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

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Second Time a Charm?

Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland
Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland

Heather Southwood│southwood28@gmail.com

In Goettingen I was one of approximately twenty Euroculture students, in Krakow that became one of nine, in Indianapolis I couldn’t sit in Starbucks on campus for long without someone I knew walking in, so when I made the decision to return to Krakow for my fourth semester, as one of three I knew it was going to be a shock to the system.

For the first two semesters, my closest friends had been those fellow MA Euroculture 11-13 students, who I studied with, lunched with, cooked with, drank tea with, ate copious cookies with, stressed over deadlines with, partied with and later lived with… you get the picture.

In Goettingen, lunch in the Mensa was a regular daily occurrence and coffee breaks had the potential to be of greater frequency than that of productivity in the library. During my second semester in Krakow all the Euroculture students had lived in the same building, we were in and out of each other’s flats with alarming regularity. You wanted strong coffee – see Penelope. You needed chocolate – go to Sarah.  You wanted custard – only Larisa understood that one! We wanted to visit a bar – just run up and down the stairs knocking on doors and you’ll soon have company.

So, at the start of the fourth semester, as I sat in my temporary room, suitcase on the floor, rain drumming against the window, having just arrived in Krakow from the UK, with the knowledge my fellow Euroculture classmate would not be arriving for another two weeks, I wondered, had I made the right decision for my final semester?

“Krakow was a city in which I felt I could really live, it was fun, affordable, stunning…”

Everyone makes their decision as to where they are to spend their fourth semester based upon their different priorities, with many different things being important only to themselves. For me, it was the city; Krakow was a city in which I felt I could really live, it was fun, affordable, stunning, there was always something going on. However, as the rain fell and I knew I had some flat-hunting to do to find the right apartment; I thought back to all my friends in Goettingen and questioned the decision I had made. I was tired from travelling, and therefore grumpy – I’ll admit it, and running with the assumption that in fact Goettingen was as though it had been exactly in my first semester. In my mind, I would be visiting the Mensa, having coffee, chatting in the library. It didn’t take me too long though to realise that just as Krakow for fourth semester was going to be different, it would be the same for the Goettingen students.

One of the great things about Euroculture is the ability to explore a new place and culture within and (occasionally) outside of Europe. However, the fourth semester is different, there are less classes, there is a thesis deadline looming in and you are living in a city you’ve experienced before. It’s easy to assume it would be the same, some of the same people will be around you, you’ll know the streets, the market days… It was not.

“In our second semester we knew very few Polish students, I hoped my fourth semester would not be the same…”

In our second semester we knew very few Polish students, I hoped my fourth semester would not be the same. In fact, some may say that was a challenge I set myself… I quickly realised, however, how much that challenge would affect my whole semester. A friend and I were invited on a trip with Polish European Studies students to Warsaw. Thankfully, neither of us actually spoke much Polish, as such, when decisions as to where to go, where to eat, even during a press conference, we could shrug at each other awkwardly, solidarity in our ignorance. However, in the evening, with the help of a beer or two, gone was the initial shyness and it turns out the Polish students were happier to speak their fluent English and we were happy to give them a laugh with our faltering Polish skills. When twelve students share a hostel room for a weekend, friendships quickly emerge and there wasn’t a week which went by without some kind of Warsaw trip reunion, friends bringing friends of friends, snowballing in to a great group of friends giving us an insight into Polish culture. Of course, there were also always the second semester students in Krakow to hang out with, drink with, and have dinner with. In my tired (I’ve just arrived in Krakow and my suitcase was really heavy) haze, I’d forgotten that with fourth semester comes the opportunity to meet the new students of the second semester. There was always the opportunity to talk about Euroculture, internships, the run up to the IP (at my end – without the worry), and to smile at the things we found new and interesting in Krakow.

“I made many Polish friends and finally felt like I was getting some ‘inside’ knowledge on the city…”

Over the semester, I made many Polish friends, I spoke more Polish than I ever had in my second semester in Krakow and I finally felt like I was getting some ‘inside’ knowledge on the city. I visited my friends’ bakery for an afternoon coffee hit, was cooked lunch, I was even educated as to which Polish cheese (and many other food niceties) to try by Beata a fellow MA Euroculture 11-13 student and Pole. I followed the news stories in Krakow more. As the semester progressed, I realised how ignorant of Polish news I had been in my second semester and how by following the news, chatting about current Krakow events with my friends, it changed the way I understood the city.

As a fourth semester student, our Eurocompetence III class had become the writing of a grant application which we actually planned and implemented during the IP, as the Urban Challenge. At the first class, with Luc and Karolina, Euroculture Krakow Staff, running the class, out-numbered the only student, me, I learnt that when it’s a small class, there is no one to hide behind. However, I didn’t need to hide, it didn’t feel like a class, it didn’t feel like on one side there are the staff on the other the students, it felt like a collaboration and a friendship. Working with the staff on the IP, seeing the other side of the IP, was a unique opportunity, the gala dinner was somewhat bittersweet and emotional as it began to hit us that this was our final semester, in fact, by this point, I had written and defended my thesis, it was a celebration but also, we knew, the end.

If you had said to me in advance of my fourth semester in Krakow, I would have scoffed that initially I would have questioned my decision of Krakow. I had told myself it would be different, I knew that. I wanted it to be different. In America, I surrounded myself with American students and found out how much of a difference it made, being invited into many American homes including at Thanksgiving, to see how they lived. In Poland, it made the world of difference, I felt at home, I made friends who I have already seen in London this summer and will meet some more in Manchester this week. I learnt about Krakow and other polish cities through the stories and tours of friends and residents.

“So, second time a charm?”

Euroculture was an incredible experience and opportunity for me, living abroad in places I hadn’t contemplated living in before. No one semester stands out to me as being better than others, each was a unique opportunity, I can’t compare them, each one was different and if I had chosen Goettingen instead of Krakow, I know my fourth semester there would have been different again. The fourth semester felt like a bridge out of Euroculture, I felt like I was preparing for ‘real life’ within the safety net of Euroculture.

So, second time a charm? Absolutely, yes in fact, as much as I’m excited about not having to pack my life into 20 kilos for four months for a while, I wouldn’t mind hitting rewind and doing it all again.

Heather SouthwoodChief Copy Editor

Heather is from Manchester, completed her undergraduate in Law before studying MA Euroculture at the University of Göttingen, Jagiellonian University, Krakow and IUPUI, Indianapolis. Her research interests include human rights, religious rights and inclusive citizenship. Currently, she is living back in the UK, working with suppliers in Europe and the Far East, constantly challenging her intercultural communication skills every day.

For now, the future can wait

When we submit the thesis and when the last Eurocompetence class ends, we will say “Have a nice summer” and “Good luck with that interview”. And after that, many of us will not see each other again. We will not say it, of course, but we will be thinking it as we hug, cry and laugh. The future will be bright and sunny (hopefully) and everyone will have to walk their own paths and live their own lives. Each of us will run for that prize we get after we cross the finish line. All that will happen in a few months…

penelope2 Penelope Vaxevanes │prosiliomani@hotmail.com

As students of MA Euroculture 2011-2013, we have  78 classmates scattered all over Europe, currently sitting in libraries or cafés, reading and taking notes, scribbling or doodling, trying to make sense of their Master Thesis. Most of us read and read and read, trying to form an idea of what it will be like; some of us even have a plan, while a few of us have done the preliminary work and are already writing and anticipating the outcome of our results, hoping that it will not be just another academic paper. In any case, the majority will take tonight off because it’s Friday: we will go have a drink with our classmates or our partner and we will tell ourselves that we deserve it because we have done so much work and because there is so much more still to come.

The days will pass one by one; and we will become progressively more stressedas time becomes a constraint (June will not always be two months away). And, as we start getting emails from our supervisors asking about our progress while our coordinators invite us to upload documents from our research on STUD-IP (that’s for you Gottingers), we will slowly realise that we are reaching the finish line. This is not the kind that only one can reach. Everyone that crosses it is a winner. Because the real prize, the one that is in everyone’s mind, is not at the finish line: it is far beyond it; so far that most of us don’t know yet where it is.

And here is the awkward part of this last semester of ours. As we spend every day thinking about the work we have put into writing the thesis and regretting all the work we haven’t done, we fail to see the one and only truth: the thesis will give us a degree, but it will not give us a future. The degree may become the key to our future, only if we learn to use and promote it. We are after all, in a MA “of excellence”, meaning that we are, by association, excellent ourselves, are we not?

We are also forgetting something else. For some of us, these will be the last few months of our university lives. Soon, we will be university graduates for the second time. But what does that exactly mean? By the end of July we will not be students anymore, yet more likely we will not be employees either. What will we be? Who are we without our student identity? Are we unemployed? Are we in between places? Will we become a mere number in a statistic that shows how university graduates are absorbed by the market? No one knows.

And then there is another thing: we cannot avoid being adults anymore. For some now is the last chance to stay out late thanks to the excuse that “class is boring anyways, so I might as well skip it”. It will also be the last time we can take a class about something that sounds cool (Philosophy of Math, anyone?) but which will not give us credits or make our degree stronger. In other words, this could be our last chance to delve into things that we always wanted to try: Portuguese, Quantum Physics, Comparative Theology and everything else our universities can offer.

Moreover and most importantly, when we submit the thesis and the rest of our papers, and when that last ‘Eurocompetence’ class, which no one ever understood the point of, ends we will say “Have a nice summer” and “Good luck with that interview”. And after that, many of us will not see each other again. We will not say it, of course, but we will be thinking it as we hug, cry and laugh. The future will be bright and sunny (hopefully) and everyone will have to walk their own paths and live their own lives. Each of us will run for that prize we get after we cross the finish line.

All that will happen in a few months; but for now, without further ado, put your pens down, save all your documents, log out of Facebook and call your classmates to go out for a drink (or a cupcake, a movie, a tea). Do it, even if you did not do as much work as you wanted, or even if you have to wake up early tomorrow to go to that Portuguese class. Don’t be lazy; you can watch The Big Bang Theory tomorrow! Do it as if your life depends on it. For no one will ever remember that Master Thesis you wrote, but we will all remember that party we had that night, which ended in the dodgiest place, at 9am, on a Tuesday; that night when everyone was lazy and didn’t want to have that drink.

One more night off because, for now, the future can wait.

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Penelope Vaxevanes, News Editor

penelopePenelope is from Greece and has studied French Language and Literature in the Philosophic School of the University of Athens. She spent the first two Euroculture semesters in Goettingen and Krakow. After her internship in Hamburg she is now back in Goettingen to finish her MA thesis. She wants to make a career in Cultural diplomacy but so far, she enjoys going out with friends in Goettingen.

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).