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

Prof. Janny de Jong
Prof. Janny de Jong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you. It was really nice talking to you.

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

Director Norbert ter Hall: “That word ‘should’ makes me nervous”

“I never think: ‘I still have to put a gay character in.’” – Director Norbert ter Hall on his new European film &ME.

Albert Meijer │ albert_meijer@hotmail.com

On March 14th, &ME, an unconventional love story set in Brussels, premiered in the Netherlands and Belgium. The Euroculturer talked to director Nortbert ter Hall about love, homosexuality, Europe and the ‘Easyjet-generation’.

“We all travel between Brussels and Strasbourg, because we can’t make any decisions.”

“The secret of being together for 22 years? He’s the one!”

&ME

A'DAM - E.V.A. tv-drama Amsterdam presentatie

“It’s very exciting to be making this movie, as it is the first time that I wrote a script myself”.

Sitting in front of me in a café in Amsterdam is a director with big, black glasses but without the artsy-fartsy attitude you would expect from directors with such glasses. Norbert ter Hall is intelligent and friendly when he talks to me about his new movie, &ME. Meanwhile, he orders coffee after coffee.

In the Netherlands, Ter Hall is mostly known for directing the series A’dam – E.V.A. which is about love, relationships and friendships in Amsterdam, and ‘t Schaep met de Vijf Pooten (The Sheep With Five Legs), a comedy series about a small pub in the Dutch capital. He started as a set-designer, but quickly developed into a director, mostly of television series.

“I never planned on becoming a director, but I’ve been directing for 25 years now. As a director, you shouldn’t wait for lightning to strike, for inspiration to come. You have to make a solid plan next to having a good idea. The technical aspects of film-making are quite simple to learn; an average person can learn those within a week.”

&ME, based on the book Fremdkörper by Oscar van den Boogaard, tells the story of the German Eduard Schiller (Mark Waschke), who moves to Brussels to work in the European Parliament. He has had enough of his life in Berlin, with fleeting one-night-stands with men. What he wants now, more than anything, is happiness.

He literally bumps into the Spanish intern Edurne (Veronica Echegui), who came to Brussels to escape her overprotective mother (Rossy de Palma). She falls in love with Eduard, he wants to give the romance a try, even if it’s with a woman. The Dutch mover Richard (Teun Luijkx) finds in them the ideal couple. In his wish to believe in true love, he tries to bring the two together, but eventually gets entangled in the relationship.

“The essence of the movie is that it is about people that try to love each other. The question is: can you make your own happiness, or does it happen to you by accident? I’m very optimistic on human relations: we need to stick it out with each other, don’t we? I try my best, but I’m not always successful. Life is like skating on an icy river. You try to skate, but you end up limping around on your skates on the ground, because the ice’s too thin. It’s not as graceful, but at least it looks funny.”

&Europe

EU brussels

The successful series A’dam – E.V.A. was intensely connected to the place where the stories came together: Amsterdam. I wonder if Brussels is equally inspiring.

“A’dam – E.V.A. was a declaration of love to Amsterdam, yes, but at the core it was a declaration of love to how people are connected to each other. It could have played in a different city. In that aspect, &ME is not so different from A’dam – E.V.A. It’s about connections, about living together, but on a European scale.”

The symbolism in &ME is clear. The main characters leave their countries to connect to each other in Brussels, just like the European countries themselves. A second parallel between the movie and the European Union is the difficulty of making decisions. “The main characters want to start a new life by moving away, but they’re stuck to who they are. You can’t escape your choices. The same is true for the EU: the monthly migration between Brussels and Strasbourg is good for nothing. Everybody knows it’s not a smart move, but it’s easier not to make any final decisions. I find that very human. We all travel between Brussels and Strasbourg, so to speak, because we can’t make any decisions.”

The movie will be shown in the Netherlands and Belgium first, but Ter Hall is talking to distributors in Germany, Spain and France. Money for film projects often comes from several countries, but movies rarely picture the internationalism of modern life.

“There are not many pan-European movies, with notable exceptions such as L’Auberge Español. I think that’s peculiar in the day and age of the ‘Easyjet-generation’. Many people now have friends abroad, work abroad, study abroad. Many Dutch movies are geared towards the Netherlands only, but I think it’s much more interesting when a movie travels. I love seeing beautiful movies from Greece or Italy. It really broadens your horizon.”

&Love

&Me love

In the &ME press-kit Ter Hall gave me, it says that he often works with screenwriter Robert Alberdingk Thijm. That’s no coincidence: they have been married for 12 and a half years. “I was looking for a screen writer for a children show I was directing. A common friend told me to talk to Robert. He came by, stayed the night, and never really left after that. We’ve been together for 22 years now. We work together a lot. He wrote the script for A’dam – E.V.A. for instance. We don’t clash on set, he’s not always there. Mostly, he just comes by to eat lunch with me.

A lot of what Robert wrote in A’dam – E.V.A. is based on someone we know. The main characters, Adam and Eva, get a tattoo of a wedding ring on their fingers, but eventually don’t get married. That’s based on my brother and sister-in-law. They never married, but their tattooed rings are just as meaningful as real wedding rings would have been.”

Robert and I have never changed our registered partnership into an actual marriage” (which was only possible in the Netherlands in 2001, red.), “but I think it’s the same thing anyway. We find each other in the love of telling stories, in the enjoyment of other people’s stories. We’re not that romantic ourselves, although I find it very romantic when Robert brings me a cup of coffee in bed sometimes. The secret of being together for 22 years? He’s the one!”

&Homosexuality

& ME

With series like Six Feet Under, Glee and Modern Family, the amount of gay characters on television has increased enormously. In the works of Ter Hall, there are a lot of queer characters to be found as well.

“It’s not something I do consciously; I never think ‘I still have to put a gay person in’. My work is a reflection of the world around me, and there are gay people in there, just like there are children, elderly people, Spanish people …

Homosexuality is more in the open than before, but it’s still seen as something exceptional. In a children’s series I recently made, there’s one character, a boy, who dresses up like a girl. I received some angry reactions to that, people said: “Do you always have to do that?” I thought: always? People can be so negative. I’m not an activist. Robert and I do discuss it: we have a stage, so we feel we have to critically assess what we do with that stage, but in the first place it’s about the story, not the political motives we might have.”

It took a long time for me to conclude that I was gay; I think I was in my twenties when I was sure. I grew up in a relatively small town, with very open parents who I could easily talk to. When I went to art school, I still wasn’t afraid of negative reactions. The only thing that I thought sucked was the fact that you always have to tell everybody. Still, coming out is a learning experience. You make it very clear who you are and what you stand for. It makes it easier to be clear in other fields of your life as well.

Robert and I have a summer-house in a village in France. We never get any negative reactions there, but there is a lot of gossip about us being a gay couple. But – we are a gay couple, so I don’t see it as gossip. A farmer from the area once came to us to tell that he was gay too, but that nobody could know. He was very happy to be able to tell someone. I think that maybe the town wouldn’t change that much if he would come out a lot of resistance is only imagined. Still: it’s not to me to judge that situation.

“I received some criticism on the story of &ME, because a gay man chooses to be with a woman. As if he goes back into the closet! Some people became aggressive, told me that gays should be proud. That word, ‘should’, makes me nervous. Why do people accept that people turn gay at a later age, but not the other way around? My primary goal is to tell a story, and stories are not always socially beneficial. That’s how I see it.”

Albert 3

&ME is showing in Dutch and Belgian cinemas from March 14th. A Dutch version of this article appears in the April 2013 edition of Expreszo Magazine.

(Source of pictures used for the article:  www.cineart.nl/)

Albert pfAlbert Meijer, People’s Editor 

Hailing from Groningen, Albert writes about the student body of the Euroculture programme. His academic interests lie in the fields of (sub)cultural studies, music science, sociology, and gender and queer studies. In his spare time, Albert likes writing and singing mediocre songs, walking through typhoons, making video blogs and getting stuck in difficult yoga positions.

Meet the Freshmen: “The most useless thing I ever bought was a round of shots”

Learn in how many languages an American, Alexandra, can say “I love you”, and why William from Strasbourg would wear dark blue for the rest of his life. Find out what Groningen student Matthieu considers to be a useless purchase and whether it’s okay for Dutch student, Hessel Luxen, to vote Democrat one year and Republican the next.

Helen Hoffmann | helenhoffmann@outlook.com

A lot of new MA Euroculture students have very recently made their way into our universities, and we hope that their year started out great. With our universities scattered over eight countries and the 3rd semester students now all over the world interning and researching, it’s a little hard to get to know these new members of the Euroculture family. We still wanted to meet them though and so picked a few to introduce you to. Learn in how many languages an American, Alexandra, can say “I love you”, and why William from Strasbourg would wear dark blue for the rest of his life. Find out what Groningen student Matthieu considers to be a useless purchase and whether it’s okay for Dutch student, Hessel Luxen, to vote Democrat one year and Republican the next.

William Gandemer, French TCK (third culture kid), born in Thailand, grew up in several different countries. BA in Applied Foreign Languages from Univeristy of Strasbourg and another BA in Political Science from the Univeristy of Toulouse.  Euroculture Home University: Univeristy of Strasbourg.

If you could only wear one colour for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
I’d say dark blue, but it really is all about tailoring, isn’t it? :p Okay, seriously, I’d say it’s because it reminds me of the ocean which I was never far away from growing up, and evokes open spaces.

What movie or book would you recommend to someone you are trying to annoy?
Ouch! Um, well I’ve never thought of that, but possibly Disney, haha.

What was your favorite song as a child?
Well I’m torn between two, but I’ll go with A-Ha – Take On Me (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djV11Xbc914)

Matthieu Munsch, French. BA in Applied Modern Languages (English & Japanese). Euroculture Home University: University of Groningen.

What would I find in your fridge right now?
Sooo… my fridge. Here’s what you’ll find in it right now: eggs, milk, ham, dutch cheese, goat cheese, mozzarella, a few tomatoes, a bell pepper, some chicken and some brussels sprouts.

What is the most expensive useless thing you ever bought?
😉 As for the most expensive useless thing I have ever bought, I’m not so sure… It depends what qualifies as useless. Hum… maybe a round of shots for people I didn’t really know? 😀

What are three words that describe what you expect from your two years of  Euroculture?

Hum… I guess my three words would have to be: Friends, Self-development and Travel.

Hessel Luxen, Dutch. BA Communication and Information Studies and MA Communication and Information Studies from Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (still working on that last one). Euroculture Home University: Uppsala University.

Are you a good friend?
Doesn’t the fact that I’m doing you a favour by answering these questions tell you that I am? : p

Is it okay/plausible to vote Democrat (or the respective party in your country) one year and Republican in the next election?

Yes that is okay, but only for people who vote on a person rather than the content of his/her election program. I could see why one year you like a Republican candidate more and four years later the Democratic candidate. Personally I would always vote for the same party because I care more about the content. But that doesn’t mean it works like that for everyone.

Would you go parachute jumping?
Hell yeah! I’ve always said I would one day, but never did. Hmm what does that tell you? That I’m a coward? I’d like to say I just haven’t find the right moment for it.

Alexandra Stark, American. BA in German Literature & Culture and Philosophy. Euroculture Home university: University of Göttingen.

Which movie would you watch three times in a row?

I would watch The King’s Speech over and over again. I would gladly watch any film with Colin Firth on repeat! However, The King’s Speech has a lot of substance which I really appreciate in any good film. Every time I see it, I catch a new joke or reference that I did not hear or know before.

In how many languages can you say ”I love you”?
I can say ”I love you” in 6 languages. 6 isn’t much, but it’s a phrase I wish I knew in every language! 🙂

Do you like still water or water with bubbles?

I prefer still water. I drink so much water during the day because I am an athlete and need to be able to drink it very quickly! But the taste of water with bubbles is definitely better, especially with a meal.

Helen Hoffmann, Creative Editor

Helen is from Germany and studied BA History and Gender Studies. She studied Euroculture in the University of Göttingen and Uppsala University, and is currently working to promote trade relations in the PR department of the German-Swedish Chamber of Commerce. Her passion is to dive deep into the Swedish-German relationship and deconstruct the German über-idyllic image of Sweden. Her interests are film, literature, Liechtenstein, 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, socio-cultural trends and psychological phenomena. And of course, her interests include the Swedish Royal Family (she will never forgive Jonas Bergström for what he did).