The second interview of the section “SOS Thesis: Alumni4Students” presents Maeva Chargros, who tells us about her Euroculture experience and gives students an insight into her thesis. Maeva is French and was in the 2017-2019 Euroculture cohort. Before that, she did a BA in Nordic Studies at the University of Caen, France, with an Erasmus in Tartu, Estonia. Before enrolling in the MA, she worked for start-ups and NGOs all over Europe, gaining some experience in the field of digital communications. Maeva started her Euroculture path at the Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, moving to the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, for her second semester. She was so impressed by the atmosphere of the small Czech town that she decided to spend her third semester (Research Track) and eventually begin a PhD there. When asked about the reasons that led her to apply for Euroculture, she simply said that she wanted to get a MA in something related to European Studies, which could lead her to a job in political communication.
Euroculturer Magazine: How would you describe Euroculture to future students? And what does it represent to you?
Maeva Chargros: Euroculture is a cosy bubble – but in a good way. It does not cut you off from the rest of the world, instead, it is quite the opposite. It facilitates your peregrinations, it helps you figure out what you want your next steps to be, and everything is done so that once the bubble pops open, you land on your two feet from a safe height. So, it’s a cosy bubble that turns you into a cat… Sort of…
In this new section of the Euroculturer Magazine, we interview alumni who have much more to offer than an insight on the Master itself and can actually give many tips to current students regarding their own thesis writing process.
The first one is Ashanti Collavini, who was part of Euroculture 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. For the third semester, she chose the research track at UNAM, the Mexican partner university. Before Euroculture, Ashanti did a BA in Foreign Languages and Literatures (English and Spanish) in Italy. She applied for Euroculture because she wanted to broaden her studies towards other subjects and gain international experience. She also wanted to live and study in foreign countries, improve her language skills and experience new cultures and academic systems. Ashanti is currently undertaking a second Master’s degree at the University of Trieste, but she is also the current Euroculture coordinator for the University of Udine.
Euroculturer Magazine: How would you describe Euroculture to future students? And what does it represent to you?
Ashanti Collavini: I would describe Euroculture as a unique opportunity of life enrichment. One of those that gives students a set of skills and knowledge that they probably wouldn’t be able to fully develop by studying only in their own countries. At least, this is true for me! Euroculture represents a life-changing experience, since each country I studied and lived in shaped who I am today.
Depending on the university you attend, you either have just started your Euroculture journey, or you are about to embark on it. Surely the coordinators of the programme have sent you some explanations and instructions already (and they will send you many, many more, so brace yourself for the next two years). But don’t you wish you had that older brother, that friend from the previous year who could tell you what it is really like to cram European Law at night at the library, to understand the culinary culture of your new host country, and to find a place that does not rip you off for printing your thesis? Here comes the good news. Your older siblings exist – if not biologically, then at least euroculturally – and we have asked them for their best pieces of advice.
Learn to pack light
When I spoke to Rumen (Euroculture 11-13), a Bulgarian who studied in Sweden and France, the first thing that came to his mind is the skill of packing light. (for more tips, go to https://euroculturer.eu/2012/10/14/miss-help-packing/) “It could happen that you spend three or even four semesters in different countries. Putting your whole life together in a 20-kg suitcase is an art,” he says. Radostina (Euroculture 11-13), who studied at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, recommends bringing formal attire. “Go to at least one gasque,” she advises future Uppsala students on the traditional dinners in the Swedish university town.
Get ready for the intercultural ride of your lives
With packing comes moving, and Rumen emphasizes that he regards this as the most enriching part of the MA Euroculture programme. Learning to adapt quickly and making the most of the new environment is vital, he believes: “Brace yourselves for the intercultural ride of your lives!” Rumen urges new students to make the most of the opportunities they are presented with, even though moving between countries is scary. Getting out and seizing every day of the short time you spend in your host countries is the thing to do. Alexandra (Euroculture 12-14), an American euroculturer in Germany and the Netherlands, agrees. “It is key to make sure you don’t spend all of your time on Skype with friends and family back home,” she remembers.
Large parts of your life will be spent in the library – acquaint yourself with it
With a programme as stressful and demanding as MA Euroculture, you will sooner or later need a social net to fall back on. Befriending the people around you is her advice. Having a coffee in one of the cozy cafés of Uppsala, Udine, or Göttingen might also spark good ideas for class projects and later lead to a relationship that lasts longer than your study time. Peter (Euroculture 11-13), a Dutch student who has been from Holland to Spain, and then to Costa Rica and back, even suggests securing a friend on the first day – a friend with library access: “Be sure to have all library services accessible to you, you are going to need them a lot!” As long as your administration with the university and library is not taken care of yet, you are bound to fall behind. Do not miss out on the library introductions, and learn how to use their resources, which probably are handled in different systems at all of the different MA Euroculture universities.
Make friends – also with professors
Alexandra has felt that professors are approachable and therefore emphasises the importance of keeping in touch with them. “It will also help alleviate a lot of the stress,” she adds. Networking is also important during your two years as an MA Euroculture student. “Taking every opportunity to meet with alumni, professors, fellow students, and anyone else expressing interest in the programme is beneficial to one’s success as a Euroculture graduate,” she suggests.
Learn your host country’s language
Try to learn the language of your host country. You might not become a fluent speaker in the short time you are there, but it is an excellent opportunity not to wander around in complete oblivion and accidentally get on the wrong bus because you cannot read the signs. Multilingualism is common among MA Euroculture students, and most of your classmates will speak three languages. Be part of the linguistic environment, and make sure you have that other language your future employer might be looking for. “Don’t tell yourself: ‘I’ll only be here for one semester.’ You never know where you’ll end up,” Rumen says. Once you establish a basis in Swedish, Basque, or Dutch, you can easily learn more of the language later on.
Radostina points to modern technology as a means of making your life easier. Get involved on Facebook and join the relevant groups for your university. You might be amazed what you can get from there: furniture and bikes, mentors and parties, study groups and job hunts. Join the student unions, and turn to them when in doubt. Often you can get things cheaper there, like print outs for those many theses that you will submit.
Take care of yourself
Noodles and toasts were fine when you were an undergraduate, but not so much now that most of us have passed the age of 21. Olga (Euroculture 11-13), a Russian Euroculturer, stresses the importance of living healthy to survive the programme. “Work out and eat healthy!” she says. Getting sick is not an option, Peter adds. “As long as you are not in a casket, drag yourself to university,” he says. Let go of your illusions, and try to prepare the social contacts you have had so far about how busy you will be, Peter warns with a twinkle in his eye: “You are a Euroculture student now. This means you will have very little time. Many relationships will not survive this test.” You will meet your friends at airports and feel like you are constantly speed-dating your partner.
Make the most of it
As frightening as this sounds, all Euroculturers unanimously declare that while you should work hard to stay on top of things, you should also make time to play: go out for drinks with your classmates, take part in university events, and enjoy the unique experiences your cities offer. You might never be able to come back – max out the opportunities.
Helen is from Germany and studied BA History and Gender Studies. She studied Euroculture in the University of Göttingen and Uppsala University, and did an internship 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. This summer, she works with visitors coming to Stockholm. 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).
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.
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.
What is it that reflects the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana the most? It is the ‘red pickup truck’. In my very first picture of Indianapolis, I captured this favourite car of the ‘typical Indian resident’. I was wondering, why is it so popular here? My American classmates explained to me that it’s like with “Hoosier values”. Indeed, this explanation did not help me at all. But then I had a chance to watch the political campaign ads of candidates running for the office of Governor of Indiana and finally figured out this mystery of Indiana’s culture. John Gregg, a Democratic candidate, explains: “To hold ‘Hoosier values’ means to respect hard work, personal responsibility and faith. These values draw the Indiana community together, from church on Sunday morning until the basketball court on Friday night”. This is the essence of the local people: Hoosiers.
Indianapolis: I would say a ‘typical American city’ where everyone has a car, historical monuments are not really historical (at least in comparison with our European standards), and people are very friendly. There is always a smile whenever you meet someone. Indianapolis brings the best of American culture. It is home to the internationally renowned Indianapolis Motor Speedway (advice for students coming for the Autumn semester – do not miss the last race, “Indy 500”, at the end of August). Indianapolis offers numerous museums. Do you love fine art? You have to visit Indianapolis Museum of Art with a great collection of European, as well as American, painters and much more. Do you want to return to your childhood? You shouldn’t miss the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – the largest children’s museum in the world. Do you want to explore the history of the Native Americans? The Eiteljorg Museum is the right place for you.
DO NOT MISS!
– Pumpkin pie, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, real American steak;
– Travelling to Chicago for a 10 US$ return ticket with the Greyhound bus company;
– Every Thursday student night in bar Howl at the Moon (1 US$ beer + live music)
IUPUI is a well-known university across the United States, especially due to its School of Medicine which has one of the largest student bodies in the country. For MA Euroculture students, IUPUI offers a variety of subjects from different departments of the School of Liberal Arts. As far as I know, Euroculture students remain faithful to the departments of Political Science, Sociology, Communication Studies, and World Languages and Cultures. The university facilities are excellent! But considering the amount of money American students pay for a year at the university, it is understandable.
It takes you a few weeks to understand that American classes are far different from European ones. Here is the essence of American success: productive discussion, participation in class, and critical thinking. American students are used to expressing their opinions, so you are expected to talk a lot. If I believed that the only way to gain knowledge was via memorising facts, I was completely wrong. Graduate classes are pretty demanding; you have to work hard throughout the whole semester. In general, graduate students have a regular job while studying, which is why their classes start at 6pm at the earliest. Local students have a lot of experience to share; for every class they work 100 % and beyond. The best you can do to combat your student culture shock is to get involved, jump out of your comfort zone, and make yourself known.
However, American students do not travel much or do not travel at all (many of my classmates have never left the state of Indiana), but at the same time they are very friendly, helpful and open to international students. They seem to be very interested in talking about different cultures, do not hesitate to invite you to a Thanksgiving party, and offer to drive you anywhere you need (because they are afraid of local public urban transport).
Ludmila Vávrová, Olomouc/Indiana Correspondent
Ludmila is from the Czech Republic, and studied Economics and Management for B.Sc. and European Diplomacy for M.Sc. She studied Euroculture in Palacky University, Olomouc and the University of Strasbourg. She is currently doing a research track in Indianapolis with an interest in finding image/word arguments during the 2012 presidential election campaigns in the US and in France. Ludmila is a girl with a dream, mostly involving Czech beer.