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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
(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
Four figures wearing fur and carrying large wooden rifles slung on their shoulders stood around a campfire laughing loudly. As we approached single file I could make out only a log cabin, surrounded by a thick forest, the 4 figures, and the campfire, but barely anything else. It was late November, and Central Indiana just had its first snowfall of the season. The snow crunched under our feet as we lined up, still single file, in front of the log cabin. Our owner motioned to the four figures as they approached slowly. Before they arrived, our owner warned us to answer any questions with a “yes sir” and “no sir” and to keep our heads down, we were not allowed, under any circumstances to make eye contact or lie about our what skills we possessed. For the next 90 minutes, I was to be a runaway slave on the Underground Railroad, and I had no idea what those ninety minutes would entail. I was at the mercy of total strangers. My only task: to follow clues and to escape into the freedom from which I had only minutes ago taken for granted. I wondered if I would manage to escape, judging by the silhouettes of the characters I was about to meet, it would not be easy.
“Bucks! Take a step forward!” A young girl made the mistake of doing so.
“If you could drop a baby outta ya, then you ain’t no buck! What are you stupid!
Now get back against the wall.” One of the figures, a giant of a man just under 2 meters tall wearing a wide brimmed hat and a fur coat approached me.
“What are you looking at! Don’t you look a white man in the face. Put your head down now! What do you do?”
“I’m a carpenter” I replied. (I worked as a carpenter for my dad’s remodeling business for a few summers and I felt my knowledge about the topic was adequate.)
“If you’s a carpenter then what is a plane used for?”
“It makes the wood nice and smooth sir” I replied.
“If you’re goin’ round using a plane, then let me see your hands”
I took my gloves off, a yellow light from the fire, dancing around with the unpredictable wind, reflected haphazardly against my now freezing hands.
“There ain’t no calluses on there and you ain’t no carpenter! You lying to me boy?!”
Immediately I felt an urge to defend myself. Even though these calluses were not from woodworking, I had calluses sticking out from the rest of my palms like exclamation points at the ends of my fingers from lifting weights but I soon learned that arguing was no use.
“Get down on your knees, now!”
The ground was nearly frozen. I thought for a second, was this guy serious? My hesitation sparked another burst of angry commands. Soon, a mixture of mud and snow slowly gave way as I felt my now soaked and muddy knees (and my favorite pair of jeans) sink deeper and deeper into the mud next to the glow of the fire a few feet away. The men now divided our group into separate lines. The scene was chaotic. I couldn’t look up, but I heard the forceful commands from every direction. I expected to get tied up, I didn’t, but regardless, where would I run? What seemed like acres of dark forest surrounded us. For a second, I thought this was it, I would never get out again. I knew this was all a reenactment, but still, I felt a deepseated injustice being done to me. I hated those guys already and even though we were just getting started, I wondered if I was going to be one of the lucky ones and make it to freedom. I was on my knees, I didn’t know the terrain, and the slave traders carried meter long rifles: the odds were stacked against me.
When I read the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park website I was sceptical: “90 minutes can last a lifetime.” The webpage guaranteed “you’ll walk away with a lot to think about.”
Follow the North Star is an interactive historical experience. Along with a group of 17 others, I was to be a runaway slave on the Underground Railroad; a network of trails, hiding places and people, established to help slaves escape north to free states or to Canada.
The year is 1836 and the only source of light are campfires and lanterns with candles inside of them. We are in a thick forest on the outskirts of a free Indiana town, in the distance I can see faint lanterns lighting up the windowsills of the homes which we would soon seek help from we were told that on the Underground Railroad this was a sign people were willing to help.
We are divided but taken to another cabin where we hear our next orders. “Move this pile of logs to that pile and don’t even think about stopping until you hear us say so.”
Indiana was supposed to be a free state but slave traders like the ones minding us proved that Indiana was no safe haven. The importation of slaves into the US was officially abolished in 1808, which only meant there was now a limited supply. To those slave traders, we were worth a lot of money.
“Get a move on it! Get them logs over on that side.”
We hustled back and forth, getting in each other’s way. Gravel crunched under our quickly shuffling feet.
“Get off the road…. hurry up…..stay in line.” The orders kept coming: disorientation reigned.
As a former history teacher, I was intrigued by the idea of taking part in an experiential activity rather than learning from the traditional history book, or passively watching a documentary. The director of the park claims that “this handson experience can lead to a much higher level of learning than takes place from studying a textbook for example.” During one of my last curriculum and development classes during the senior year of my BA, a colleague tried to recreate the Underground Railroad on campus. We must have looked ridiculous, walking around campus blindfolded, holding hands and trying to get to our next destination. I remember that I left this particular experience thinking, “what a great way to teach history!” but it certainly was not a “90 minute
experience that lasted a lifetime.” Therefore, I walked into the experience at Conner Prairie expecting something similar; I was wrong.
The slave traders looked, talked and even felt like the real deal. Soon enough we would learn that the rest of the historical recreators were every bit as real.
We continued to move the logs from one side to the other.
“Hey, pssssst. They’ve gone back by the fire” said an older man, accompanied by his daughter.
In fact, they did, with a bounty of $500 on our heads, I figured this was a chance to get away. For a second we all looked at each other, we were lost in more ways than one, the old man and his daughter were already heading towards the town, with a feeling of helplessness, we followed. We soon crossed the bridge leading to the town, a sign that read “The Union. It must and shall be preserved” hung on the top of the post and lintel structure, making the experience even more real.
We were now far away from the campfire. I felt like I wanted to blow up the bridge behind us so that we can be sure the slave traders won’t catch up to us.
We followed a road but it was dark. We aimed for the only visible marker, what looked to be a barn painted stark white.
“Who goes there!”
A lady that looked like she came out of the painting Whistler’s Mother approached us. She wore a long black dress with a white cloth on her head. She was one of the local residents. Soon her 2 daughters joined her.
“What are you doing here?”
“Where is father?”
“What should we do?” The 3 women took turns voicing their dislike.
They took us inside quickly but with a certain hesitation. We were now hiding in their barn but the tone of their voice was enough to let us know how they felt about us.
“Put your head down and don’t look at us!”
(I was getting used to having my head facing the ground and found myself doing it even at the Quakers home, where we were not expected to do so.)
These women looked at us like cattle, not important enough to be helped, and dangerous enough to be got rid of from their property as soon as possible.
At first I really thought they would help us, but really they themselves were in the same precarious situation; trapped in a system created by greed and immorality that they just so happened to come in contact with. It wasn’t the only moment in history that people would get swept up by dubious forces and would forget to stand up for what is right. On the way to the Quakers, as we shuffled down the dirt road, figures hunched, I thought about what I would have done if I was in their place?
You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. I began to realize the magnitude of these uncertain situations that people were placed in, the environment that was created, how could you act any different than what the system wanted you to do? The next character we met, was a victim of this system, representative of another group of people affected by the abomination that was slavery.
Jebediah was the character that stuck with me the most because he represented the precarious situations that humanity is too often confronted with. Calm at first, Jebediah was someone I thought we could trust. He showed empathy at our condition, we were cold, hiding behind a barn (some of us even soaked, especially around the knees), nowhere to go.
In an earlier life, he was a talented carpenter in Charleston, South Carolina. A respected man who earned a bountiful wage, but soon lost his job to slaves who did the work for free. On his journey to the North, a free market society absent of slavery where he could charge for his services, his daughter took ill and died. His wife also passed during the journey, according to Jebediah, from grief. In the middle of this story, Jebediah began to change his behavior.
“Don’t you look at a white man in the eyes you cattle.”
Jebediah worked himself up and began to hear voices from his late wife. He was clearly a drunkard, delusional, mentally unstable, corrupted by the system.
“Don’t worry honey, I am going to take care of you two, don’t worry.”He said to himself.
“You think I’m going to help you for all that you’ve done to me? You took away my wage, and now I am going to get my money back by turning you in!”
He told us not to go anywhere but who knew what would happen if he returned. Clearly he wasn’t all there, and we took advantage of this.
We ran like hell, and soon found ourselves in the home of a Quaker family who piled us into a 5x8m room. The door began to shake with a vengeance. It was Jebediah, and he now had a rifle.
“I know they are in there old man, open up or you will regret it! I’ve got one of your kind here.
One man from our group exclaimed, “my daughter, where is my daughter!” In fact, his teenage daughter was no longer in our group, we looked at each other with fear and disappointment. We were supposed to act together and leave no one behind.
My buddy whom I brought along, Suade, looked at me, puzzled, “should we do something?”
He returned my question with a blank stare.
Jebediah’s now crazed words vibrated against the foggy, single pane window of the Quaker’s home.
“I’ve had enough of you old man!” Jebediah shouted.
We heard what sounded like a young girl’s helpless scream. The father looked terrified and then, a loud gunshot vibrated in everyone’s ears. At that moment, I was in 1836, in Indiana, running away, and Jebediah was hot on our heels. I was lost in the moment. Again my thoughts overwhelmed me. Would I survive? Would our group make it to freedom?
I thought about the time I visited Auschwitz. “ There were so many prisoners, why didn’t they just rebel? Run away?” As a 20 something year old European, and a former teacher of history, I was bombarding myself with questions. Many of my students had the same questions after we watched bits from The Pianist, a movie about Jews trapped by Nazis in a Warsaw ghetto; why didn’t they just join forces and rebel? Or run away? It is easy to ask that question when you are sitting in a classroom, or a movie theater eating popcorn. It is a different story when Jebediah is following you with a rifle in a land you know nothing about. How could you make any decision when what you have to go on is next to nothing; new terrain, strange people, I was at the whims of historical time. I thought I knew history, what it was that really happened, but at that moment, I realized that only NOW I really only began to understand. I’ve visited Auschwitz twice, but it took coming to ConnerPrairie to understand why something like the Holocaust could have happened, and why people acted the way they did.
I thought about making a decision, being decisive, saying to my group, “let’s take this trail, maybe we can lose him if we take this way……” But at the same time, what if he was there, and it was I who led my group back to captivity, or maybe even death. I stayed silent. At least one person spoke up, “let’s go this way.” It was the old man who lost his daughter. I was glad someone made a decision. The rest of the group was silent, we just followed. At this point, I felt like we may be close to “freedom” but Jebediah was still out there.
For slaves on the Underground Railroad, that was the least of their worries. Children crying, wet and cold winters without the luxury of campfires, dogs, wolves, starvation; these are just a few of the obstacles runaway slaves faced on the journey to freedom.
I thought back to the advert that drew me here: “you will walk away with a lot to think about.” The reenactment wasn’t even over and already I had a million thoughts running through my head. I expected to learn something about the Underground Railroad, I came away with a lesson in hegemony, group psychology, empathy, and
indeed as the director claimed “a higher level of learning” than I could not have been able to ascertain from just reading a book.
A dim lantern, facing the outside into the street, that was the clue we were looking for and somehow we managed to escape the crazed Jebediah. Was this it? Did we make it?
The last stop on this reenactment was a relief, but also an eye opener. Although we managed to outsmart the crazed Jebediah, out of the 18 people in our group only 3 survived. The last recreator, an older soft spoken woman spoke to us from the porch of her home. She was the “soothsayer” who predicted our future (based on historical statistics). Suade, myself and another young man were singled out. She spoke to us with a gaze from the top of her cabin’s porch.
“Young men are the most likely to take risks, they are strong, and therefore they were most likely to make it to freedom.”
I felt relief.
She pointed to others. “You will die crossing a river. You 5 get caught and are brought back to Mississippi. Your child cries and are found by Jebediah and shot.”
I felt relief, and then a pang of guilt; I made it and the others did not.
After a final wrap up and discussion, we learned that the old man and the daughter that was “shot” were plants put in our group by the park to make sure everyone was ok (some people can’t handle it). We were “on the run” for an hour and a half and that was enough to inculcate in us a feeling of inferiority, a feeling of helplessness, a complete disorientation and uncertainty that paralyzed us. We all shared our impressions about how we felt then, but I know that mine will stay with me for much longer.
As an educator, the experience taught me that there are some things that are difficult to learn by simply reading about them. You may know about the “what happened” but the emotions, motives and decisions of the people involved may be difficult to understand. I found this experience to be worthwhile because it was successful in conveying to the participants exactly these elements. I learned the meaning of slavery; a complete loss of agency and systematic inculcation, marked by a feeling of inferiority. This experience made me think about the importance of “coming to terms with the past.” This is something that is still an ongoing process in Europe, in some parts more than others. I thought about my experience at Auchwitz, the experience of watching 12Years a Slave with my Euroculture program mates at our annual research conference. I also thought about the resurgence of movies dealing with the less attractive European past. Movies such as The Pianist, and more recently the Oscar winners Ida and Son of Saul from Poland and Hungary respectively. The persistence of this topic fulfills a need for many people in the central and eastern part of Europe to properly come to terms with these tragic events; something that the region could not do under authoritarian communist governments.
This tragic history is more recent than the history represented at Conner Prairie. Therefore, I will stop short of suggesting that something like this should or could happen at places like Auschwitz, it may be too early or simply it may be too sensitive of a place for such an undertaking. I do want to point out however that the need for coming to terms with the past is very real for many people, groups, even nations. Movies and museums provide us with a framework with which we can discuss the past. They provide characters and names that people can use to reference past events and situations. They provide physical and nonphysical arenas for discussions and in many cases arguments. Movies however do have their limits, after all, without further discussion they are just objects to be consumed passively. Therefore, we should be aware of the need to come to terms with the past, and also consider best practices of doing so.
Watching 12 Years a Slave with a large group of my classmates was a powerful experience, but it could never replicate my Conner Prairie experience. The moment my decision making center shifted from my brain to the viscera that occupied my gut will be something I will never forget . I finally knew what it was like to have no control, to be a part of a situation, a historical concoction of power and its abuse, that I hope never happens again: in the US, in Europe, anywhere.
The opinions expressed in this essay do not necessarily represent the views of The Euroculturer.
It was hard to gauge just how close we were to Pittsburgh. The number on the freeway signs kept getting smaller and smaller, “Pittsburgh 25 – 15 – 10,” but there were no skyscrapers in sight. Was this one of those sprawling American metropolises where you still had to drive for miles to get to the city centre, or were the Appalachian Mountains shielding the city from our view? Pittsburgh, 6 miles, we had to be close. Anticipation spurred a feeling of excitement as we neared the city, and relief set in that after a 5 hour journey we were almost at our destination. While driving through a dimly lit tunnel, we had no idea that we were about to get one of the best views you can get of any city.
The Fort Pitt tunnel is like having your friend cover her eyes before you reveal a gift that you were hiding from her. This was definitely the intention of my Pittsburgh connection, Matt Perna, whom I’ve shared an apartment with on another continent. “This is the only way to get into the city from the south side” he said. It is not, but now I realize his intention.
Pittsburgh is a city that sprawls upward from its core, climbing the surrounding mountains, intersected into 3 parts by the confluence of the Ohio River, the Monongahela River, and the Allegheny River. As we crossed the bridge close to where the 3 rivers meet, known in Pittsburgh as the golden triangle, the skyscrapers informed us of the city’s storied past. The cranes in the distance, however, informed us of a different narrative.
We keep driving, my head on a swivel. “Hey, keep your eyes on the road!” My co-pilot reminds me while snapping pictures. The massive smokestacks of the Heinz Ketchup factory billow smoke to the left of the bridge while the skyscrapers impose themselves over the Pittsburgh skyline on the right; the bridge and the road that follows, cuts the city in half.
Pittsburgh seems much bigger than the 305,000 inhabitants that Wikipedia informs me live there; a testament to its former glory as the steel capital of the United States, when the city was home to just under 700,000 at its height in the 1950s. While newer cities like San Francisco tower over Pittsburgh in height (and influence), it was Pittsburgh steel that made these cities possible.
Pittsburgh, like much of the American rustbelt, has historically been a centre for innovation. Cities such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh were the centres where many of the innovative manufacturing processes were invented (just think Henry Ford and the assembly line!). Traditionally these were places teeming with immigrants, coming here in search of opportunity. I can attest to this by drawing on my own family history; Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, was where my great uncle, Tadeusz Różałowski, came in search of opportunity, leaving behind a war torn Europe in 1917.
It did not take us long to find traces of these earlier migrations. On our very first night, with our couchsurfing host Corey, we ventured to Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. Corey is young professional in his early 30s, with a friendly demeanour and soft smile. He was lured to Pittsburgh by an opportunity to work for the Google sales department, which he gladly took. He shares his beautiful early 20th-century three bedroom flat with two large chocolate dobermans that almost knocked me over when I first entered his home, and on this particular night, with four eager guests. When we finally arrived at the bar, I found that half of the menu consisted of Polish food and beer. “I’ll have a żywiec” I said. I spotted what I thought to be the owner leaning on the bar, looking up at the TV news headlines. I was right, his name was Steve. The TV broadcaster beamed: “last flight for US Airways leaves Pittsburgh after 78 years.” “That company is a Pittsburgh-owned company” Steve replied. He was a large man with a greying goatee and combed back greying hair. He told me that he came to Pittsburgh as a child in the 1950s. The only thing he remembered how to say in Polish was a prayer he was forced to recite by his father before dinner every day for years, “I’ll never forget that prayer!” His mom’s home cooking is what gave him the idea for this restaurant, which turns into a watering hole in the late evenings. His aunt comes in and makes the pierogi fresh every day, “just like mom used to make them” he exclaimed with a gregarious expression.
The next day we decided to go to Market Street and visited a variety of foreign owned markets. Many of them were owned by participants of a later wave of migration, from Asia and South America. There were Chinese shops, Vietnamese Pho, Mexican tacos and my favourite – Korean street food. Having spent some time in Korea, I was immediately drawn to the Korean shop, selling delicious Korean pancakes called pae-jeon. This particular street was lined with shops for a couple of miles. Small food stalls out front in the sidewalk tempted passers-by like ourselves to step in. The smell of peppers and frying potatoes rose up with the heat from the flat-grill. A convincing “annyong haseo” from the woman behind the grill and a direct smile now forced us to stop and try some (as if I needed any more convincing). The owner and his wife ran the store and gave us tips on Korean restaurants to check out nearby where we could get really authentic Korean food.
Immigrants have been coming to America since its inception. According to Rebecca Mayhew, the relationship manager of the Columbus (Ohio) based Economic Community Development Institute, a non-profit offering small business loans to immigrants and other would-be entrepreneurs, rebuilding cities “can’t afford to bypass the economic injection these folks [immigrants] can bring” (Guth 2015). A WE (Welcoming Economies Global Network) report claims that from 2000-2010, the native population in Midwest metros grew by only 3.3%, while immigrants account for 27% of all Midwest metro area population growth. With 18 of the 25 fastest shrinking cities in the Rust Belt, cities like Pittsburgh are counting on immigration for growth (WE Global Network). It is people like Steve, the Korean couple on Market Street, and many others that have been responsible for a lot of the growth in Pittsburgh in the past, and this is exactly what mayors are trying to recreate in the near future.
Mayors of cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh are beginning to realize the benefits immigrants can bring. Public officials in these cities have been vocal about foreign-born entrepreneurs serving as a catalyst for business creation and rebuilding downtrodden neighbourhoods. Pittsburgh mayor, Bill Peduto, believes immigrants can be a major part of a repopulation strategy that calls for 20,000 new city residents by 2025, a plan that has job creation as one of its cornerstones (Guth 2015). Cleveland, for example, is planning to house refugees in rehabilitated homes to reinvigorate run-down communities. Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, has already laid the groundwork. In January 2014 he called for an infusion of 50,000 immigrants as part of a program to revitalize Detroit, and signed an executive order creating the Michigan Office for New Americans, whose mission is to help grow Michigan’s economy by attracting global talent and promote the skills, energy, and entrepreneurial spirit of its immigrant communities (Laitin and Jahr 2015).
On a different note, Detroit has also founded the Global Detroit initiative, raising millions to fund retention efforts aimed at international students. At Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, there are a lot of them. Indeed, the University itself was founded by another immigrant, the Scotsman Andrew Carnegie who came to the United States in 1847.
While still on Market Street, a postcard with a view from the very bridge we came into town over caught my eye; the golden triangle, the skyline, hills with homes stretching in all directions, and then west of the downtown area, a cluster of modern buildings. My friend Matt, a Pittsburgh metro area native informed me that this is the Carnegie-Mellon campus. Seeing the campus had been on my to-do list from the beginning; it was there that we went next..
The campus was brimming with youth. Lu Lu’s Noodle Bar was full of students from what seemed like all over the world. Students like Maxim Likhachev, from Latvia, who moved to Pittsburgh, where he later became a research professor at Carnegie-Mellon. Likhachev launched a company called TravelWits, a platform that merges transportation alternatives to determine the most affordable route to a destination (Guth 2015). The outlook of his company is optimistic – mirroring the optimism of the region. The Pittsburgh area, a former hub of production, has been able to make the shift to innovation and now boasts a tech savvy vibe because of the creatives who graduated from universities like Carnegie-Mellon, or work for Disney or Google and have relocated here. While the older migrants, like my great-uncle Tadeusz, came for work in the burgeoning coal and manufacturing industries, today, people like our couchsurfing host Corey move to Pittsburgh to work for Google.
A city like Pittsburgh, full of old bones left behind by long-gone industries, is not a singular case. Cities like it can be found in nearly every European country. What is different however, is in the way in which Pittsburgh, and other Rust Belt cities view the immigrants that come knocking on their proverbial doors. While in Europe many immigrants are viewed as guest workers that will eventually go back to their countries of origin, many cities in the US want them not only to come but also to stay, to help repopulate their cities and infuse them with the vibrancy they once had. Pittsburgh and other post-industrial cities in the region have made welcoming immigrants a central part of their “comeback strategy.” With an influx of immigrants coming to Europe, and in light of Europe’s similar demographic woes, governments should consider seeking policies that are aimed at viewing immigrants as people that can contribute not only their labour, but also become part of the fabric of their cities.
When given the chance and respect they deserve, immigrant communities are more than capable of positively influencing neighbourhoods; especially with the right government policies in place. A good example of this is The CityStar Neighborhood Management Program in Berlin. This program has proven that socially inclusive policies help to revive downtrodden neighbourhoods. Recognized by the EU as a Regio Star award winner, it takes into account the needs and abilities of neighbourhood city councils, many of these councils being immigrant groups, which work together to complete revitalization projects (REGIO STARS 2013 Winner). This is surely a good start.
The economic benefits are even more apparent. Studies of the economic benefits of welcoming immigrants are plentiful in the US as well as in Europe. In a 2014 article published in The Guardian, Robert Chote, the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility said letting more immigrants into the UK “does tend to produce a more beneficial picture for the public purse.” Chote told the Treasury select committee: “because they’re more likely to be working age, they’re more likely to be paying taxes and less likely to have relatively large sums of money spent on them for education, for long-term care, for healthcare, for pension expenditure” (Mason 2014). Although these types of statements are numerous, immigrant groups are often used as scapegoats by politicians.
Too often, immigrants are accused of taking jobs, not creating them. Many nationalist governments are claiming this; research, however, has proven otherwise.
In many ways, comparing the United States to Europe may not be as easy as comparing apples to apples. However, these developed regions do experience many of the same phenomena. Immigration has long been an integral part of the experience of America; Europe is catching up. Maybe it is time to draw on each other’s experiences, embrace the people that long to live in our communities, and help each other scrub off the rust of our once great cities.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of The Euroculturer.
What is it that reflects the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana the most? It is the ‘red pickup truck’. In my very first picture of Indianapolis, I captured this favourite car of the ‘typical Indian resident’. I was wondering, why is it so popular here? My American classmates explained to me that it’s like with “Hoosier values”. Indeed, this explanation did not help me at all. But then I had a chance to watch the political campaign ads of candidates running for the office of Governor of Indiana and finally figured out this mystery of Indiana’s culture. John Gregg, a Democratic candidate, explains: “To hold ‘Hoosier values’ means to respect hard work, personal responsibility and faith. These values draw the Indiana community together, from church on Sunday morning until the basketball court on Friday night”. This is the essence of the local people: Hoosiers.
Indianapolis: I would say a ‘typical American city’ where everyone has a car, historical monuments are not really historical (at least in comparison with our European standards), and people are very friendly. There is always a smile whenever you meet someone. Indianapolis brings the best of American culture. It is home to the internationally renowned Indianapolis Motor Speedway (advice for students coming for the Autumn semester – do not miss the last race, “Indy 500”, at the end of August). Indianapolis offers numerous museums. Do you love fine art? You have to visit Indianapolis Museum of Art with a great collection of European, as well as American, painters and much more. Do you want to return to your childhood? You shouldn’t miss the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – the largest children’s museum in the world. Do you want to explore the history of the Native Americans? The Eiteljorg Museum is the right place for you.
DO NOT MISS!
– Pumpkin pie, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, real American steak;
– Travelling to Chicago for a 10 US$ return ticket with the Greyhound bus company;
– Every Thursday student night in bar Howl at the Moon (1 US$ beer + live music)
IUPUI is a well-known university across the United States, especially due to its School of Medicine which has one of the largest student bodies in the country. For MA Euroculture students, IUPUI offers a variety of subjects from different departments of the School of Liberal Arts. As far as I know, Euroculture students remain faithful to the departments of Political Science, Sociology, Communication Studies, and World Languages and Cultures. The university facilities are excellent! But considering the amount of money American students pay for a year at the university, it is understandable.
It takes you a few weeks to understand that American classes are far different from European ones. Here is the essence of American success: productive discussion, participation in class, and critical thinking. American students are used to expressing their opinions, so you are expected to talk a lot. If I believed that the only way to gain knowledge was via memorising facts, I was completely wrong. Graduate classes are pretty demanding; you have to work hard throughout the whole semester. In general, graduate students have a regular job while studying, which is why their classes start at 6pm at the earliest. Local students have a lot of experience to share; for every class they work 100 % and beyond. The best you can do to combat your student culture shock is to get involved, jump out of your comfort zone, and make yourself known.
However, American students do not travel much or do not travel at all (many of my classmates have never left the state of Indiana), but at the same time they are very friendly, helpful and open to international students. They seem to be very interested in talking about different cultures, do not hesitate to invite you to a Thanksgiving party, and offer to drive you anywhere you need (because they are afraid of local public urban transport).
Ludmila Vávrová, Olomouc/Indiana Correspondent
Ludmila is from the Czech Republic, and studied Economics and Management for B.Sc. and European Diplomacy for M.Sc. She studied Euroculture in Palacky University, Olomouc and the University of Strasbourg. She is currently doing a research track in Indianapolis with an interest in finding image/word arguments during the 2012 presidential election campaigns in the US and in France. Ludmila is a girl with a dream, mostly involving Czech beer.