Behind the scenes: meet the Euroculture Staff – Ashanti Collavini

Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper & Paola Gosio

Ashanti Collavini is an Euroculture alumni part of the cohort 2017-2019. She spent her first and second semester respectively at the University of Udine, in Italy, her home country, and at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. After her MA, she immediately started working for Euroculture as the new coordinator at the University of Udine, where she previously studied.

Euroculturer Magazine (EM): What were your expectations when you started your job position as professor or coordinator and does it match the reality?

Ashanti Collavini (AC): When I first decided to accept this position, I was honestly quite terrified by the responsibility I was going to take on with my role as Udine’s Euroculture coordinator! I knew the role would imply quite some challenges, and given the fact that I had never worked in the University system before, I needed to start learning completely from scratch. Luckily enough, I had an advantage: the fact that by the time I accepted this position, I was just freshly graduated as a Euroculture student, therefore I knew already a lot about the programme from the inside and from a student perspective. For instance, I knew what the thesis portfolio was and when it was due, which deadlines I would need to take into consideration when writing the thesis or the IP paper, what the IP was. Moreover, I was aware of the difficulties that international students could come across when studying and living abroad.  However, I can say that working for the programme and experiencing it from “ the other side” gave me a completely different insight on what Euroculture entails from behind the scenes, something that as a student I could not even imagine!

EM: Can you tell us about the job-searching path you went through before choosing and being selected for this job position?

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Behind the scenes: meet the Euroculture Staff – Maite Sagasti

Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper & Paola Gosio

Maite Sagasti

Maite Sagasti holds a BA in History and Cultural Heritage and an MA in Spanish Heritage Management. She is currently the Euroculture course-coordinator at the University of Deusto, where she started working in 2006 and became since then a point of reference for all the Euroculture students studying at Deusto. Next to Euroculture, Maite also coordinates other Erasmus Mundus graduate programmes at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Deusto.

Euroculturer Magazine (EM): What were your expectations when you started your job position as professor or coordinator and does it match the reality?

Maite Sagasti (MS): I started to work at the Euroculture master programme in 2006. At the beginning I knew very little about how university networks work. In my previous jobs, I had the chance to work in interdisciplinary teams but always in the same institution/organization. When I started the new position, I had to do the same (at the university level) but also in the consortium level (different work cultures, languages) and for me this has been challenging but also the best part of the job. It has been really interesting to learn how the European Higher Education Institutions work together, to face the challenges and find the solutions jointly, take part in the common project to improve the programme, to work in the European Accreditation System and last but not least, the relationship with the students. I must say that this latter point is for me one the pillars of this job. Moreover, I also learn from students, from their interests and needs, which push me to update my competencies and skills constantly.

Without any doubt, the job has far exceeded my expectations.

EM: What is your academic background and can you tell us about your previous job experience before starting to work for Euroculture?

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Behind the scenes: meet the Euroculture Staff – Lars Klein

Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper & Paola Gosio

Dr. Lars Klein has been part of the Euroculture staff since 2008. He is currently the Euroculture course-coordinator in Göttingen and his academic interests lie in (European) identity, belonging and participation, and foreign policy, amongst others. By participating in his teaching modules “Introduction to Euroculture”, “Cultural Construction of Europe” and “Europe in a Global Context”, Euroculture students in Göttingen have the opportunity to learn more about the aforementioned research fields. You can contact Lars via the following email: lklein@uni-goettingen.de.

Euroculturer Magazine ‘EM): What were your expectations when you started your job position as professor or coordinator and does it match the reality?

Lars Klein (LK): I started with Euroculture in April 2008. Some of my Ph.D. colleagues in the Graduate Programme (“DFG-Graduiertenkolleg”) I had pursued prior to that had done Euroculture while it was still a 60 ECTS programme, some of the academic staff were also contributing to Euroculture then. So I had an idea of what to expect, but Euroculture in Göttingen was in a transition at that time. Our Director, Martin Tamcke, had just taken over a few months earlier and started a completely new team with me and Marc Arwed Rutke, our coordinator. Having said that, I never would have expected to enter a job that would take on such a big part of my life and which I would still be working in 13 years later. And I certainly would not have imagined that the daily work with students and colleagues in the Consortium would be such a lively, fruitful and diverse endeavour.

EM: What is your academic background and can you tell us about your previous job experience before starting to work for Euroculture?

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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.