By Bryan T. Bayne. Special thanks to Jonas Axelsson, who provided valuable commentary and insight.
Swedish politics have a reputation for being a boring, predictable, and consensus-driven low-key affair. Not anymore. Last Thursday (17.06) the formerly-Communist Left Party announced that it no longer had confidence in Stevan Löfven’s Social Democratic government and was leaving the coalition. Today a supermajority in the Riksdag has voted to oust the prime minister and ushered in a new era of political instability in Sweden. At the heart of the issue is a dispute over the housing market, however, its causes harken back to the instability produced by the 2018 elections and broader debates on immigration.
Choosing, starting, and managing a project often are daunting tasks. The Euroculturer conducted a series of short interviews to showcase some of the many projects Euroculture students came up with in the Eurocompetence II course. These interviews were designed to give current and future students an idea of what has already been done and to learn from previous experience.
We asked each student the same three questions: What was your Eurocompetence II project? Did you put it into practice? How was your experience?Here are their testimonials:
Virginia Stuart-Taylor – Uppsala 2017 – War on Truth
Our class in Uppsala 2017 decided to plan, fund, and run the ‘War on Truth’ international conference on the topic of fake news, bringing students and locals into contact with leading figures from academia, think tanks, the media, and start-ups from across Sweden and the Netherlands. Held in May 2017, only months after Trump’s 2016 election, misinformation and fake news were crucial issues, making the conference well-attended and a big success.
The hardest part of working together on the project was the ideation phase and picking a feasible, realistic, and sufficiently stretching project. We looked to examples of previous Eurocompetence II projects for inspiration and scope but also scoped out our own skills, interests, available resources, and pressing issues it would be worthwhile to address. Once we settled on running a conference, the division of roles within the team and execution of our individual responsibilities was easier, and regular meetings helped us make decisions, keep on track and manage the project. Overall it was satisfying to complete such a tangible project as a conference, with our post-conference report being a good physical outcome.
Clara Citra Mutiarasari (2019-2021) is Indonesian and studied Euroculture at Uppsala University in Sweden and the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands. Before starting the Master, she studied German Studies at the University of Indonesia. She decided to apply for Euroculture because she felt she would gain more knowledge on the topic of migration and migrant integration. She would also like to work in this field in the future. Currently, she is doing the research track at Uppsala University for her third semester.
Euroculture Magazine: What were your expectations when you applied for/started the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?
Clara Citra Mutiarasari: There are certainly some things that matched well with my expectation. I expected to meet many inspiring international friends and I did. I also had some fun cultural exchange moments and knowledge- enriching discussion with them. The program also fulfilled my expectation of studying Europe from a multidisciplinary perspective. As expected, I also had the opportunity to experience more independent and egalitarian studying culture in Sweden and the Netherlands; both are completely different from my country. Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research track at Uppsala University”→
In Sweden, just like in Belarus? An attempt to find out.
As the Covid situation relatively improved in the European Union over the summer, the cases increased in the Americas and Asia and it now seems that Europe is entering the second wave WHO was foreseeing in June. Somewhere in the middle of this ocean of events, Sweden’s soft measures left no one indifferent and created fertile ground for the holy war on approaches to stop the spread of the pandemic and conspiracy theories.
The situation has caused a lot of resonance in the EU and abroad. However, it seems that it especially disturbed the minds of Belarusians, who live in the country where the only football league in Europe kept playing for months after the rest of the continent had been put under lockdown, of the only World War II parade being held and of the general denial of coronavirus containment measures. Being accustomed to the long-lasting contempt of their government, Belarusians are genuinely confused with the measures of the world’s most reputable country – Sweden.
Gaia Regina Nicoloso (2018-2020) is an Italian student who studied a BA in Public Relations at the University of Udine along with an Erasmus at the Universidad de Almería, Spain. She enrolled in Euroculture because she was attracted by the mobility and the idea of being part of an international network. As she feels more European than Italian, she thought this programme would be the perfect setting for her postgraduate studies. She spent her first semester at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, and the second one at University of Uppsala, in Sweden. In the third semester, she picked the research track in Osaka, Japan.
Euroculturer Magazine: What were your expectations when you applied/started the MA Euroculture? And does it match the reality at the moment?
Gaia Regina Nicoloso: I discovered Euroculture a couple of months after I had come back from my 9-months-long Erasmus in Spain, and just before my BA graduation. It looked like an opportunity not only to focus on a more politically oriented perspective that could match my previous studies and those topics that are very relevant to me, but also as the chance to keep the fire of the Erasmus alive. That experience empowered me more than anything else before, and Euroculture resembled the context where I could keep feeling at home and surrounded by active and enterprising people. Beginning the Euroculture adventure was way more than what I expected. The variety of curricula of the different universities and of the students that participate in the MA all over Europe is unique, and I am learning something new from them every day. The intensity of the program – including how demanding the mobility process is – is also something that I probably underestimated before the beginning of my first semester.
Guillaume Hemmert (2018-2020) is French and has a BA in English Language, literature and culture from the University of Strasbourg, France. He stayed there for his first Euroculture semester, and then moved to the University of Uppsala, Sweden, for the second one. He chose the MA because it was a good match between his academic background in languages and culture, and his ambition to open to new fields of study and acquire deeper knowledge in new disciplines, such as European politics, economics, or human rights, for instance. In the third semester, he did the research track at the University of Strasbourg.
EM: What were your expectations when you applied/started the MA Euroculture? And does it match the reality at the moment?
Guillaume Hemmert: I actually didn’t have specific expectations when I started Euroculture, as this master was about something that was almost completely new to me. Maybe my only expectation was to find the European/International environment I had already encountered during my previous academic exchange, and with 16 nationalities represented over three semesters in Strasbourg and Uppsala, one can probably say that this expectation turned out to be a reality. This criterion really played a role when I chose to enroll in this program, as I always considered it a very favourable environment to study. It is especially the case of Euroculture, when we debate on subjects such as politics and society on a European and global level. On a more personal level, this is always a great opportunity to meet people from other countries and continents, and to have a chance to discover new languages, new cultures, great people and great food, of course!
Gulnur Telibayeva (2018-2020) is a Kazakh Euroculture student. Upon the validation of her Bachelor degree in International Relations at the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University of Almaty, Kazakhstan, she applied for the Euroculture MA in order to delve further into the question of European integration. She spent her first semester in Strasbourg, France, and her second semester in Uppsala, Sweden. For her third semester, she did an internship at the headquarters of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Vienna, Austria.
Euroculturer Magazine: What were you expecting from the Euroculture MA, and did it meet your expectations?
Gulnur Telibayeva: It was the first time that I moved so far away from my family and hometown for so long: it’s been a huge mix of emotions, expectations and fears. I remember how excited I was for the degree itself. Naturally, it’s a very comprehensive Master, so I had prepared myself to think about my own priorities. My aim was to focus mainly on the topics of politics and cultural diplomacy. Since there’s a wide range of classes and a lot of freedom for your research paper choice, I have been pretty satisfied with the knowledge I have been gaining. I guess I didn’t expected that much individual and independent work. But this is probably due to simple differences in education system backgrounds. It gets tough, but it’s completely worth it!
Reverse culture shock: A comparison of the expression of hospitality in Sweden and Taiwan
By Huiyu Chuang
As mobility makes up one of the core values of the Euroculture program, every Euroculturer more or less has cultivated a certain level of “Cultural Intelligence” (CQ) in order to handle all sorts of situations related to intercultural adaptation. Before moving to a new destination, we consciously or unconsciously take different approaches (that are influenced by our personal motivations, and personality) to better prepare ourselves for new cultural encounters. However, when we have to temporarily break away from the culture we have become so comfortable with — or even to go home, back where we come from — we are at the frontline in experiencing possible reverse culture shock.
Reverse culture shock is the process of readjusting, re-acculturating, and re-assimilating into one’s own culture back home after having lived in a different cultural environment for a long period of time. I wonder how my fellow European classmates (who share a common sense of European identity yet are still differentiated due to their unique national cultures) go through the emotions and experiences of reverse culture shock as I do. Crossing over more than five thousand miles from one culture to another, I found that the moment I landed on my homeland (Taiwan), within a week, I felt a weird feeling that strikes me as strong as a typical subtropical typhoon rain. The best way to get out of the storm without getting soaking wet is not to compare cultural aspects of another country with what cultural aspects in our country lack. Aspects that we see as positive in one culture could not be “transplanted” from one place to another without taking fundamental differences and local conditions into consideration. Thus, in this article, I aim to share my experience by showing you the different ways to express hospitality in Taipei (Taiwan) and Uppsala (Sweden) and how this reflection once again reminds me of my responsibility of studying cross cultures.
The most beautiful scenery is…
“The most beautiful scenery in Taiwan is its people.” This is a famous slogan that the Taiwanese tourism sector proudly uses to highlight how hospitable Taiwanese people are. Its credibility is endorsed by international media and many foreign travelers’ testimonies. I have never doubted it, but honestly, I do so based on national pride. For local Taiwanese people, Taiwanese hospitality has never been consciously appreciated because we are so used to it, that to some extent, we take it for granted. This is especially true in the service sector. In the context of Taiwan, it is important to keep in mind that the majority of customers wish to be served hospitably as VIPs, so bosses expect their employees know this “common rule” as well as to provide their hospitable service to the maximum level. The career training often encourages employee to accept this rule by heart and show their hospitality sincerely and naturally as a habit. For those who are naturally critical of this, they might find similar awkwardness as I did in the following stories.
It was about seven o’clock in the evening. I accompanied my parents to a mobile telecom company service center. I did not realize this visit would become a one-on-three private lesson, which causes the staff to work overtime in order to maintain their highly valued “customer satisfaction”. The staff not only completed the basic demonstration and system setting for the new phones, she even accepted my dad’s request to set up everything on the new phones exactly the same as the old phones. Two hours later when everything finished, she came out from her counter and said goodbye to us. I asked my parents: how much do we pay her for her help? Of course, I knew the answer by heart. The service charge covers only the phones — so why is she willing to provide her service to such a degree, and how can customers like my parents be that happy while being served “extra” as the staff did, knowing it is not fairly remunerated? I carried these complicated feelings on my next purchase at a Taiwanese pharmacy chain store.
It was the final day before my coupon expired. When it was my turn to pay, the staff smiled and said, “I am sorry, the gift mentioned on the coupon is out of stock. However, you can wait until our next program starts which is next week, and use the coupon then.” Sounds pretty reasonable, so I brought those products back to the shelf, but she stopped me and explained which of the products I chose were going to have its prices raised next week (so I should buy them today) and which ones will retain its current price. I was embarrassed because she thought I cared about the price difference, when actually what I really cared about was the coupon. It seems that she knew the customer’s concern, so she actively responded by that suggestion even though I did not mean it and ask for it. But, I still appreciate her unexpected hospitable customer service for a poor student. During the following days, similar patterns keep happening in different cases, in noodle restaurants, in the household registration center, and so on.
In Taiwan, 60% of the population contributes their labor in the service sector, which accounts for 63-65% (2010-2017) of the GDP. The notion of supplying a person’s service as his act of labor implies that whoever can provide better service, decides who can win over customers’ hearts and their money. Drawing on my own observations so far as well as information from local Taiwanese magazines, “good service” is defined by maximum customer satisfaction. In many cases, Taiwanese people care more about affection than rationality. Staff is always expected to figure out what customers’ request is and try to satisfy it. If they can’t satisfy the level of “rationality”, they have to take care of the customer’s affection, usually by giving them alternatives, further suggestions, compensations such as discounts or gifts, or any possible way to make them feel better for the inability to attain the customer’s request. Gradually, some customers are spoiled by the so called “customer first” or “customer is always right” philosophy. Then a term, “奧客” (ào kè direct translation — difficult customer or problematic customer) is created, referring to a customer who places unattainable requests. They follow the original price set, but try to ask for more benefits, and make the supply-and-demand relationship out of balance. To handle this type of difficult customer, the Taiwanese service sector is trained to be super caring to the extent that it becomes my reverse culture shock.
Ask, and it shall be given you
Reverse culture shock is usually derived from a comparison a person makes with a different cultural environment in which he/she has grown accustomed to. In my case, the expression of hospitality I have received in Sweden is different. There is a balance between showing an amount of hospitality (which is considered as “appropriate”) and how much the recipients express his/her need of it. If a person does not express his/her need for help, then another person would usually not interrupt his/her silence (a laissez faire approach, so to speak). I learned this lesson by going through several interesting stories. Many times, I have difficulties making my mind to buy either item A or B. While I was struggling, I noticed I have a lot of personal space in the stores in Sweden. Even so, once I asked for some opinions from the staff, they were sincere in offering their knowledge, but just the information they think they know. This perfectly corresponds to a saying, “To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.”
Besides the retailor sector, I also found similar proof in other aspects of my daily life. While staying in “corridor style” dorm, I enjoyed the balance between having my own space in my private room and social life in the common areas. My “corridor life” was composed of four people in a house. One is Swedish, one has lived in Sweden for more than ten years, the third one is an Italian learning Swedish language and culture, and me. Coming from a culture that cherishes collectivity, I got used to it quickly. However, when hard times came and I needed help, I found that my roommates have been holed up inside their respective rooms for many days, or often rushes into their own rooms right after coming back home. I thought I had better forget my need, but later I realized it does not necessarily mean they are shy or cold like the stereotypes about Swedish people. Once I took my first step to ask, I got tons of helpful responses. Sometimes, if concrete help is not available at that moment, it is very possible that it comes a while later. Several times, I found a sticky note written with the answers to my question on my room door next day. Or similar to another surprise I received from the language center, they informed me of a chance suddenly emerged after my request was declined due to high demand for their language consultancy.
After comparing the different expressions of hospitality in Taiwan and Sweden, I notice the position of “the giver” is stronger in the former case, where one is more active in exerting his/her hospitality as a natural gesture of friendliness, or a trained reflective habit to cater to his target. As for the later case, it takes a step back perspective to embody the concept of egalitarianism in interpersonal relationship without leaving trace of intrusion and pre-assumption.
Do similarities or differences attract each other?
The theories of similarity attraction and complementary principle are not that unfamiliar to most people. Though in interpersonal relationship perceived similarity is more proven as a factor to result in human liking by scientific researches, complementary principle still explains those exceptions. For example those people who are into intercultural exchange. When we are exposed to various cross cultural input during our study, one of the relevant topics constantly being discussed is the attitude to immigration and the tolerance to cross culture underlined by it. Generally, older people are more concerned about immigration than younger people. One of the reasons is the difference of birth cohorts that decides what life experiences they could have.
Young generation has many chances to receive diversity training (e.g. Erasmus program, international voluntary projects, overseas working experience). These opportunities empower us to shape our future society as open and friendly to cultural differences, which can better collaborate with cross cultural organizations beyond the governmental level. However, this vision would happen only when we are fully aware of the responsibility we are taking to reflect on our attitudes across cultural differences. It is important for people who learn culture to be able to sensitively observe and possess sympathy to differences by using our creativity, passion, and bravery to question why things are the way they are.
Chaban, Natalia, Allan Williams, Martin Holland, Valerie Boyce, and Frendehl Warner. “Crossing Cultures: Analysing the Experiences of NZ Returnees from the EU (UK vs. Non-UK).” International Journal of Intercultural Relations 35, no. 6 (November 2011): 776–90. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2011.03.004
Klohnen, Eva C., and Luo, Shanhong. “Interpersonal Attraction and Personality: What Is Attractive–Self Similarity, Ideal Similarity, Complementarity or Attachment Security?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85, no. 4 (October 2003): 709–22. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1249
La, Suna, and Choi, Beomjoon. “The Role of Customer Affection and Trust in Loyalty Rebuilding after Service Failure and Recovery.” The Service Industries Journal 32 (January 1, 2012): 105–25.https://doi.org/10.1080/02642069.2011.529438
Meredith, Willaim H., Abbott, Douglas A., Tsai, Rita, and Zheng, Fu Ming. “Healthy Family Functioning in Chinese Cultures: An Exploratory Study Using the Circumplex Model.” International Journal of Sociology of the Family 24, no. 1 (1994): 147–57.http://www.jstor.org/stable/23029805
Treger, Stanislav, and Masciale, James N.. “Domains of Similarity and Attraction in Three Types of Relationships.” Interpersona: An International Journal on Personal Relationships 12, no. 2 (December 21, 2018): 254–66. https://doi.org/10.5964/ijpr.v12i2.321
“Should we sign a contract before each sexual intercourse, now?! This is insane!” Yes, indeed. It is definitely insane to think that a law recently passed in Sweden, placing consent at the core of any rape or sexual assault accusation, automatically forces all parties involved in a sexual act to draft and sign a legally binding contract prior to any intercourse involving penetration. The problem is that our society is unable to grasp a concept that should be the main driving force in any human interaction – professional, personal, intimate, or public. Before our birth, our life is shaped on the basis of this concept’s fragile survival.
This notion is the infamous C-word, consent, and it is crucial not only in our sexual life, but in more or less every single aspect of our lives. It shows up when you switch on your phone, when you commute to work, when you need medical care, when you walk in a park etc. It shows up when you have tea with friends, when you listen to music, when you visit an exhibition, when you purchased the phone or computer you are using to read this article. This is a factual statement. Here comes the opinion-motivated one: this concept, omnipresent and yet, paradoxically almost absent from our lives, is highly feminist and has a significant feminine character. Yet, men benefit from its existence more than women – this, again, is a factual statement based on statistics readily available by anyone interested in the topic.
Before going any further, I need to add an essential sentence, unfortunately. I hope one day, the sooner the better, this sentence will become obsolete. Please take into account while reading it that this article may contain sensitive information that could act as triggers for victims and survivors of sexual assaults.Continue reading “The C-Word: Rethinking Feminism”→
Béline Hermet (2017-2019, FR) has a background in International Development with a minor in Italian Studies. After a couple of years in Canada, she wanted to go back to Europe. For her, Euroculture was an obvious choice. Apart from her interest in the issues the programme attempts to tackle, she finds additional appeal in the mobility opportunities that the programme offers, which allow her to study in different universities and countries in a multicultural environment with international students.
Béline started her Euroculture life in Uppsala and Göttingen. She spent her third semester doing an Editorial Assistant internship at Eurozine, a network of European cultural journals and an online magazine, headquartered at Vienna, Austria.
Thanks Béline for taking the time to share your experience!
1. So, why an internship?
I know I don’t want to do a PhD, so I was sure from the beginning that I wanted to do an internship to have professional experience and opportunities. I have not yet had the opportunity to do an internship that is of longer duration, and I wanted to get a better idea of what I want to do after Euroculture.