The Back Office: New Students

alb-pic

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

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My life as an IP intern?

The Euroculturer has invited Florian Fritsch, IP 2013 Krakow intern to ask what it’s like to be an IP intern.

florian profile smaller Florian Fritsch│ florian_fritsch@hotmail.fr

Q1. Hello, Florian. How did you become an intern with the IP 2013 Krakow team? How long did the internship last?

Hello! Well, last summer I found an interesting internship in a different field but they eventually turned the offer down, mentioning financial difficulties. A few days later Juan (from the IP team in Krakow) called me wondering if I was still available for the job, as I had applied for it a few months before. Project management is a professional area in which I would love to work after I graduate from MA Euroculture so I said yes! Let’s say the team was quite lucky to get me in the end!!!

Q2. What kind of work did you do as an IP intern?

Everything was focused around project management. My main responsibility was the Career Day of the IP 2013: organising the day, contacting and inviting people and professionals to the event, logistics, brainstorming, etc. I was also in contact with students, answering questions or queries they had, and I contributed most of the information on the ‘practical info’ section of the blog or the vignettes (the IP newsletter). I was able to bring my own experiences of last year’s IP in Bilbao, Spain, looking at what was successful and enjoyed and what could have been improved. I was in charge of finding the volunteers to assist the students during their stay in Krakow, looking for ways to reduce cost in food, and a lot of other things (including going out in the evenings and other surprises that I won’t reveal now – it’s top secret!).

Q3. Can you describe your day as an IP intern?

My day started very early in the morning, around 9am, with a cup of coffee with Juan. Then we went up the hill to Przegorzały where ‘the castle’ (as it is commonly known in Krakow) and the Institute of European Studies is situated (students will understand what I mean when they are in Krakow). Mornings usually began with a meeting with the team about the IP. This was sometimes followed by a ‘brainstorm session’ in order to bring in new ideas to make this IP the best one ever! Afterward I completed administrative work such as looking for information on the internet, calling people, meeting with people, and exchanging ideas with other members of the team. We sometimes had fun with a little office basketball game (but, to be honest, we were all quite bad at it).

“Mornings usually began with a meeting with the team about the IP. This was sometimes followed by a ‘brainstorm session’ in order to bring in new ideas to make this IP the best one ever!”

Q4. How was working with other members of the IP team?

Great! Amazing! Splendid! It really feels good when you work with people like Karo, Juan and Luc. They are really helpful and it was a lot of fun to be around them.

Q5. What skills/qualities do you think an IP intern needs?

I think self-management is the main thing. You have a lot of responsibilities and the team is not always going to be looking over your shoulder at what you’re doing. You need to set your own goals and agenda. Communication wise, well, you need to have easy contact with people, trust yourself and your English language skills, and you must to be motivated about your work and be willing to do work for students you don’t know.

“You have a lot of responsibilities and the team is not always going to be looking over your shoulder at what you’re doing. You need to set your own goals and agenda.”

Q6. What skills/qualities do you think you have acquired during your time as an IP intern?

I have two. Firstly, I learned how to manage myself, set my own goals and deadlines. I’m much more organised now. Secondly, I feel more comfortable contacting new people, and I really enjoy meeting potential partners or sponsors.

Q7. What’s your best memory from the internship?

Probably my visit to the French Consulate. At first I went there just to get some contacts for the Career Day, I didn’t expect to participate in a meeting at all. I was on my way back from the gym, not really dressed in a formal way. The interesting thing was that, despite my embarrassment, I learned a lot about diplomacy and partnership during this 45 minute meeting. To add another one, maybe the incident when Juan broke the back window of his car while trying to park, I don’t know!

“Despite my embarrassment, I learned a lot about diplomacy and partnership…”

Q8. What’s your worst memory from the internship?

I don’t think there are any bad memories.

Q9. Would you recommend the IP internship to other MA Euroculture students?

Oh yes. I learnt a lot and really felt like a member of the team, not just a trainee who gets asked to bring coffee and make photocopies. You also learn a lot about project management in a practical setting, working on a serious conference of which you already have some experience. Finally, I think you also learn a lot about Euroculture.

Q10. You lived in Krakow for two semesters. How was it living there? Tell us what you liked most about Krakow.

Yes, I spent a year in Krakow. Krakow is a lovely city, probably the second most beautiful city in the world after my hometown of Strasbourg (who said I was being super subjective?!). It has some really beautiful architecture. It is also a dynamic student city. It can be really cold and snowy during the winter, but the weather is very nice in June when you can enjoy the sun on the Main Square with a beer or do some tanning on the shore of the river near Wawel. There are also a lot of bars, pubs and clubs with €1 beers and vodka shots – but be careful or you might have trouble following all the interesting activities we prepared for you during the IP!

“The weather is very nice in June when you can enjoy the sun on the Main Square with a beer or do some tanning on the shore of the river near Wawel.”

Thank you very much for answering our questions. We heard that you will be in Krakow for the IP to help the team. Good luck and have lots of Euroculture fun!

Thank you very much for having me, I’m looking forward to seeing the students at the IP in June!

Have you met the IP 2013 Krakow organisers? If you haven’t, it’s never too late! Resistance, Resilience & Adaptation: Getting Ready for the IP

Florian Fritsch, Contributing Writer

Florian is from France and started the MA Euroculture programme in 2011. He graduated from the University of Strasbourg with a BA in Applied Modern Languages in English and Japanese. He spent his first Euroculture semester in Strasbourg, second and third semesters in Krakow, and is now back in Strasbourg to write his Master Thesis to win the ALBA thesis prize. His main focus of studies is the role of sport in European identity and the influence of American culture on the changing sporting habits of young Europeans.

Finding an Alumnus (1) – A Journey to Moscow

Pushkin Square, Moscow

Eunjin Jeong │eunjin.lynn@gmail.com

To my surprise, I was a bit tongue-tied when I first met Alex in front of Pushkin’s statue in Pushkin Square, Moscow on a Sunday afternoon. He was emitting aura which made me forget what I had prepared to say. What am I doing in Moscow? Unfortunately, it seemed like I couldn’t remember why I was there. This is embarrassing. I wanted to sound like a real journalist but apparently it was not working. I just wished I could fool him for the next two hours.

The timing Alex appeared in my life couldn’t have been better. Six weeks before, during the Euroculture Intensive Programme (IP) in Bilbao, Spain, I was anxiously preparing to start an online magazine, The Euroculturer, in the MA Euroculture community. I was also looking for ways to bring alumni back to Euroculture. I heard Alex speak on Career Day and thought that his story could be a great example to many Euroculture students wishing to expand their horizons during their studies. What would be the best way to cover him? I wanted to find out something other than what he already presented on Career Day. Then I got an idea. After the IP, I contacted Alex to ask if I could meet him in Moscow. A few weeks later, in the middle of August, I found myself in Moscow, lost in Cyrillic but full of spirit.

Alex playing Bass in Kilt

On the way to the restaurant from Pushkin square, as I relaxed a bit, Alex gave me a few details of his life. He studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.  Scottish men wearing skirts came up in conversation and he told me that he also had a kilt. He wore it for various occasions but mainly in his ceilidh band, Achtung Ceilidh, where he played bass for a few years. He has played guitar for about 15 years and music has always been a big part of his life. Cool.

At the restaurant, Alex ordered for both of us, my Russian not being so hot. I wondered how good his Russian was and he said it was functional to the extent that he could communicate with his Russian colleagues. When asked why he chose to work in Russia, he told me that he had worked in Moscow before he started the MA Euroculture programme. He hit it off with the city and that’s why he decided to come back when he got a job offer. I asked about his current job at BKC International House Moscow where he has a mouthful of a title: Executive Centre Assistant Director of Studies. The job is a healthy mix of teaching, management and training teachers. It’s the variety that makes it, he said.

When the food arrived, I asked more questions about his Euroculture years. He started Euroculture in 2009 at Uppsala University. Outside of the classroom, he was hired as International Secretary of the Uppsala Association of International Affairs, helping to organise weekly public lectures. He joined the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA) just before moving to the University of Deusto in Bilbao for the second semester. In the EMA he was selected as course representative for Euroculture and was given the chance to participate in the Madrid General Assembly and Communications Conference in Bordeaux. After joining EMA, he wrote regularly for their in-house magazine, EMANATE, and worked closely with the EMA communications team. The idea of his most recent project, Human[i]ties Perspective, was born out of this network, but also from a joint initiative of the EMA and OCEANS Network called Realise It.

In Bilbao where the Night Marathon took place

Our plates were almost empty when his research interests came up. While keeping himself busy with EMA activities, Alex found the topic of cultural diplomacy interesting. He wrote his IP paper on town twinning, a form of cultural cooperation between two cities, which he further developed in his Master’s thesis. He completed an internship with an EU-funded project, Monitors of Culture, hosted by the University of Deusto, on the role of cultural observatories in Europe in the future. Talking about Bilbao reminded me of his charity marathon which impressed me so much − Forrest Gump being one of my favourite movies – that he had spoken about on Career Day during the IP. Rather enthusiastically, I asked about his marathon and he told me the story in detail. Back in 2010, Alex and a friend of his, George, decided to raise money for charity by running the Bilbao Night Marathon. He’s a passionate runner so it was not intended only for charity, but also for fun. The marathon was a great success and they raised over 4,000 US$ for charity: to help build a well in northern Ethiopia. The support from his Euroculture colleagues, both financial and emotional, was amazing, he said. His charity work, highlighted by the marathon in Bilbao, was one of the reasons why Alex was selected as 2012 EMA Star. Other reasons include his dedication to the EMA communications team and his role in Human[i]ties Perspective, an annual two-day conference with which he has been actively involved since 2011.

Before we parted, Alex said that Euroculture, which distinguishes itself from other Master’s programmes mostly by its mobility aspect, could also be a ‘platform’ for the wider world once you start to see how to get involved. I asked if joining the EMA was one of the critical moments of his life. The word ‘critical’ seemed to entertain him fairly but he soon admitted that it was pretty important because it widened his Euroculture experience and eventually brought Human[i]ties Perspective into his life, not to mention an amazing group of friends from all over the world. Cool, I thought and wished that more Euroculturers would take advantage of what EMA could offer. Then we both looked down at our watches. He had to interview some new staff at work shortly and I had no more questions left. It was time to go.

Finding an Alumnus (2) – The journey continues

Eunjin Jeong, Editor-in-chief

Eunjin is from South Korea and studied Education for her BA. She began MA Euroculture in October 2011 in the University of Göttingen, later studied in the University of Strasbourg, did a research track in Uppsala University and currently finishing her MA thesis in Strasbourg. Her research interests lie in finding ways for diaspora groups to feel as ‘citizens at heart’ in host countries. Eunjin is a part-time realist and a full-time idealist.

Winning ALBA Thesis Prize : ”Try to use Chekhov’s Gun”

Lora Markova (2012 ALBA Thesis Prize Winner)

The Euroculturer interviews Lora Markova, the winner of the 2012 ALBA (Annual Liesbeth Brouwer Award) Thesis Prize. We all saw her being awarded with the prize during the Gala dinner at the Intensive Programme in Bilbao this summer. We know that the award is a great asset for one’s academic future, not to mention a reward for all the tears shed while struggling with the Master’s thesis.

11 questions to answer…

Q1. Hello, Lora. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

–       Hello, The Euroculturer! I come from Bulgaria and I completed MA Euroculture with an Erasmus Mundus Grant at Deusto University, Bilbao as my home university and Georg-August University, Göttingen as my host university between October 2010 and March 2012. During my third semester I conducted a research track at Pune University, India – a great opportunity for intercultural interaction, and theoretical and empirical studies. My research interests focus on (new) media arts, interactivity, modes of contemporary spectatorship and transmedia, transculturality and cross-cultural exchange of aesthetic codes and cultural repertoires.

Q2. What did you study for your Bachelor’s degree and where? Did your previous studies help you when you were writing your Master’s thesis? If so, in what way?

–       I graduated with a BA in Animation Cinema and Visual Arts from the New Bulgarian University, Sofia with a Socrates/Erasmus exchange in Semiotics at the University of Torino, Italy. After this rather practical training in creative arts I shifted towards art theory and graduated with a MA in Media Culture and a MA in Arts Management from Maastricht University, the Netherlands. Within my studies I carried out internships at the Netherlands Media Art Institute (NIMk) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN), also in Amsterdam, and a Blue-Book traineeship at the European Commission, Brussels. Living in different European cities and shifting cultural contexts triggered my interest to explore Europe as a cultural project. Thus, Euroculture was a unique opportunity to revisit my knowledge of arts and media in a European context and to enrich my research scope with intercultural communication perspectives. In this sense, my previous experience was helpful in writing my thesis, but gaining novel theoretical and methodological knowledge and ‘Eurocompetences’ was also central for my research.

Q3. What is the ‘Euroculture approach’ that the jury of ALBA thesis prize emphasise when grading a Master’s thesis? (It is written on the ALBA thesis prize webpage of the Euroculture website that a ‘Euroculture approach’ is important in order to be awarded the prize.) Could you give us one or two examples, in your opinion?

–       I guess that the approach of a truly interdisciplinary programme as Euroculture involves conducting interdisciplinary research that reflects current European socio-political and cultural dynamics and deals with Europe as an entity always in an on-going process.

Q4. What does “approaching the related problems in an interdisciplinary manner” mean (as also seen on the webpage)? They said it’s important in order to be awarded the prize. What is an example of ‘interdisciplinary manner’? How do you think it applied in your thesis?

–       I understand the interdisciplinary manner as approaching your research problem from multiple (theoretical) perspectives, overcoming disciplinary boundaries and establishing a ‘third space’ between academic fields. Within my thesis I explored transculturality (as a philosophical paradigm and a cultural praxis) in between cultural studies, film and media studies, art history, reception studies, sociology, human geography, post-colonial perspectives and psychology. What I find helpful in this direction is to study carefully the various texts and theories suggested by the Euroculture lecturers and to conduct in-depth research on your chosen topic.

Q5.  Who sits on the jury of the prize?

–       Academic staff from each of the European universities in the consortium, I believe.

Q6. Could you please tell us about your experience working with your two supervisors? Were they helpful? Professors are usually extremely busy, but how did you managed to get useful advices from them? Do you have any tips on this?

–       Of course, it was very helpful receiving feedback from Dr. Asier Altuna and Dr. Lars Klein, as their remarks could indicate to what extent I had expressed and managed my research objectives and outcomes. Indeed, tutors are very busy, and thus it is necessary to be enthusiastic about your own research project, revise your text periodically and question your supervisors and yourself as to whether deeper insights can be achieved.

Q7. When you were writing your thesis, how did you deal with ups and downs in your mood?

–       For me writing my thesis was quite an immersive experience and I devoted my time exclusively to it. In order to cope with procrastination I tried to exclude other activities. Still, after finishing each chapter I would take a day off for travelling and meeting friends so that I could create some space between the text and myself before proceeding further. What helped me in terms of time management was to think of writing my thesis as just writing three or four very good IP papers!

Q8. When did you know that you were going to be awarded the ALBA prize?

–       Shortly before the award ceremony (during the Gala dinner of the IP), or three months after submitting my thesis.

Q9. Do students for whom English is not their native language have to get their Master’s thesis copy edited (or, at least, proof read) before they submit it? Did you?

–       That sounds like a good idea! While writing, I shared and discussed the paper only with my supervisors, appointing specific time to edit each chapter before submitting it in order to minimize possible mistakes. Still, I guess it might be effective to use external help when dealing with such a volume of text.

Q10. What are the three most important things to keep in mind when writing a good thesis, do you think?

–       First, it is necessary to choose a topic that you care deeply about. Thus, spending several months on your thesis can be satisfying and interesting for you. It is also helpful to start the research process early and to communicate your ideas to a broader audience (e.g. already during the Intensive Programme, conferences and workshops). For example, I presented one of my case studies at a Human(i)ties Perspectives conference in Hamburg University in 2011, which was an opportunity to gain impressions on the peer reception of my research. Moreover, writing on issues that you are passionate about will allow you to use and expand your thesis after graduation. Last month I participated in the Young Cultural Policy Researchers Forum within the ENCATC Annual Conference, Networked Culture, at Goldsmiths College in London which is another platform for knowledge exchange. I mention these events as potentially valuable opportunities for a greater range of Euroculture students.

Next, I would say try to use “Chekhov’s Gun”. As you probably know, the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov formulated the dramatic axiom claiming that if there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, the gun should be fired in a later act; otherwise it should not be displayed at all. In this sense, everything you mention in your thesis should be for a reason. Thus, it is helpful to delineate your scope by excluding certain topics and to keep some research questions for further studies.

Finally, it is important to be familiar with the ALBA criteria, as they signify academic excellence, and to consider which topic can be innovative in the context of the existing Euroculture titles. At the same time, I think one should not worry about any award while writing as it is beyond the knowledge of the students whose paper will be nominated. For instance, with regards to the high quality and diversity of approaches, I was able to imagine that at least five of my friends and former classmates could have qualified for the prize as well. Thus, I find it as relevant to establish your own standard – let’s say, write in a manner you would like to be published. Then, try to turn the whole process of working on your thesis into an intellectually rewarding experience and hopefully it will be ‘awarding’ as well.

Q11. What is your plan for the future?

–       As a member of the Union of Bulgarian Artists I have been involved in several art and cultural projects in the last few months, and so my intention is to continue in this direction. I will keep you updated, and thank you, The Euroculturer, for inviting me to share my experiences as a Euroculturer.

Thank you very much for your answers, Lora. We wish you the best with everything you do!

Take Action – A Common Graduation Ceremony for Euroculturers

Anne Kurzweg | anne.kurzweg@gmail.com

It was during the Intensive Programme in Bilbao when the thought “Let’s have a common graduation!” came up. The idea arose in the middle of a process that tied us, the 2011-2013 MA Euroculture students, closer together but which, at the same time, marked already half-time on the Master programme’s clock. In the middle of making new contacts and reviving friendships from the first semester, we felt that the IP was a truly unique occasion to get together on the way to achieving our joint degree – one that would not come back. It is hard to say – maybe the felicitous gala dinner gave the key incentive for the idea, or maybe it was the melancholy that came with saying goodbye to so many marvellous people… Maybe, as we move between countries and universities, personal contacts become more important than places. And almost naturally, we strive for a common, dignified closing point, after all the effort put into this prestigious Master programme.

The discussion about the how-when-where that had barely begun during the IP shifted to our Facebook group in June. By the end of July, 55 of the approximately 80 2011-2013 Euroculture students had participated in or read the entries, and about 30 of them had actively ‘liked’ the overall idea. One of the first issues discussed was the location – where should a common graduation ceremony be held? There were proposals reaching from Krakow to Hawaii and from Groningen to Uppsala. Another of the first concerns was about additional costs for travelling and accommodation, and many wondered if there was some funding possibility as was the case for the IP. The motivation to set up a common graduation ceremony had started to materialise in concrete issues.

The first joint Euroculture graduation
(12-13 October 2012 in Göttingen)

Surprisingly, we have come to know only recently that preparations for the first joint “Euroculture Alumni Day and Graduation Ceremony” had already started at that time. Unnoticed by most of us, a news article appeared in the Euroculture group on the EMA (Erasmus Mundus Students and Alumni Association) website at the end of July, inviting Euroculture graduates, alumni and their relatives and friends to the event. The first joint Euroculture graduation, which was held 12-13 October in the Göttingen, was primarily organized for Göttingen home and host students, but was also open to students from the other universities. So it gathered graduates from the years 2008- 2012 and represented a meeting of former Euroculture students at the same time. The approximately 90 participants and guests from all over the world enjoyed highlights like a common dinner, certificate awarding ceremony and a casual get-together with snacks and drinks. While travelling and accommodation costs were not covered, the university offered to make reservations with the university discount.

When I started writing this article, I believed it would be with the mission to get a common graduation ceremony on the way. What it does now is to announce that a dream that many of us shared has already come true. Really, Prof. Dr. Tamcke from the University of Göttingen seems to sum up our feelings perfectly when he says: “If you finish your studies it’s not a mechanical thing alone. You need something also to feel that it’s a special point of your life and you need to celebrate it a bit”. In the end, the joint graduation ceremony and the alumni network are those characteristics of the MA programme that have the ability to carry the Euroculture spirit beyond its physical limits: staying in contact, keep meeting other Euroculturers, keep sharing ideas about Europe.

A last question remains: does all this mean that we can actually count on a graduation ceremony for us next year? Or one in some years time at least? Well, it looks like it! The University of Göttingen writes on its homepage: “Euroculture Göttingen would like to thank the participants for coming and helping us set up a wonderful tradition!” and announces that the event will be held on a yearly basis from now on. It’s just that… have we ever heard officially of such a ceremony for us? Let’s make sure, just in case. Take it as a mission to keep talking about the graduation ceremony in any possible Euroculture context, ask at your universities about it, tell all the Euroculture students and staff, and, if you like, even try to get involved in the organisation of the event. There’s no offer without a request for it, and we are here to make things happen the way we like them!

News article on EMA website: community.em-a.eu/networks/groups/course_48/news/news.65

University of Göttingen’s report about the “First Joint Euroculture Alumni Day and Graduation Ceremony”: www.uni-goettingen.de/de/414291.html

Videoclip on Youtube “First Joint Euroculture Alumni Day and Graduation Ceremony”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqJnm64oTvE

Anne Kurzweg, Contributing Writer

Anne has a BA degree in Social Sciences and studied MA Euroculture in the University of Deusto, Bilbao and Uppsala University. Currently, she is an intern at the European Capital of Culture office in San Sebastian. Minority languages, cross-border cooperation and peace studies are some of her favourite subjects, and she recently got absorbed by the idea of social transformation through civic participation… Yes, she is one of those do-gooders.

Missing IP 2012 ─ We’ll Always Have… Bilbao?

I come from a big city in Pakistan but I enjoy roaming around in this small, accessible town. Don’t get me wrong: I’d be the last person to categorise Bilbao as ‘provincial’, but it is, for some amazing reason, free of the worries of life in a big town. The people are happier, the air quality’s superb, and the atmosphere is calm… And slow.

Syed Rashid Munir | srmunir@gmail.com

We’ll always have…Bilbao?

Humphrey Bogart is rolling over in his grave, but I have no qualms in saying so. Bilbao, after all, has been my home away from home for well over a year now, and while it has tested me to the edges of my sanity in one way or another, I have some very good memories of the city. Not only have I made good friends, both in and outside the MA Euroculture programme, but I’ve also met some amazing people and shared wonderful memories with them.

Now, if I were to ask someone to name one thing they know about Bilbao, they would, more often than not, end up mentioning Asier… no wait, sorry, the Guggenheim Museum. But let’s forget about the Guggenheim for a minute, there are plenty of brochures for that. Yes, it is bizarrely striking and there’s nothing else compared to it in the world (let alone in Bilbao); and yes, it is filled with modern masterpieces, which I don’t understand at all but if they float your boat, well… But the beauty of the city is skin deep. Take a walk by the mesmerizing riverside at night, get lost in the cool, breezy streets of the Old Town, hike your way up to the small hills surrounding the city, shop your heart out on Gran Via, or just simply relax and have some pintxos (tapas, but way more fancy) with some delectable wine in one of the eateries near Plaza Indautxu; Bilbao will keep you entertained. Add to that the lovely and hospitable Basque people, who will end up walking with you to the other side of town just to show you the way, and I think Bilbao’s got it pretty much covered.

In the summer, the beaches just on the outskirts of the city are abuzz with hundreds of people who rush to beat the summer sun. The winters in Bilbao, however, are notoriously wet. Keeping umbrellas, plural, handy is a must since the wind will break the feeble, Chinese ones someday. But you will need to shop at the Chinese outlets again, because Bilbao is a bit of a pricey town. The living cost is just a wee bit on the upper side, but if you keep track of sales (and discount coupons handed out at the university photocopy shop, so they say), you shall survive.

Loads of seafood, all kinds of meat, some excellent wine, fresh bread, corn cakes, and the sweet-but-makes-you-gassy-afterwards-coke-and-wine drink, Kalimotxo, make up a large part of the cuisine. The city has its fair share of fast-food chains and kebab places as well. No matter if you’re looking for a fancy cafeteria, a romantic restaurant, a trendy and up-beat coffee joint, a loud alternative bar, or just a plain old, cozy lunch parlour, you can find just about everything in the city. The old people here, surprisingly, are the ‘happening’ crowd. They go out all day and all night long, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The young ones end up buying cheap drinks either from the bars in the Old Town or from the grocery shops, and are happy with being loud and rowdy on the streets, especially after Athletic Bilbao’s won (or lost) a game (the city’s crazy about its football team). Middle-aged people mostly stay at home with their kids and watch TV. The big shopping centres are outside the town, on certain days there are local farmers’ markets in the neighbourhoods, and on 21 December the entire city gets drunk on the streets (Santo Tomas). Even the professors come into class on that day, are shocked to see the students there, and say “What are you guys doing in here? Go drink and get a life! YOLO!”. True story…

Coming to Bilbao from Pakistan without knowing a single word of Spanish was, if I’m being kind, a baptism by gasoline-fueled fire. A lot of stress, frustration, guesswork, smiles, pointing, conjecture, and kind (and offensive) hand gestures got me through the initial months before I mercifully learnt some words in Spanish class. In cafés and bars people understand some English, but don’t get your hopes up. Tienes que saber español para hacer cualquier cosa (read no Spanish, no nothing). Otherwise, you’d end up in some ‘situations’, like me. My first week in Bilbao, I went out with my roommate. I was keeping to myself, still recovering from the language-shock, when a cute girl at the bar came up and asked, “Como te llamas?” (What’s your name?). I, high as if with the elation of seeing this Basque beauty in front of me, and not from the pot in the air, replied, “Muy bien” (very good). Sometimes, on sleepless nights, I wonder what would have happened if my name really was that…

I come from a big city in Pakistan (Lahore, more than 11 million residents) but I enjoy roaming around in this small, accessible town. Don’t get me wrong: I’d be the last one to categorise Bilbao as ‘provincial’, but it is, for some amazing reason, free of the worries of life in a big town. The people are happier, the air quality’s superb (this from personal experience, after living in Madrid for three months), and the atmosphere is calm… And slow… And lazy too, sometimes. But we won’t get into that. Plus, being a Pakistani here poses its own sets of challenges with the language, the culture and the people, and I have learnt much about inter-cultural communication and interaction here, even though the initial months were quite tough, at a personal level.

As far as being part of MA Euroculture is concerned, I’ve enjoyed the programme a lot throughout the year and, when there have been tough and sad days, I’ve had the good fortune of some excellent company from my instructors and colleagues. I miss all the people I met during the fantastic (and exhausting) Intensive Programme in June, and I hope I will get to meet them again in their successful careers, if not at a common graduation.

So, whether you’re strolling by the beautiful riverside, taking the cable car up to Artxanda for breathtaking aerial views of the city, walking around in the Old Town (Casco Viejo), or just mapping the roads in shopping areas on Gran Via, Bilbao has something to offer everyone. Bilbao, then, is a bit of an acquired taste. At a first glance, it may seem ugly, uncouth and rough around the edges, but when you’ve lived here for a while and experienced the true soul of the city, it will take your heart away.

So, here’s looking at you, kid…

If you liked Rashid’s article, also read Europe: A Short Story

Syed Rashid Munir, Bilbao Correspondent                        

Hailing from Lahore, Pakistan, Rashid has a B.Sc. in International Relations. He is studying MA Euroculture under the cooperation window programme of the European Commission which allows him to stay at the University of Deusto, Bilbao throughout the programme . His research interests lie in post-colonialism, sub-altern studies, cultural and critical theory, and citizenship regimes in Europe. Apart from his love of writing fiction, travelling, and exotic animals, Rashid daydreams in his spare time about a job in diplomacy, and is a big Ingmar Bergman fan.

Greetings From Sichuan: Five Things I Miss Most About Göttingen

Lili Jiang | ljiang1120@gmail.com

I am a Master’s student from Sichuan University, China, majoring in Applied Linguistics. Last year, I was lucky enough to get an Erasmus Mundus scholarship. When I got a chance to choose a host university, I chose the University of Göttingen as my host university and MA Euroculture programme as my main course.

I have to tell you that I spent an amazing 10 months in Göttingen. Now that I am back in Sichuan University, I am missing Göttingen every single day. Here are five things that I miss most about the city:

1. Inter-cultural spiritual discussion every Tuesday night

Göttingen is such a spiritual spot, I realized, as it offered me enough time and energy to be able to reflect and refresh myself every day while I was there. My German friends and I held an inter-cultural discussion every Tuesday night in order to reflect on the inter-cultural communication we experienced every day in Göttingen, and also to discuss how to advance our spiritual perception by developing ourselves and serving the local community. People from different cultural backgrounds came and we enjoyed tea or coffee together, while sharing various ideas with each other. The Tuesday night discussion is still carried on by friends who are still in Göttingen. Every now and then, I join them sitting in front of my computer using Skype from Sichuan.

2. Euroculture friends

I miss all my classmates, people from all over the world who were inspiring in their own ways. The most exciting experience among all, however, was the Euroculture Intensive Programme in Bilbao, despite the pressure from the work and presentations we had to prepare. Coming from China and having met many students from Asia in the Euroculture programme, I felt like Euroculture was collecting potential for the world by bridging the East and the West. I am truly grateful to have studied in this programme.

3. Local people in Göttingen

It’s always true that it’s the people that make the place. What I miss most are, again, the people back in Göttingen. I visited lots of locals in Göttingen when I was there, and they offered me their best gift: friendship and love. Every time I went back to Göttingen after travelling to other European cities, I felt at home.

4. The Botanical Garden

Close to the city centre, you’ll find the Botanical Garden serving Persian tea. Best tea ever! My friends and I always went there for a nice chat or for a brunch. It’s another thing I fell in love with in Göttingen. It’s a small place, but you get everything you need around you and enough time to relax.

5. German class

I miss my German classes. The language classes the university offered were very helpful. I liked my German teachers and they really encouraged me to speak the language, even though I can barely continue a proper conversation for more than 10 minutes with a German person since I’ve come back to China.

Göttingen is such a cute place in Europe especially because it holds many sweet people. It’s always peaceful, which allows you to slow down your life, to study and to work. I am extremely thankful that I spent a year in Göttingen and that I found so many good friends, not to mention my own self, through the whole journey. I am hoping to visit Göttingen again next year. Prayers and love to all my friends back in Göttingen until then.

Lili Jiang, Goettingen Correspondent

Lili is from Sichuan, China and holds a Bachelor degree in Applied Linguistics from Sichuan University. She is a guest student of the MA Euroculture Programme in the University of Göttingen and has studied in New York and at Uppsala University. Currently she is working on her Master’s thesis related to the Baha’i Faith and Chinese language in Sichuan University. She enjoys meeting people from different cultural backgrounds and believes “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”.