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”→
Nienke Schrover (2017-2019) is from the Netherlands. She has a Bachelor degree in Human Geography at Utrecht University and a minor in International Relations at the University of Amsterdam. She decided to apply for the Euroculture programme because she absolutely loved the experience of studying abroad with other international students, and after participating in an exchange semester at Newcastle University, England, for her Bachelor’s, she wanted to experience it again.
For her, the Euroculture programme meets her broader interests as it focuses not only on European politics, but also culture/identity, international relations, and so on. Nienke’s Euroculture life started at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and continued at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. She is currently doing an internship at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels, Belgium.
Thank you Nienke, for taking the time to answer these questions!
1. What was the most difficult thing that you had to adjust to when you started the programme?
Oddly enough, the thing I found most difficult to adjust to after starting the program was the fact that people come from such diverse backgrounds. It was quite new for me to see that people had such different levels of knowledge and different perspectives. Since I had lived in the same house for the first 20 years of my life, it was also very new to me to learn about identity and how many of my classmates have family from so many different places. I definitely learned a lot about identities and how to be more open and sensitive to different perspectives. Continue reading “Student Profiles: Nienke Schrover (NL, Groningen-Krakow)”→
In October 2015, two three-year-old kids were set on fire and torched inside a house along with eight adults of the same family in the Indian town of Ballabgarh, Haryana. 
Similarly, in 2010, a polio-stricken teenage girl was torched while she was sleeping, her elderly father who went to save her was also locked by an upper-caste mob until both of them were charred to death. The spokes of the rusty handicap tricycle which was meant to assist the polio-ridden condition of the obliterated girl laid darkened in the corner. These are not excerpts of stories from Auschwitz, these are everyday stories from Modern India – so-called progressive India.
These are narratives of caste-based violence and atrocities which occur without any fear of prosecution in India. In both stories, the perpetrators belonged to ‘Upper-Caste groups” i.e. the ‘Caste Elites of India’, whereas both the families on the receiving end belonged to the most socially stigmatised community of Indian society – “The Untouchables” which are now mostly recognized as “Dalits”. The word ‘Dalit’ means ‘broken’ or ‘oppressed’ (recognized as Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes under the Indian Constitution).
In India, such heinous crimes against ‘Dalits’ are not an exception but rather a norm. Moreover, such crimes are committed with impunity which is made evident by the conviction rate which stands at 5.3%. ‘Dalits’ cover almost one-fifth of the Indian population with 200 million people which is bigger than the combined population of Germany and France. Such a large population experiences caste discrimination in forms of sexual assault, physical violence, forced prostitution, manual scavenging, and denial of most basic human rights. This is tribalism of the highest order and the international community is not paying enough attention to it.
Despite the fact that caste discrimination is outlawed in India since 1947, it is omnipresent in India and the situation is not showing any signs of progress as the crimes against Dalits have increased by 66% and the rapes of ‘Dalit’ women doubled between 2007 and 2017, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Continue reading “Why the “I” in “India” Stands For “Identity””→
The cultural and creative sector is the third biggest employer in the European Union being only excelled by the construction and the food sectors. Besides their rather underestimated economic importance, culture and creativity build bridges between people and positively influence various areas, e.g. education, well-being or democracy. Consequently, culture contributes to the objectives of the European integration. Therefore, it is necessary to foster our cultural and political identity, to preserve our diversity and increase the intercultural dialogue as it is mentioned in Article 167 of the Treaty of Lisbon.
In order to give credit to the cultural sector and to support its further development, the European Union launched Creative Europe in 2014 as the EU’s funding programme for the cultural, creative and audiovisual sectors. As such it is in place for seven years (2014-2020) and consists of two sub-programmes that used to exist independently before: MEDIA and CULTURE. While MEDIA is dedicated to the audiovisual sector and helps promoting audiovisual works, CULTURE covers funding for all other cultural and creative areas including amongst others performing and visual arts, literature, music, street art and cultural heritage. In total, 1,46 billion Euros are foreseen for the whole programme meaning for the whole seven years and all participating countries. Related to the amount of participating countries, this amount can change throughout the years. In addition to the 28 EU Member States, interested European countries can associate with Creative Europe and thereby increase the programme’s budget. In the past years, the list of participating countries grew continuously up to 41 countries in 2018, including amongst others Tunisia, Georgia, Ukraine, Albania and Armenia, boosting the intercultural exchange in the European neighbourhood. Simultaneously, countries can also leave the group as it was the case with Turkey in autumn 2016 and could be happening again with the upcoming Brexit in 2019. Continue reading “The Future of Creative Europe”→
Freshly arrived in Uppsala, my mind filled with the idealized Swedish role model, it is with great surprise that I learn that Sweden is now facing the rise of populism and Euroscepticism. Rumours has been the situation in Sweden was slowly decaying but I had not realized the extent this phenomenon had taken in this country often considered as the peace haven of Europe, until I arrived and witnessed the tensions surrounding the legislative elections. After France and the Front National, the UK and UKIP, Austria and the Freedom party of Austria, Italy and the Five Star Movement, it is now Sweden’s turn to deal with Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats party. Indeed, the Swedish elections that occurred on the September 9 has for the first time seen the everlasting left-wing Social Democrats party’s monopoly on the government endangered by nationalism and anti-immigration ideologies.
The country has gradually seen the rise of populism ever since the beginning of the 2000’s, following the first arrivals of asylum seekers coming from Iraq. From then, the number of asylum seekers has constantly increased up until 2015 when it reached its peak with 162,877 asylum seekers[i] entering the kingdom, before the government changed the immigration procedure, making it tougher. Sweden, almost unharmed by the 2008 economic crisis, remained prosper and did not seem to be the most fertile environment for such a breakthrough from the nationalist factions.
To have a better understanding of the current political landscape and the point of view of a Swede on this situation, I had an interview with our teacher Lars Löfquist, doctor in Theology, director of studies in Uppsala for the Euroculture programme as well as two other programmes concerning Humanitarian Action. Starting from this, I was able to draw some observations that could explain how Sweden got to this point, what is the current situation and what is to expect in the coming weeks. Continue reading “The Swedish Elections: The End of the European Role Model?”→
The Polish Sejm has passed a Law at the beginning of this year, which makes it illegal to blame Poles for any crime committed during the Nazi occupation. Even though it also covers crimes committed during the Communist era (and war crimes by Ukrainian nationalists), it came to be known as “The Holocaust Law” in the debate that it sparked all around the world. This shows not only the sensitivity of the topic of the Holocaust, but also that 73 years after the victory over the Nazis, it seems the different Holocaust narratives are rather dividing than uniting Europe. Can, and should a consensus be reached when it comes to Holocaust memory? Or is the motto united in diversity a legitimate solution for the European memory? Especially the latest EU-enlargement challenges the concept of a common European memory, as the Western countries have agreed on their memory more or less, while new members have not been included yet, and bring other, fresher memories to the table: the communist past. Considering that the Holocaust, however, is said to be part of the European memory as negative founding myth, in cooperating Eastern narratives and agreeing on what and how the Holocaust is to be remembered is an integral part of the integration process. Continue reading “Interpreting the Polish “Holocaust Law””→
On February 6, 2016, people demonstrated all over Europe. In cities as diverse as Dresden, Prague, Warsaw, Bratislava, Krakow, Copenhagen, Dublin, Graz, Tartu, Amsterdam, Birmingham, Montpellier, and Bordeaux, up to 9,000 people held banners in the air declaring ‘Nein zur Einwanderung – Stoppt die Merkelisierung,’ or ‘Non au grand remplacement, Non au changement de peuple, Nous sommes le peuple.’ On April 9, 300 people participated in a blockade of a part of the Czech-German border. On May 16, 2,500 people gathered in Dresden with a similar message. All three events were organized by a recent political movement, the so-called Fortress Europe. The movement’s spokesperson advocated the demos on her webpage with the following words:
“[It’s] about identity, appreciation and mutual forgiveness for everything that ever separated us, the European peoples. This event shall be the starting point for real cohesion, for a European sense of community and a strong, European esprit de corps – to fight together as united Europeans for the preservation of our continent.”
Reading this statement, a student of Euroculture gets alerted. Fortress Europe apparently seeks to strengthen a collective European identity; a concept that is usually considered a possible solution to the current challenges in the process of European integration. Yet, Fortress Europe is an openly xenophobic and EU-skeptic movement. EU-skeptics that aim at the creation of European identity? It’s definitely time to have a closer look at Fortress Europe. Continue reading “Patriotic Europeans United in Fortress Europe”→
My views on Europe and the widely-discussed concept of “Europeanness” depend very much on how I perceive and process the world surrounding me. Building up our own Europe comes with a responsibility, as it influences not only our personal but the global perception of Europe as a whole.
The variety in creating one’s own Europe, I believe, is very much connected to a personal, intercultural and emotional development. The concept of ‘the Other’ or ‘Us’ plays a crucial role in this development, which is very much related to the types of schooling and change of residencies throughout one’s life.
“The variety in creating one’s own Europe is very much connected to a personal, intercultural and emotional development…”
How does all this add up to create a personalised perspective of Europe and how can these perspectives be explained? How are the latter being formed and why? The place where we live, regardless of our family’s views on politics, religion or sexuality, already provides us with a sense of belonging, be it positive or negative, which becomes part of our self-definition and a basis for differentiation. To decide what to do with this ‘default setting’ is our own choice, and throughout time, as our lives outgrow local or national borders, locality becomes a fluid conception we can easily control. Continue reading “The Question of Constructing Our Personal Europe”→
I land in the centre of Europe. A small airport welcomes me back home.
When I think of my country, I always picture a charming lady. She has an entangled past to share with travellers.
Long ago Belarus used to be part of a huge powerful country, which comprised of Poland, Belarus and Lithuania. The state was the second one in the world that adopted a Constitution in 1791, and was recognised as a cultural and military centre of Europe for many centuries. A huge part of that culture remained forgotten and silent for a long time, but now it is slowly waking up from the period of integration with the other 14 soviet states, which affected several generations of the state’s culture.
A small shuttle brings me to the closest metro station. Just a while ago, all the station names were dubbed in English to make it more convenient for travellers. The other two main languages you will find are Russian and Belarusian. They both are equivalent, according to our Constitution, but people are using Russian more these days. When parents have the option to choose education for their children in one of the languages, Russian becomes more prevalent due to the Customs Union and the economic relations between Russia and Belarus.
“Belarusian definitely shares more roots with the western languages than Russian.”
Belarusian, in fact, is markedly different from Russian. I remember one time when I stayed in Warsaw, to my surprise after several days I started to understand the language and could say simple sentences like “No, I am not getting off the bus now”. Compare the words “paper” in English and “papera” in Belarusian with “bumaga” in Russian. Belarusian definitely shares more roots with the western languages, and proper Belarusian speech is very hard to comprehend for Russian speakers.
I get off the metro in the middle of Minsk, at its only ancient part – Nemiga. The Second World War destroyed the city and it was all rebuilt from scratch in 1944, modelled in line with the best Soviet architectural traditions. My great-grandfather used to tell me that when standing on one edge of the city he could see quite far – there were no roads or high buildings to block the view at all. Walking along the Svislach River, I look at the row of ancient remains of Troitskoye Predmestye (Trinity Suburb), where the families of famous Belarusian writers like Kupala and Bogdanovich once lived; these days the sight attracts brides and girls who crave for a new Facebook profile picture.
“The Second World War is a huge part of the history of the country…”
The Second World War is a huge part of the history of the country. From 1941 – to 1944 the country was occupied and people kept fighting as they could: in cities and in forests. There are many remarkable monuments from that period. Visit Brest Fortress, for instance, where you can read the words written by a dying soldier “I’m dying but I won’t surrender. Farewell, Motherland. 20.VII.41” , which really makes the blood in your veins freeze. Another breath-taking place is Khatyn, which until 1943 was a typical Belarusian village to the northeast of Minsk. On 22nd March 1943 it was burnt to the ground killing all of its inhabitants. There were many villages that, just like Khatyn, were never rebuilt after the war.
The post-war Soviet period was a very controversial and difficult time for the culture of the country. Nevertheless, even with all the Soviet drawbacks, the government managed to save the country that was destroyed by the war. Many famous factories and plants, schools and universities opened during that period.
“The Soviet Union disappeared from the map. The predictability of life disappeared together with it.”
The state has changed a lot in the past 20 years. The Soviet Union disappeared from the map. The predictability of life disappeared together with it. Borders fell down. There were many possible ways of development for the country to choose from, a huge variety of things to do and to believe in.
As I walk along the river to my apartment, I see many people on bicycles. Belarusian people are slowly letting their identity show. There are many festivals and sport events which are held in the city, and I am very happy to be part of the huge Erasmus Mundus community of Belarus.
Two German guys ask me for directions, and I am glad to show them around. Many tourists come to the country to see the main lakes: the lake Narach, which is the largest lake in Belarus, and the Braslau Lakes, a unique lake system that attracts fishermen from all over the country.
“Foreigners sometimes get scared of our ‘strong’ currency, but…”
From a local grocery shop, close to my apartment, a loaf of bread costs 8,000 Belarusian Roubles; 1 Euro amounts to 11,500 Roubles. Foreigners sometimes get scared of our ‘strong’ currency, yet after getting a breakfast for less than a Euro, it is funny to realise that all the Belarusians are millionaires!
I finally reach my flat and sit comfortably on the bed with my laptop. I look at the smiling faces of my European friends on Facebook. Many of them keep saying that visiting Belarus is very hard due to the strict visa policy between the European Union and Belarus. I would respond that this paperwork is possible to do if you want; and it can never keep friends apart.
“Belarus, a young country with blue lakes for eyes in her early twenties again.”
Belarus is now in a beautiful transition period from its post-Soviet state: a young country with blue lakes for eyes in her early twenties again, looking for her identity and trying all of the new opportunities she has ahead. So if you are open to breaking stereotypes, you want to see some very atypical architecture and to explore a new culture – you are more than welcome to Belarus. We will meet you, show you around, and definitely have the craziest nights after eventful days.
Nadezhda Fomenok, Contributing Writer
Nadezhda is a senior year private international law student, living in Minsk, Belarus. From 2011 to 2012, she studied in Bilbao as an Erasmus Mundus exchange student. This experience helped her develop new interests, among which are the culture of the European Union in the view of integration and how Belarus could be a part this process. Nadezhda dreams of successfully graduating from her course in 2014 and finding her own way in the big world. In her spare time she reads Paulo Coelho and sketches her greatest ideas.
Kraków, Poland. What is the first thing that comes into your mind when hearing this? Well for me, as a German, it definitely painted a different picture from what I actually experienced while spending my second semester of the MA Euroculture programme there. Starting with the architecture, I expected to see heavy influence from the Communist era that dominated Poland for over 40 years. But instead I found myself surrounded by numerous old and beautiful buildings that reminded me more of being in Italy or Belgium rather than Ukraine or Russia. This is due to a unique fact that makes up a huge part of Kraków’s identity until now: Kraków is the city of culture in Poland and its architecture symbolizes a highly rich cultural life with all the influences that shaped the country for decades. My point here is that despite of all my expectations, Kraków is one of the most beautiful European cities that I have ever been able to see.
Now every time you go abroad, it is my opinion that the people you meet there are of immense significance. People can turn the ugliest place (which, as was just explained, Kraków is not) into the most delightful experience if you get along with them and have fun. For example: the Euroculture staff in Kraków. Not just the professors but, more importantly, all of the Euroculture coordinators are very much engaged in their work and are 100% there to help you find your way around academically and in Kraków itself. I have hardly met anyone at any university I studied at in the past so committed and so open to your ideas and comments. They have a high degree of expertise in what they do so you can definitely learn from them and yet you can go out and have a drink with them or a coffee in our beloved “Karma” café (the first thing they introduced us to). Sometimes they even offer the notorious ‘Vodka lecture’ that no-one can ever leave sober even if you try really hard!
Encounters with local Polish students, however, were unfortunately limited to the annual students’ week where you can attend free concerts or the final march through the town trying to keep a drink in your hand without the police noticing (public drinking is forbidden in Poland). The lack of encounters may be due to the amount of work you have to do in Kraków, resulting from living in a ‘Euroculture bubble’, or it may be also partly due to the Polish students not all seeming to want to get involved with foreign students in the first place. This leads me to my quite honest but general impression of Polish people. Polish people, I have to admit, are still a little bit of a mystery to me. Not being able to speak Polish fluently (despite taking a Polish for Beginners course) is obviously a main factor in this. My experiences ranged from the cashier in the supermarket not even answering your long and painfully practiced “Dzień dobry” or no smile in some people’s faces, not even the slightest hint, to a total stranger walking through downtown Kraków with you for 20 minutes (therefore missing his bus home) just to try to help you find a newly-opened bar. It seems to be a matter of age and former experiences with foreigners that makes the Polish either seem dismissive or warmly welcoming to you.
Whatever it is, however, it should not stop you from visiting such an interesting and exciting European city that has so much to offer on a lifestyle level, both historically and culturally. Choosing Kraków as my Euroculture host university has truly been a great contribution to my understanding of European history, culture, and what makes Europeans feel European. Poland, to me, is one of the countries where you can see how such a feeling is evolving first hand and how entering the European Union changes people’s lives and perspectives, and it would not take me a blink of an eye to decide to go back there again.
Mimi Beschoten, Kraków Correspondent Mimi is from Germany and studied BA Translation. She spent her first semester of MA Euroculture at the University of Göttingen, her second semester at Jagiellonian University, Kraków, and is currently doing her internship at a cultural foundation. She is interested in the role of culture and how it can be used to further integrate Europe. Mimi’s real name is Miriam (which she kind of dislikes) and she loves to watch His Dudeness in the film The Big Lebowski.