The European Union’s ‘Game of Thrones’: Who Will Be The Next President of The European Parliament?

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EU Parliament in session

Bastian Bayer

Who will be the next president of the United States of America seems to be the big question of 2016, but in the European Parliament another game of thrones has begun.

At the last European Parliament elections in 2014, the conservative EPP and the social democratic S&D made a deal and signed a written agreement that meant that Martin Schulz, the S&D candidate, would become president for the first half of the legislative period and  that the EPP would pick the president for the second half.

Now with the first half coming to an end in January 2017,  the current president Martin Schulz does not seem to be willing to leave office, despite the EPP insisting on the instillation a new president from among their own ranks.

The face of EU policy

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Martin Schulz, President of the EU Parliament

Schulz has been, with interruptions,  president of the EP since 2012 and a Member of the EP (MEP) since 1994. He is often portrayed as a down to earth politician, ingrained and diligent. He is said to have strengthened the position of the European Parliament and even critics say he has made the EP more visible to the European public and the world.

He is considered to be the most influential president in the history of the European Parliament.

However his path to power and appreciation was rocky. The son of a police officer, he wanted to become a football player in his youth but a knee-injury made a professional career impossible. As a result this crushed dream Schulz became an alcoholic in the mid-70s which saw him lose his job and almost get thrown out of his own apartment.

However, despite this inauspicious start, Schulz eventually overcame his addiction with the help of his brother.

What followed is a remarkable career.  After a career  as a bookstore manager Schulz became mayor of his home town, Würselen, following his first engagement in the German Social Democratic Party. In 1994 he was elected member of the European Parliament and became its president in 2012. He reached a high point of his career when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize together with van Rompuy and Barroso on behalf of the European Union.

In 2014 Schulz wanted to become president of the EU Commission, but in the European elections the Conservatives became the largest party and their candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the Commission, a post he still holds to this day. Nevertheless, this setback did not stop Schulz from being re-elected as President of the EP.

Power play in the middle of the greatest crises in the existence of the EU

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Tusk, Schulz and Juncker

Schulz’s future, however, is unclear, as the first half of this legislative term comes to an end. According to the agreement, Schulz will be replaced by EPP member. However, for some, the agreement does not fit the new circumstances Europe finds itself in.

The S&D argues that with Juncker as President of the Commission and Tusk as President of the Council, already two of the key positions are held by EPP members; and to keep the balance between the largest EU parties, the presidency of the EP should stay with the S&D.

Even a prominent EPP politician and former competitor supports the idea of Schulz retaining the presidency after January 2017, with the simple reason:

“We need stability.”

Just recently Juncker spoke about the many challenges the EU faces in his ‘State of the Union’ address. Brexit, the refugee challenge, economic stagnation and youth-unemployment among many other things.

“Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis.” said Juncker.

To keep stability in these difficult times, Juncker would like to keep the leadership of the institutions as they are, namely, Schulz as president. It is no secret that Martin and Jean-Claude work closely together, Der Spiegel has even accused them of mutually securing each other’s posts.  Juncker said:”The relationship between the Commission and the Parliament has probably never been as good as it is now”, so “Why change a reliable team?”

However the EPP has made it crystal clear that they will not have Schulz for the next half of the legislative period. Schulz has been heavily criticised for not sticking to the agreement and the same critics have claimed that he has made the representation of the European people a one-man-. These critics claim that “if Schulz gave the parliament a face, it is primarily his face”.

On the other hand, if Schulz id removed; whom is the EPP going to nominate? For an internal primary on 12 December candidates need to be found. However, they lack strong candidates:

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Antonio Tajani

So far the Italian Antonio Tajani, the French Alain Lamassoure and the Irish Mairead McGuinness have been mentioned as possible successors to Schulz. However Tajani is weakened by being close to former Italian PM Berlusconi, who has been disgraced by many scandals.  Also as former commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, he supposedly involved in the emission scandal and has already been summoned before the investigation committee. All of this means that he is seen as unenforceable in the parliament.

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Alain Lamassoure

The other candidates have similar shortcomings. Lamassoure has the reputation of being uncontrollable and prideful, some say thinking of himself as the French president. McGuinness, as a woman, current EP vice-president and a representative of a small EU Member State, seems to have the best chances of getting  a majority in the parliament. Nevertheless she is perceived as a rather plain Jane candidate and has not excited much attention.

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Mairead McGuinness

Currently, Schulz is fighting to forge a coalition with Liberals, Greens and EPP renegades. Yet it seems to be unlikely that he will cobble together enough votes without the backing of the EPP.

So what is next for him? Luckily another throne, perhaps a greater one, is up for grabs. In Berlin, some people would like to see Schulz as chancellor- the candidate for the SPD in place of the unpopular Sigmar Gabriel, to challenge Angela Merkel in the elections for the German parliament 2017 Regardless, it looks like Schulz has only begun to play.

For more by Bastian, click here.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November” Emily Burt shows us how the Brexit referendum has Trumped Clinton’s bid for the Presidency.

“Who Polices the Internet? Content Removal v. Freedom of Speech” Julia Mason guides us through the trenches of the internet’s most contested battleground and asks is ‘Hate speech’ the same as ‘Freedom of Speech’.

“Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK migration work post-Brexit” Eoghan Hughes examines the promises, pledges and pitfalls surrounding the UK’s immigration policy in a post-Brexit reality.

 

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The Back Office: New Students

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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:

Note from a Lonely Island: Missing – £350 million” by Emily Burt

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

2015: Another Round of Carousel

Bilbao

Ander Barón

Photos taken by Eva-Maria Bergdolt and Amina Kussainova

Edited by Ann Keefer

October has definitely been a mad month. Abruptly ending the summer-holiday sleaziness, returning to classes, being besieged by impending presentations in all fronts… Take your pick, but it feels good strangely enough. Probably it’s just a hardwired inability to really enjoy myself unless when under severe stress. 4 years of studying Modern Languages at Deusto will do that to you.

Anyway, today we had the chance to have a class at the San Sebastian campus of the University of Deusto. Plus the customary exploration of the old quarter, the walk in the promenade by the Concha beach (of which I had hazy memories from 12 years ago at best), having a drink and pintxos, and so on. Which, I must say, has been more enjoyable than a proud, born and bred “Bilbaino” such as myself should ordinarily concede (given the legendary rivalry between both provinces and cities). Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always have Bilbao as the ultimate paragon, and no place in the world is dearer, but this has been a special day, spending time with classmates, fooling around, laughing, explaining all the strange Basque stuff around… bonding, in short. That, I believe, is the idea behind this journey we’ve all embarked upon, and certainly the sensation I want to remember this month for. Life as a Euroculturer is good, so far, and I have the feeling it will get even better.

Continue reading “2015: Another Round of Carousel”

The Question of Constructing Our Personal Europe

 Viktória Pál viktoria.pal@hotmail.com

My views on Europe and the widely-discussed concept of “Europeanness” depend very much on how I perceive and process the world surrounding me. Building up our own Europe comes with a responsibility, as it influences not only our personal but the global perception of Europe as a whole.

The variety in creating one’s own Europe, I believe, is very much connected to a personal, intercultural and emotional development. The concept of ‘the Other’ or ‘Us’ plays a crucial role in this development, which is very much related to the types of schooling and change of residencies throughout one’s life.

“The variety in creating one’s own Europe is very much connected to a personal, intercultural and emotional development…”

How does all this add up to create a personalised perspective of Europe and how can these perspectives be explained? How are the latter being formed and why? The place where we live, regardless of our family’s views on politics, religion or sexuality, already provides us with a sense of belonging, be it positive or negative, which becomes part of our self-definition and a basis for differentiation. To decide what to do with this ‘default setting’ is our own choice, and throughout time, as our lives outgrow local or national borders, locality becomes a fluid conception we can easily control. Continue reading “The Question of Constructing Our Personal Europe”

Doing a research track in India: Fast Track Pune Part I

fast track pune Viktória Pál viktoria.pal@hotmail.com

The gigantic country of India truly lives up to its ‘incredible’ reputation. Pune, India has an overwhelming effect on one’s each and every sense, and through this montage-like article, I intend to present some fun facts we came across as well as give an inside look into our everyday life far from our MA Euroculture homelands. I will also try to portray our third semester research track spirits. I hope these fragmented stories might answer some questions for those who are thinking about applying to Pune next year, or those who are just curious..

WHITE TIGER VS WHITE PEOPLE 0-1

Visiting the Pune Rajiv Gandhi Zoo was a great experience for many reasons. Firstly, the zoo has an extreme national-park-sized extension compared to the quite packed European ones; halfway through we decided to skip what we judged to be the “less interesting” animals in order to finish on time. Secondly, the zoo has several extraordinary animals we’ve never seen before, like the white tiger who kept flicking fleas off his head so he could finish his afternoon nap. Thirdly, we gained first-hand experience how it feels to be constantly photographed in a zoo, as some visitors actually preferred to take pictures of us rather than of the grouchy white tiger. We felt for the animals behind the fences — although we could actually escape the zoo, we still could not escape the curious looks we received from people outside the zoo. If we move around the city a bit more than usual, we can be sure that many people want to take photos with us, stare at us, and chat with us. At one point in our flat-hunt, we noted that the house across the street would never get built if we moved there, as the workers abandoned their tasks just so they could stare at us for up to half an hour. I have no idea how celebrities deal with the excessive, 24/7 attention they get, but hey, who am I to talk, I’m happy to be here.

I KNOW A GUY

Looking for a flat? Need a rickshaw? Searching for a good dentist or want to buy a golden yacht with built-in singing robot-swans? No matter what you ask for, or as a matter of fact whom you ask, the response will always be the same: “Yes, yes, I know a guy”. It is fascinating to witness how the rickshaw driver or the caretaker of our guest-house transforms in no time into a real-estate agent with, of course, a smoothly elaborated commission-system. Just tonight, before coming up to my room to work on this article, a shopkeeper told us that he “knows the guy” who rents flats to foreigners in the area. The guy next to him told us he knows a guy giving great yoga lessons near our future home, and a third guy knows a guy who has a travel agency where we can book really cheap domestic flights. How lucky, you might say, although these undoubtedly kind and fast flying offers are presumably related to our foreignness.

IT’S THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT DIFFERENT

Studying in Pune means studying a lot, both on and off the university campus. As for the academic experience, the Sociology Department that is hosting us has made us feel very welcome and is helping us a great deal. We have a variety of classes to choose from: Rural Development, Urban Sociology, classes dealing with women’s studies or gender issues, and classes with many local students that make us push ourselves to break down language barriers that the Marathi language puts up. We also have time to work on our research project, which is not hard to figure out when living in such a stimulating environment, and when we already have a supervisor.

The level of studies varies, given that we can attend both 1st and 3rd semester classes, but we have met many bright students and our academic experience is very much complemented by our everyday adventures. Naturally, the university doesn’t look like some other universities that I have attended, such as the University of Deusto with its gorgeous library and freshly renovated corridors. Unlike the University of Duesto, there is no Guggenheim museum across the river. In fact, girls need to ask for a key if they want to use the bathroom, and the campus is a proper jungle. However, the University of Pune is one of the best universities in Maharashtra and is top-ranked in the country.  Therefore, there is no need to think of it as a rural college without proper facilities and professional academic staff. Fun fact: the big auditorium of the sociology department has some of the comfiest chairs ever, with a bag-rack, footrest, and a wide-enough table part to write on. So, as they would say: ‘It’s the same, but different different’.

HE’S A VERY GOOD COOK

The flat-hunting craziness of the first two weeks led to many interesting situations. Some landlords refused to rent a flat to us because we were foreigners or because we were not related to each other, meaning we weren’t brothers or sisters. Even so,one of our top experiences was definitely when we met the owner of a house we intended to rent. We took a rickshaw to the outskirts of Pune to an average-looking block of flats to meet our landlord, but little did we know that once we entered his flat we would be sipping masala chai in one of the fanciest living rooms we had ever been to. Apart from the numerous religious paintings, the sculptures, the amazing view with gigantic bats flying about, and the astonishing cleanliness, we gained an insight into the everyday life of a high-class Indian couple with personal servants. To illustrate their lifestyle, here are two snippets of the conversation without any commentary:

#1.

Husband: So you would all be living in the house, all six of you?

Us: Yes.

Husband: Do you need a cook then? We can send him over sometimes (points at his personal servant). He’s a really good cook, and he can do the cleaning too.

 #2. 

Agent: Where is the Ma’am? (inquiring after the wife).

Husband: She’s making chai. (Meaning: the personal servant of the wife was the one preparing our tea in the kitchen, and the Ma’am just gave the orders).

CHENNAI EXPRESS 

It is impossible to leave out the Bollywood experience in this article. Chennai Express is a hit movie currently running in cinemas all over the country, starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. (For those of you who have never seen a Bollywood movie before, well, you have some serious homework to do, but until then here is a glimpse of the magic that happens on the big screen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNZNgyCd6zc). Once you get a dose of Bollywood there is no escape,  you must go with the extremely colorful and musical flow. Fun fact: we got complimentary Pepsis in a restaurant because we recognized and sang along to the movie’s soundtrack. Watching some white guys trying to sing a hit Hindi song must have been entertaining enough for the staff to want to ‘reward’ us in some way. Now we are working on some Hindi songs for karaoke as well, just in case.

ANSWERS TO SOME FAQs AND COMMON FEARS

Q1. Is it safe to live in Pune?

Despite the fact that we are usually moving around in the very safe environment of the university, we are aware of the different role of women in the society. For example, we know about the recent rape case that occurred in Mumbai. We do not provoke any trouble, and we try to respect traditions and general Indian ethics especially in the way we dress, behave, and speak. So far, we have not had any kind of unpleasant experiences, and local people have been extremely friendly and helpful to us.

Q2. I’ve heard some horror stories about different ways in seeing hygiene and cleanliness between Europe and India. Is it that bad?

Hygiene and cleanliness are notions to be redefined once in India.  Reservations dissolve quite quickly as one gets used to the chaotic lifestyle and just dives into it. Pollution is another big problem in cities like Pune. There are lots of old trucks, buses, scooters, and vans that make the rickshaw passenger like us ‘smoke’ every day. The constant honking doesn’t make the traffic more enjoyable, but these issues can be solved with a pair of earplugs and a scarf.

Q3. Are there any health-related issues to which one can be vulnerable when living in India? Also, can you find western goods in Pune?

Apart from some minor stomach issues, which is absolutely normal amongst this masala and chili overdosed cuisine, we have had no other health-related issues so far. From the very first day, we’ve been eating with our hands, occasionally on the street, and drinking through straws, with some of us even drinking tap-water (all this, of course in a reasonable manner). We have seen a boar browsing through the trash, hundreds of stray dogs and cows wandering around peacefully, and joint families living under a bridge right next to a dump, but still, there is no need to imagine Pune as a middle-of-nowhere city or as the hotbed of malaria. One can easily find what we might consider to be ‘western goods’, such as liquid hand sanitizer, hair dye, or just a good cup of coffee.

Pictures from Pune (click to see bigger versions)

For more stories from Pune, visit http://punediaries.blogspot.in/

viktoria profile

Viktória Pal, Creative Editor 

Viktória is from Hungary and studied International Relations, French Philology and Film Theory. She is very much interested in antidiscrimnation and human rights and also is specialized in those issues. She studied MA Euroculture in Bilbao and Udine and is currently doing a research track in Pune, India. She’s being obsessed with travelling and loves to get lost.

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!

Cinderella Complex – A Story from Pune

Sytske Ottink | sytskeot@hotmail.com

A long, long time ago an Indian girl was married to a man living in a country far, far away called Germany. She expected to be treated as a princess because she would be a guest in that country and in India guests are treated as royalty. This is the story of the intercultural communication teacher in Pune. When she found out that German hospitality was different, she suffered from ‘Cinderella Complex’: the feeling that you should be treated like a princess, but you aren’t.

For me, as a Dutch girl coming to India, it’s exactly the other way around. I am treated like a princess when I don’t feel like I should. New classmates and neighbours keep offering me tea, lunch, lifts, and tours of the city without seeming to expect an offer back. Even when I try to pay for the tea, there is general confusion: “You should not pay for the tea, you are a guest here”. “But I will be living here for four months”, I protest. “That doesn’t matter, even if you have lived here for twenty years you are still a guest.” Or if I say thank-you to my neighbour who has been feeding me for three days – “Tsch, don’t be so formal! We’re neighbours, you would have done the same for me if I moved in”. Only I realise that I would not have served a new neighbour food for four days, but would expect that they would manage somehow like I did when I moved into my different student rooms. After all, there’s always a take-away around the corner (or a stale sandwich stashed away in your bag somewhere…).

The amazing Indian hospitality gave me an ‘inverted’ Cinderella complex. It expresses itself in two unexpected ways: “how do I thank them?” and “am I a rude Westerner?”. Regarding the first way, there is a limited quota on allowed thank-you’s (“Don’t be so formal!”) and buying a round of chai has to be prepared in secret: sneak in an order before they find out what you’re up to… Regarding the latter, not accepting a gift might be rude. Even knowing that it’s surprisingly difficult to accept so much more than you have been taught is reasonable. Who would have thought that it feels awkward to get lots of offers?

As this is my main surprise from living in India, it’s not hard to conclude that my time in Pune so far has been fantastic. I wanted to live in India with Indians and I was a bit afraid of ending up in some kind of ‘white Westerners colony’. Fortunately, Indian hospitality means that it could not have been easier to hang out with Indians. In doing so I have learned things about India you would never have learned in a classroom, such as ‘how to use your grandmother for leverage when negotiating with parents if you live in a joint family’ or ‘how to date in India’.

Until now the ways to thank my Indian friends for their favours seem limited although a European food dinner was a big hit. Lasagna with Indian ingredients might horrify an Italian chef, it went down very well. As well as it being an easy way to get compliments such as “You know how to make lasagna?!”, as if this is one of the most complicated dishes known to men. To me, all the different spices in Indian dishes seem to be a lot more baffling than the art of layering vegetables and pasta.

One thing I know for sure is that when I meet Indians back in Europe, I will be a lot more hospitable, just because I know now how much their help and tea has made me feel at home here. To all of you, all I can say is: come and get an inverted Cinderella complex in India too! You will have a great time, more delicious food than you can eat, and you might even become a more of an Indian host yourself.

Sytske Ottink, Pune Correspondent

Sytske is from the Netherlands, where she did a BA in Religious Studies at the University of Groningen. She studied Euroculture in the University of Göttingen and Uppsala University, and is currently doing a research track in Pune, India. She loves anything spicy or sweet, and takes her tea with at least three teaspoons of sugar. Her interests are religion, gender, politics, welfare policy and many other things because she has a hard time focusing on anything in particular. The only thing she can focus on with ease is an ice-coffee with a kanelbulle. The next language she wants to learn is Russian and she dreams of using that one day to tour Russia on the Trans-Siberian express.