’s Executive Agency for Education, Audiovisual and Culture (EACEA), as well as two independent associations, namely the European Movement, and the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).

 

Seventeen first year Euroculture students visiting the heart of the EU: a lot of fun and Belgian beer. But it also entails enriching discussions with EU officials and lobbyists – this year regarding human rights in and outside EU.   

Studying Europe from an interdisciplinary perspective is amazing: its cultural, societal, and political integration not only appeals to various interests, but is capable of inspiring new interests within students, leading to almost insatiable curiosity. However, one day most of us will have to leave the academic ivory tower and decide on a concrete working field. For this reason, Euroculture Groningen organizes for each first year student group a trip to the perhaps most attractive destination for European studies scholars: Brussels, the permanent seat of several EU institutions, EU related agencies and innumerable lobbying associations. In other words: the heart of the European Union. For three days, seventeen first year Euroculture students explored this vibrant city, wondering which of them would someday end up in the offices of EU officials and lobbyists.

In view of the topic of the upcoming Intensive Program, “Ideals and Ambiguities of Human Rights in Europe, Past and Present,” this year’s trip to Brussels focused on human rights. For the inside perspective, we met the European Network Against Racism. To explore EU human rights policies outside its territory, we conferred with the European External Action Service (EEAS). For everybody participating in the 2016 IP or just interested in human rights issues, we want to share our experience with you. Continue reading “Defending Human Rights? Euroculture Students on the Track of Human Rights In and Outside EU”

Second-semester Experiences, 2015

Bilbao: Aupa!

Félicie Villeronce
Edited by Michelle Perry

On boring things:

Finding a place to live is probably going to be one of your biggest worries over the two years you will spend as a Euroculture student. You will soon be living out of one big fat suitcase, and you will master the art of bookings, security checking and visa applications.

What I recommend:

Use the university student accommodation system. It’s easy to use (Google Docs) and reliable.

Plus: avoid all the troubles of finding private accommodations while living and studying abroad and make new international friends. (Or not. No one forces you to.)

Minus: you most probably won’t get to live with locals, which could be a shame if you’re trying to learn or improve your Spanish! If this is the case, Facebook might be your best friend. Check out local groups for flatshare, or browse through some local websites. The process will take you longer, but it is worth it. (A friend of mine – an outsider to the Euroculture progamme – was living with three lovely Spanish guys, and it made his Erasmus experience unforgettable.)

Oh the weather! If you thought moving to Spain meant sea, sex and sun, well, it’s not exactly what you’re gonna get in Bilbao. The climate being oceanic on the Atlantic coast, I suggest you pack a pair of wellies. On the other hand, you should also get yourself a bathing suit and a pair of sunnies, because it does get better. (I started going for a swim around April in Bilbao. Not even lying!)

University life. I know that’s also one of the big question marks here. At the University of Deusto, typically, bachelor students have classes in the morning, and masters students in the afternoon. My schedule (you might not get the exact same one but something close to that) was roughly three hours of classes per day from Monday to Thursday, almost always in the afternoon (starting at 3pm). You might occasionally get a class on Friday morning, but you’ll get over it. Continue reading “Second-semester Experiences, 2015”

2015: Another Round of Carousel

Bilbao

Ander Barón

Photos taken by Eva-Maria Bergdolt and Amina Kussainova

Edited by Ann Keefer

October has definitely been a mad month. Abruptly ending the summer-holiday sleaziness, returning to classes, being besieged by impending presentations in all fronts… Take your pick, but it feels good strangely enough. Probably it’s just a hardwired inability to really enjoy myself unless when under severe stress. 4 years of studying Modern Languages at Deusto will do that to you.

Anyway, today we had the chance to have a class at the San Sebastian campus of the University of Deusto. Plus the customary exploration of the old quarter, the walk in the promenade by the Concha beach (of which I had hazy memories from 12 years ago at best), having a drink and pintxos, and so on. Which, I must say, has been more enjoyable than a proud, born and bred “Bilbaino” such as myself should ordinarily concede (given the legendary rivalry between both provinces and cities). Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always have Bilbao as the ultimate paragon, and no place in the world is dearer, but this has been a special day, spending time with classmates, fooling around, laughing, explaining all the strange Basque stuff around… bonding, in short. That, I believe, is the idea behind this journey we’ve all embarked upon, and certainly the sensation I want to remember this month for. Life as a Euroculturer is good, so far, and I have the feeling it will get even better.

Continue reading “2015: Another Round of Carousel”

Prof. Janny de Jong “The reason why MA Euroculture is not an ordinary European Studies Programme?”

Prof. Janny de Jong
Prof. Janny de Jong

The Euroculturer has invited Prof. Janny de Jong, Director of Studies of Euroculture Groningen, to ask how to describe MA Euroculture when asked by a stranger, why Euroculturers are perfect candidates for jobs in EU institution, human rights NGO or cultural organisation, who should (or should not) go into PhD after graduating from MA Euroculture, what were her own Master’s years like, and lastly, which books and movies she recommends to Euroculturers who are at the crossroads of their lives.

Q1. Hello, Prof. Janny de Jong. How long have you been involved with MA Euroculture? Could you briefly introduce yourself and your job as the Director of Studies of MA Euroculture at the University of Groningen?

Hi, nice to get in touch. I am a historian, specialised in Modern History and with particular interest in political culture in Europe and East Asia. I have been involved with the MA Euroculture programme since 2005. Since 2009, I am Director of Studies (DoS) in Groningen. Briefly put, the DoS is in charge of the smooth-running of the programme. The DoS, for example, chairs the Groningen Euroculture Board that meets frequently to discuss the state of affairs and possible (solutions to) problems. By the way, there is always a student representative on this Board.

The Groningen team has a course coordinator and a course manager, Marloes van der Weij and Eloise Daumerie. Marloes is also internship supervisor and student councillor. The members of the teaching staff come from different academic disciplines ranging from Modern and Contemporary History, Cultural Studies, International RelationsTheory, Sociology, to European Law. The majority of the staff have been teaching in this programme for several years. This already indicates that they enjoy teaching a group of international students with different academic backgrounds coming from different cultures! I, myself, am also involved in teaching: with my colleague of Contemporary History, Ine Megens, I teach a course in Cultural History: Domains of European Identity (1stsemester). With another colleague, Herman Voogsgeerd of International Relations/International Organisation, I teach a research seminar on the comparison of integration in Europe with integration processes in East Asia (2nd semester). Furthermore I am involved in a tutorial in thesis writing (4thsemester). This is a nice way to get to know the Euroculture students who are studying in Groningen in person, which of course is very important.

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Groningen Staff of Euroculture
(From left to right)
1st row: James Leigh, Marloes van der Weij, Eloïse Daumerie
2nd row: Janny de Jong, Margriet van der Waal, Ine Megens,
Ron Holzhacker, Herman Voogsgeerd

Q2. What is the best way to describe MA Euroculture to a stranger? According to a recent Euroculturer poll, it was ‘European Studies’.

Well, yes, I think ‘European Studies’ would be the first description that comes to mind if asked what Euroculture is about. But Euroculture is different from more conventional European Studies programmes. I think the approach in which citizens and culture, instead of structures and models, form the central point of attention and reflection stands out. This is the key element that differentiates it from any other European Studies programme. We pay special attention to the breaking up of previous political loyalties and (collective) identities and to the constitution of new ones. One of the learning outcomes of the programme reads as follows: “a deep understanding of European identity, civil society, the ongoing European unification process in itself, its cultural and social dynamics and the consequences for its citizens and the wider world”. The fact that ‘identity’ and ‘civil society’ are mentioned ahead of‘the European unification process’ is, of course, no coincidence.

There are also other elements that are specific in Euroculture: the attention to specific skills, Eurocompentences, and of course the option to choose either a work placement or research track. The fact that a selection of our students also have the opportunity to study for a semester in India, Japan, Mexico or the US is also an important asset of the programme.

So, even though I would give the same answer as the majority of the students in this survey, it certainly is not an ‘ordinary’ European Studies programme.

“One of the learning outcomes of MA Euroculture? A deep understanding of European identity, civil society, the ongoing European unification process in itself, its cultural and social dynamics and the consequences for its citizens and the wider world”

Q3. If you were the employer in an EU institution, human rights NGO or cultural organisation, why would you hire MA Euroculture graduates?

Perhaps it is best if I refer to an independent survey that was conducted from December 2010 to March 2011 among Euroculture alumni and internship supervisors. The internship supervisors of several different institutions that were interviewed had quite positive opinions of the skills of their Euroculture interns. Euroculture students especially scored high because of their high level of academic skills (including analytical, research and writing skills) and their theoretical knowledge. Those are exactly the qualities that I would mention to employers, together with their interdisciplinary and intercultural skills.

Q4. Why do you think the MA Euroculture degree is also valuable to students from non-European countries who have relatively limited access to the European job market?

That is an interesting question. I think the degree is valuable for a number of reasons. First of all, Euroculture is not only about knowledge of Europe, but it also teaches what is often called ‘soft skills’. In 2012 the International Herald Tribune released a highly informative Global Employability survey. The importance of skills like adaptability, communications and teamwork were considered of particular importance by international recruiters. These are the competences that Euroculture graduates certainly have acquired during their stay at different universities.

Then, let us not forget that knowledge about Europe is not only useful and important within Europe but, of course, also ‘in the wider world’. Global institutions and organisations come to mind, but of course also governments or companies that relate to Europe. The ongoing economic crisis should not let us forget that Europe is still the world’s largest economic zone. It is, for instance, the largest trading partner of both the US and China.

Lastly,the fact that you study Euroculture does not necessarily mean that you can only be employed in Europe.

“The ongoing economic crisis should not let us forget that Europe is still the world’s largest economic zone. It is, for instance, the largest trading partner of both the US and China.”

Q5. Approximately how many students have pursued a PhD after graduating from MA Euroculture, and how many have completed it successfully? Judging from your extensive experience working in a university, what are the good attributes of successful PhD candidates and who should NOT go into PhD?

According to our knowledge, about 10% of the Euroculture alumni are currently engaged in a PhD programme or employed in a research function at a university. As well as these current PhD students, 7.7% of the alumni have in the past completed a PhD.

A PhD track can be very helpful and is of course necessary if you want to pursue an academic career. A successful candidate needs to have an inquisitive mind, analytical skills and most of all, needs to like doing research. Furthermore, tenacity and perseverance are necessary qualities. Never start a PhD if you are not convinced that you really want to research a specific topic for a number of years. Also, but I think that it is self-evident, it is necessary that your grades were above average, and it certainly is helpful if your thesis can act as evidence of your academic writing and research skills.

By listing these qualities and skills it is also evident who should not pursue a PhD track. Which, I hasten to add, by no means implies that these alumni are of a ‘lesser quality’, they just have other interests. Many Euroculture students (about 75 %) opt for the ‘professional track’ with a work placement instead of the research option. A recent American report on what employers are looking for when they evaluate graduates for a position, stresses for instance the importance of internships and work experience. Both academic and practical skills and competences are important.

“Never start a PhD if you are not convinced that you really want to research a specific topic for a number of years.”

Q6. How were your own Master’s years like? Looking back, what’s your impression of your academic journey to date? What were the challenges and how did you overcome the difficult times?

Ha! Well, when I graduated ‘Bologna’ had not yet been invented, nor a credit transfer system called ECTS. Almost nobody studied abroad. So the system was very different from today. Times have really changed now and I always advise history students to take the chances they have to study abroad. Somehow they are not always eager because of girlfriends and boyfriends, or fear of getting homesick.

When I graduated I was extremely fortunate that my research proposal was selected and I was able to start with a PhD project in the same year. At that time there were no graduate schools, so it was a project that basically involved my promoters and me. But the topic was very interesting and I really enjoyed the experience. I became a member of the staff of Modern History at the University of Groningen and was involved in various European projects, such as Clioh-World.

Sometimes it was a challenge to combine a full-time job with the care of two children. But on the whole I did not encounter major difficulties. So I am a happy person!

Q7. Any last advice to MA Euroculture students and alumni who are at the crossroads of their lives? (Good quotes, books, films, other tips, etc.)

Well there are a few books that I think everyone should read. Somehow only this year I came to read Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. A classic masterpiece. Very different but absolutely wonderful and stunning is The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, first published in 2010. Films are even more difficult to choose. There are some films that I find particularly important, such as an anime called Grave of the Fireflies, about the effect of war on two children. A very different approach, even humorous, to the same topicis John Boorman’s Hope and Glory. All these examples relate closely to history, I am afraid. Let’s just say that is a coincidence! I would like to add just one specific history book: Tony Judt, Post War. Absolutely one of the best books written about the history of Europe since 1945. Most definitely a must read.

But really, there is so much to see, do, read and watch! Of course sheer fun, without any serious undertone whatsoever, is also important. Allow time for social activities, sport or just to relax. My own experience is that this tends to be quite difficult…

“Tony Judt, Post War. Absolutely one of the best books written about the history of Europe since 1945. Most definitely a must read.”

Thank you so much, Prof. Janny de Jong, for sharing your MA Euroculture insights with us. We wish you the best in everything you do!

Thank you. It was really nice talking to you.

Editor’s words: We express our sincerest gratitude to Euroculture Mentor Prof. Janny de Jong who gladly agreed to share her extensive knowledge of academic and professional aspects of MA Euroculture and also her invaluable personal experiences with The Euroculturer.