In these fraught times with so much talk of borders, walls and divisions, it feels more important than ever to read widely. As someone who basically grew up in a bookstore, I have made it my lifelong goal to do this. However, when I reflect on my reading habits, I am struck by just how overrepresented Anglophone writers are in the list of books that I have read.
According to Goodreads, I read sixty-two books last year and just nine of those were books that had originally been published in a language other than English. While that figure is quite low, it still pales in comparison to the national US average. In the US, just 3% of the books sold across the country are works in translation. This number is considerably higher in Europe. However, it remains the case that certain voices are grossly overrepresented. This is why I have decided to challenge myself to read books from each of the 28 EU member states over the course of this year and share with you my musings and recommendations.
Since I am currently studying in Strasbourg, I thought it apt to start with some French literature. I will shy away from discussing the classics that you have all probably already heard of and would like to offer you four recommendations of contemporary works that have been translated into English.Continue reading “A Literary Tour of Europe: France”→
A small strip of land in the middle of the Mediterranean, 205 km off the Sicilian coast and 113 km away from Tunisia. Lampedusa, the southernmost point of Italy, has become popular in the recent years as the symbol of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Today, even if its name is no longer on the front pages, the island is still at the core of migration flows through the Central Mediterranean route and still serves as lifebuoy for many. According to statistics, the death tolls and number of arrivals have decreased in the past couple of years, but people continue to land in Lampedusa – and die in its surrounding sea. Estimations show that 2016 was the deadliest year, with 4,587 dead or missing at sea and 500 arriving in Italy by sea per day, compared to only 61 since June 2018 till today.
However, this is not a positive signal meaning that the Italian and European migration policies are giving the expected results. In fact, 19% of those who have tried to leave Africa last September died or went missing, a percentage that has never been registered before. Past scenarios in which the island, with its 6,000 Lampedusani, was hosting 10,000 people on its small territory are not likely to happen again. Lampedusa is not facing any serious problem in welcoming and hosting migrants in its hotspot, where their process for seeking international protection starts and where they normally spend just two days before being transferred to the mainland.
However, the migratory phenomenon is still profoundly affecting Lampedusa and those who live there. Different people and places around the isle can show what living on an island on the European border means, with all its peculiarities and paradoxes. Continue reading “Lampedusa: A Tragedy with a Plot Twist”→
Depending on the university you attend, you either have just started your Euroculture journey, or you are about to embark on it. Surely the coordinators of the programme have sent you some explanations and instructions already (and they will send you many, many more, so brace yourself for the next two years). But don’t you wish you had that older brother, that friend from the previous year who could tell you what it is really like to cram European Law at night at the library, to understand the culinary culture of your new host country, and to find a place that does not rip you off for printing your thesis? Here comes the good news. Your older siblings exist – if not biologically, then at least euroculturally – and we have asked them for their best pieces of advice.
Learn to pack light
When I spoke to Rumen (Euroculture 11-13), a Bulgarian who studied in Sweden and France, the first thing that came to his mind is the skill of packing light. (for more tips, go to http://atomic-temporary-40654372.wpcomstaging.com/2012/10/14/miss-help-packing/) “It could happen that you spend three or even four semesters in different countries. Putting your whole life together in a 20-kg suitcase is an art,” he says. Radostina (Euroculture 11-13), who studied at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, recommends bringing formal attire. “Go to at least one gasque,” she advises future Uppsala students on the traditional dinners in the Swedish university town.
Get ready for the intercultural ride of your lives
With packing comes moving, and Rumen emphasizes that he regards this as the most enriching part of the MA Euroculture programme. Learning to adapt quickly and making the most of the new environment is vital, he believes: “Brace yourselves for the intercultural ride of your lives!” Rumen urges new students to make the most of the opportunities they are presented with, even though moving between countries is scary. Getting out and seizing every day of the short time you spend in your host countries is the thing to do. Alexandra (Euroculture 12-14), an American euroculturer in Germany and the Netherlands, agrees. “It is key to make sure you don’t spend all of your time on Skype with friends and family back home,” she remembers.
Large parts of your life will be spent in the library – acquaint yourself with it
With a programme as stressful and demanding as MA Euroculture, you will sooner or later need a social net to fall back on. Befriending the people around you is her advice. Having a coffee in one of the cozy cafés of Uppsala, Udine, or Göttingen might also spark good ideas for class projects and later lead to a relationship that lasts longer than your study time. Peter (Euroculture 11-13), a Dutch student who has been from Holland to Spain, and then to Costa Rica and back, even suggests securing a friend on the first day – a friend with library access: “Be sure to have all library services accessible to you, you are going to need them a lot!” As long as your administration with the university and library is not taken care of yet, you are bound to fall behind. Do not miss out on the library introductions, and learn how to use their resources, which probably are handled in different systems at all of the different MA Euroculture universities.
Make friends – also with professors
Alexandra has felt that professors are approachable and therefore emphasises the importance of keeping in touch with them. “It will also help alleviate a lot of the stress,” she adds. Networking is also important during your two years as an MA Euroculture student. “Taking every opportunity to meet with alumni, professors, fellow students, and anyone else expressing interest in the programme is beneficial to one’s success as a Euroculture graduate,” she suggests.
Learn your host country’s language
Try to learn the language of your host country. You might not become a fluent speaker in the short time you are there, but it is an excellent opportunity not to wander around in complete oblivion and accidentally get on the wrong bus because you cannot read the signs. Multilingualism is common among MA Euroculture students, and most of your classmates will speak three languages. Be part of the linguistic environment, and make sure you have that other language your future employer might be looking for. “Don’t tell yourself: ‘I’ll only be here for one semester.’ You never know where you’ll end up,” Rumen says. Once you establish a basis in Swedish, Basque, or Dutch, you can easily learn more of the language later on.
Radostina points to modern technology as a means of making your life easier. Get involved on Facebook and join the relevant groups for your university. You might be amazed what you can get from there: furniture and bikes, mentors and parties, study groups and job hunts. Join the student unions, and turn to them when in doubt. Often you can get things cheaper there, like print outs for those many theses that you will submit.
Take care of yourself
Noodles and toasts were fine when you were an undergraduate, but not so much now that most of us have passed the age of 21. Olga (Euroculture 11-13), a Russian Euroculturer, stresses the importance of living healthy to survive the programme. “Work out and eat healthy!” she says. Getting sick is not an option, Peter adds. “As long as you are not in a casket, drag yourself to university,” he says. Let go of your illusions, and try to prepare the social contacts you have had so far about how busy you will be, Peter warns with a twinkle in his eye: “You are a Euroculture student now. This means you will have very little time. Many relationships will not survive this test.” You will meet your friends at airports and feel like you are constantly speed-dating your partner.
Make the most of it
As frightening as this sounds, all Euroculturers unanimously declare that while you should work hard to stay on top of things, you should also make time to play: go out for drinks with your classmates, take part in university events, and enjoy the unique experiences your cities offer. You might never be able to come back – max out the opportunities.
Helen was part of the Euroculturer Cohort 2011-2013 and studied Euroculture in the University of Göttingen (DE) and Uppsala University (SW) where she was sufficiently “swedified” to today serve as the Country Manager of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Germany.
Her interests are film, literature, the Eurovision Song Contest (and not ashamed to admit it), and everything printed – even TV magazines. She’s also fascinated with communication, marketing and commercials. And of course, her interests include the Swedish Royal Family.