In 1992, forty years after the European Union was established, the Maastricht Treaty introduced the notion of a “European citizen”.
It did not go well. Not only did this new term awaken mistrust between the peoples of the EU’s different Member States, it even caused such considerable internal controversy states such as Denmark that the European Council had to release a statement in order to confirm that “citizenship of the Union is a political and legal concept which is entirely different from national citizenship (…)”. In the same year, the European Commission sought ways to create common EU symbols but faced strong resistance from the Member States. A good example of this was the Commission’s proposals to have athletes from all Member States appear as one delegation during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, a proposal which was fully roundly by governments.
Now, 1992 seems a long time ago, and surely, one would think, that after more than twenty years, with a generation already born as European citizens coming into adulthood, this term would have to be something warm and familiar, something, we cherish as much as our nationality.
But, for most, it is not.
In the European Union’s web portal, it is still stated that “EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship.” Eurosceptics keep arguing that to overcome nationality is impossible, and those who think otherwise are to be regarded as utopian fantasts. With Brexit, it feels like the utopian idea of a one strong, united Europe is slowly drifting away. More and more people from the Member States reject the idea of an ever-closer Europe, often out of fear that their state might lose its sovereignty under the pressure of common policies. On this note, one might even argue that it is the lack of trust and general indifference among the Europeans that is the main reason why the European Union is facing such problems now.
A survey conducted by TNS political & social at the request of the European Commission in 2015 shows that there still are people in the Member States – fortunately, not too many, and the share of them is declining – that do not even fully understand the term “European citizen” and the mystery hidden within the term . In 2015, 13 % of the respondents stated that they have never even heard the term “citizens of the European Union”, while 35 % of respondents said that they have heard about it, but do not know what it means exactly.
Maybe this is the reason why, when looking at the statistical data from 2015, over 30 % of the Europeans admit not feeling like a European citizen. In addition, 38 % of all Europeans admitted that they not only do not feel like a European citizen, they actually see themselves as exclusively a member of their nation. This, again, might be the reason why European citizens distance themselves from European affairs – this can be seen in all its “glory” when looking at the 2014 European Parliamentary election where only 42.6% of all people holding European citizenship voted. 42.6%! Not only it is that the lowest turnout since the first European elections in 1979, it also makes one think – what happened?
It is not like the idea is not being promoted. There are different levels of Erasmus programme available to encourage exploring other Member States, there are European days, information centres in every country, videos, information campaigns and the homepage run by the European Commission – europa.eu– can be accessed in every single official EU language. But somehow, the notion does not reach its target. It seems that on the way from Brussels to our homes, the information gets lost and never really reaches us, the citizens of the European Union.
So what does it mean to be a European citizen?
Let’s put it in an everyday perspective.
To be a European citizen means that you can finish your dinner with your Spanish family, and carry on your night with drinking a nice, cold bottle of German beer, maybe snacking on some French macaroons while watching Downton Abbey and texting with your best friend from Bulgaria. It means that you can say “Hello” in at least five languages, and your “bad” words collection is enormous thanks to your friends from Italy, Estonia and Greece.
Being a European citizen means you can spontaneously buy some low cost airplane tickets and have a nice weekend whether up in the snowy mountains, deep into mysterious forests or sunbathing in the sunny beaches, regardless whether you are from Latvia, Portugal or Slovenia.
On a more serious note, it means that you can make your voice heard by a petition, or a letter, or even by becoming a candidate for Parliamentary elections and you have the fundamental right not to be discriminated whether by race, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation. It means that, as long as you stay within the borders of the Union, you are never “illegal” and you can work and live abroad, and are always protected by the diplomatic and consular authorities in another twenty-seven countries, excluding your homeland. Being a European Citizen means that under certain conditions, if you feel that the national court of your homeland has ruled unfairly, you can bring the country to Court of Justice and fight for your truth.
To have the fortune to be a European citizen means that you have the rare opportunity to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the world in new ways again and again, and yet – stay true to your own nationality.
That is what being a European citizen means. Simple as that.
Elizabete Marija Skrastinais new to The Euroculturer. Keep up with her latest stories by following The Euroculturer on Facebook or by subscribing to our newsletter.
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
It was hard to gauge just how close we were to Pittsburgh. The number on the freeway signs kept getting smaller and smaller, “Pittsburgh 25 – 15 – 10,” but there were no skyscrapers in sight. Was this one of those sprawling American metropolises where you still had to drive for miles to get to the city centre, or were the Appalachian Mountains shielding the city from our view? Pittsburgh, 6 miles, we had to be close. Anticipation spurred a feeling of excitement as we neared the city, and relief set in that after a 5 hour journey we were almost at our destination. While driving through a dimly lit tunnel, we had no idea that we were about to get one of the best views you can get of any city.
The Fort Pitt tunnel is like having your friend cover her eyes before you reveal a gift that you were hiding from her. This was definitely the intention of my Pittsburgh connection, Matt Perna, whom I’ve shared an apartment with on another continent. “This is the only way to get into the city from the south side” he said. It is not, but now I realize his intention.
Pittsburgh is a city that sprawls upward from its core, climbing the surrounding mountains, intersected into 3 parts by the confluence of the Ohio River, the Monongahela River, and the Allegheny River. As we crossed the bridge close to where the 3 rivers meet, known in Pittsburgh as the golden triangle, the skyscrapers informed us of the city’s storied past. The cranes in the distance, however, informed us of a different narrative.
We keep driving, my head on a swivel. “Hey, keep your eyes on the road!” My co-pilot reminds me while snapping pictures. The massive smokestacks of the Heinz Ketchup factory billow smoke to the left of the bridge while the skyscrapers impose themselves over the Pittsburgh skyline on the right; the bridge and the road that follows, cuts the city in half.
Pittsburgh seems much bigger than the 305,000 inhabitants that Wikipedia informs me live there; a testament to its former glory as the steel capital of the United States, when the city was home to just under 700,000 at its height in the 1950s. While newer cities like San Francisco tower over Pittsburgh in height (and influence), it was Pittsburgh steel that made these cities possible.
Pittsburgh, like much of the American rustbelt, has historically been a centre for innovation. Cities such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh were the centres where many of the innovative manufacturing processes were invented (just think Henry Ford and the assembly line!). Traditionally these were places teeming with immigrants, coming here in search of opportunity. I can attest to this by drawing on my own family history; Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, was where my great uncle, Tadeusz Różałowski, came in search of opportunity, leaving behind a war torn Europe in 1917.
It did not take us long to find traces of these earlier migrations. On our very first night, with our couchsurfing host Corey, we ventured to Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. Corey is young professional in his early 30s, with a friendly demeanour and soft smile. He was lured to Pittsburgh by an opportunity to work for the Google sales department, which he gladly took. He shares his beautiful early 20th-century three bedroom flat with two large chocolate dobermans that almost knocked me over when I first entered his home, and on this particular night, with four eager guests. When we finally arrived at the bar, I found that half of the menu consisted of Polish food and beer. “I’ll have a żywiec” I said. I spotted what I thought to be the owner leaning on the bar, looking up at the TV news headlines. I was right, his name was Steve. The TV broadcaster beamed: “last flight for US Airways leaves Pittsburgh after 78 years.” “That company is a Pittsburgh-owned company” Steve replied. He was a large man with a greying goatee and combed back greying hair. He told me that he came to Pittsburgh as a child in the 1950s. The only thing he remembered how to say in Polish was a prayer he was forced to recite by his father before dinner every day for years, “I’ll never forget that prayer!” His mom’s home cooking is what gave him the idea for this restaurant, which turns into a watering hole in the late evenings. His aunt comes in and makes the pierogi fresh every day, “just like mom used to make them” he exclaimed with a gregarious expression.
The next day we decided to go to Market Street and visited a variety of foreign owned markets. Many of them were owned by participants of a later wave of migration, from Asia and South America. There were Chinese shops, Vietnamese Pho, Mexican tacos and my favourite – Korean street food. Having spent some time in Korea, I was immediately drawn to the Korean shop, selling delicious Korean pancakes called pae-jeon. This particular street was lined with shops for a couple of miles. Small food stalls out front in the sidewalk tempted passers-by like ourselves to step in. The smell of peppers and frying potatoes rose up with the heat from the flat-grill. A convincing “annyong haseo” from the woman behind the grill and a direct smile now forced us to stop and try some (as if I needed any more convincing). The owner and his wife ran the store and gave us tips on Korean restaurants to check out nearby where we could get really authentic Korean food.
Immigrants have been coming to America since its inception. According to Rebecca Mayhew, the relationship manager of the Columbus (Ohio) based Economic Community Development Institute, a non-profit offering small business loans to immigrants and other would-be entrepreneurs, rebuilding cities “can’t afford to bypass the economic injection these folks [immigrants] can bring” (Guth 2015). A WE (Welcoming Economies Global Network) report claims that from 2000-2010, the native population in Midwest metros grew by only 3.3%, while immigrants account for 27% of all Midwest metro area population growth. With 18 of the 25 fastest shrinking cities in the Rust Belt, cities like Pittsburgh are counting on immigration for growth (WE Global Network). It is people like Steve, the Korean couple on Market Street, and many others that have been responsible for a lot of the growth in Pittsburgh in the past, and this is exactly what mayors are trying to recreate in the near future.
Mayors of cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh are beginning to realize the benefits immigrants can bring. Public officials in these cities have been vocal about foreign-born entrepreneurs serving as a catalyst for business creation and rebuilding downtrodden neighbourhoods. Pittsburgh mayor, Bill Peduto, believes immigrants can be a major part of a repopulation strategy that calls for 20,000 new city residents by 2025, a plan that has job creation as one of its cornerstones (Guth 2015). Cleveland, for example, is planning to house refugees in rehabilitated homes to reinvigorate run-down communities. Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, has already laid the groundwork. In January 2014 he called for an infusion of 50,000 immigrants as part of a program to revitalize Detroit, and signed an executive order creating the Michigan Office for New Americans, whose mission is to help grow Michigan’s economy by attracting global talent and promote the skills, energy, and entrepreneurial spirit of its immigrant communities (Laitin and Jahr 2015).
On a different note, Detroit has also founded the Global Detroit initiative, raising millions to fund retention efforts aimed at international students. At Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, there are a lot of them. Indeed, the University itself was founded by another immigrant, the Scotsman Andrew Carnegie who came to the United States in 1847.
While still on Market Street, a postcard with a view from the very bridge we came into town over caught my eye; the golden triangle, the skyline, hills with homes stretching in all directions, and then west of the downtown area, a cluster of modern buildings. My friend Matt, a Pittsburgh metro area native informed me that this is the Carnegie-Mellon campus. Seeing the campus had been on my to-do list from the beginning; it was there that we went next..
The campus was brimming with youth. Lu Lu’s Noodle Bar was full of students from what seemed like all over the world. Students like Maxim Likhachev, from Latvia, who moved to Pittsburgh, where he later became a research professor at Carnegie-Mellon. Likhachev launched a company called TravelWits, a platform that merges transportation alternatives to determine the most affordable route to a destination (Guth 2015). The outlook of his company is optimistic – mirroring the optimism of the region. The Pittsburgh area, a former hub of production, has been able to make the shift to innovation and now boasts a tech savvy vibe because of the creatives who graduated from universities like Carnegie-Mellon, or work for Disney or Google and have relocated here. While the older migrants, like my great-uncle Tadeusz, came for work in the burgeoning coal and manufacturing industries, today, people like our couchsurfing host Corey move to Pittsburgh to work for Google.
A city like Pittsburgh, full of old bones left behind by long-gone industries, is not a singular case. Cities like it can be found in nearly every European country. What is different however, is in the way in which Pittsburgh, and other Rust Belt cities view the immigrants that come knocking on their proverbial doors. While in Europe many immigrants are viewed as guest workers that will eventually go back to their countries of origin, many cities in the US want them not only to come but also to stay, to help repopulate their cities and infuse them with the vibrancy they once had. Pittsburgh and other post-industrial cities in the region have made welcoming immigrants a central part of their “comeback strategy.” With an influx of immigrants coming to Europe, and in light of Europe’s similar demographic woes, governments should consider seeking policies that are aimed at viewing immigrants as people that can contribute not only their labour, but also become part of the fabric of their cities.
When given the chance and respect they deserve, immigrant communities are more than capable of positively influencing neighbourhoods; especially with the right government policies in place. A good example of this is The CityStar Neighborhood Management Program in Berlin. This program has proven that socially inclusive policies help to revive downtrodden neighbourhoods. Recognized by the EU as a Regio Star award winner, it takes into account the needs and abilities of neighbourhood city councils, many of these councils being immigrant groups, which work together to complete revitalization projects (REGIO STARS 2013 Winner). This is surely a good start.
The economic benefits are even more apparent. Studies of the economic benefits of welcoming immigrants are plentiful in the US as well as in Europe. In a 2014 article published in The Guardian, Robert Chote, the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility said letting more immigrants into the UK “does tend to produce a more beneficial picture for the public purse.” Chote told the Treasury select committee: “because they’re more likely to be working age, they’re more likely to be paying taxes and less likely to have relatively large sums of money spent on them for education, for long-term care, for healthcare, for pension expenditure” (Mason 2014). Although these types of statements are numerous, immigrant groups are often used as scapegoats by politicians.
Too often, immigrants are accused of taking jobs, not creating them. Many nationalist governments are claiming this; research, however, has proven otherwise.
In many ways, comparing the United States to Europe may not be as easy as comparing apples to apples. However, these developed regions do experience many of the same phenomena. Immigration has long been an integral part of the experience of America; Europe is catching up. Maybe it is time to draw on each other’s experiences, embrace the people that long to live in our communities, and help each other scrub off the rust of our once great cities.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of The Euroculturer.
In October 2015, Groningen’s first year Euroculture students went on a three-day study excursion to Brussels. Together with our teacher and organizer of the trip, Albert Meijer, we visited EU institutions, namely the European Commission and Parliament, the EU’s Executive Agency for Education, Audiovisual and Culture (EACEA), as well as two independent associations, namely the European Movement, and the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).
Seventeen first year Euroculture students visiting the heart of the EU: a lot of fun and Belgian beer. But it also entails enriching discussions with EU officials and lobbyists – this year regarding human rights in and outside EU.
Studying Europe from an interdisciplinary perspective is amazing: its cultural, societal, and political integration not only appeals to various interests, but is capable of inspiring new interests within students, leading to almost insatiable curiosity. However, one day most of us will have to leave the academic ivory tower and decide on a concrete working field. For this reason, Euroculture Groningen organizes for each first year student group a trip to the perhaps most attractive destination for European studies scholars: Brussels, the permanent seat of several EU institutions, EU related agencies and innumerable lobbying associations. In other words: the heart of the European Union. For three days, seventeen first year Euroculture students explored this vibrant city, wondering which of them would someday end up in the offices of EU officials and lobbyists.
In view of the topic of the upcoming Intensive Program, “Ideals and Ambiguities of Human Rights in Europe, Past and Present,” this year’s trip to Brussels focused on human rights. For the inside perspective, we met the European Network Against Racism. To explore EU human rights policies outside its territory, we conferred with the European External Action Service (EEAS). For everybody participating in the 2016 IP or just interested in human rights issues, we want to share our experience with you. Continue reading “Defending Human Rights? Euroculture Students on the Track of Human Rights In and Outside EU”→
Elena Mitryukova is a Euroculture student who loves the international experience of the two years of the Master programme. She loves travelling, looking for adventures and running from the routine. “The most amazing adventure for me is the people I meet on the way and what I learn from them,” she says. “Right now I am living in Krakow, Poland. Originally I am from Volgograd, Russia. And I am not sure where I will be in several years. To be honest, I like this. I had barely travelled until 21 and until my first big trip to the United States for 4 months. And then I could not stop myself. I like planning trips and can give a lot of tips on how to spend less or to find something special while travelling. I will be happy to share my experience.”
This is a short report about several days I spent in Stockholm, some tips on how to save money there and what to do. I do not claim being the best expert and certainly do not compete with the students studying in Uppsala. However it is from my friends who asked, persuaded and questioned me on my trip, that this report was born.
Stockholm is a beautiful city, tolerant, democratic, open-minded, interesting and worth visiting. However, probably not all of this is true in February… Before arriving in the city, I had been advised three times to come in summer instead. However I still enjoyed it and would like to see what Stockholm is like during the warmer seasons.
Is too much freedom a dead-end-road? How does it feel to be stuck in too much freedom? This article describes the challenges of a generation born into too much freedom.
Eike-Maria Hinz │email@example.com
Freedom has many facets: freedom of speech, freedom to vote, freedom of religion, the list goes on…. In modern western societies, these freedoms have been established, through clashes, conflicts and wars, which lead to the establishment of democracies, where the value of freedom is one of the greatest intrinsic values of society.
If we look at the young generations in western modern societies there is a dilemma with all these freedoms. What do I mean by this? One could argue that there can never be enough freedom on an individual and society basis these days. Yes and no.
“There is a dilemma with all these freedoms…”
Young adults enjoy a life of freedom in many areas of their lives. Not only that they are able to vote freely, speak out loud what they feel or think or choose their life partners liberally with no societal restrictions. They are also able to travel the world, connect via social media with more than half of the earth’s population, take and find jobs all over the globe, and make individual choices to have friends without any restrictions aside from individual choices. Continue reading “Lost in Freedom? The Dilemma of Having Too Much Freedom”→
When I began Euroculture, I was very determined to learn languages and integrate myself into the host country. Not to say I didn’t achieve this to some extent, but the reality is that due to our short semesters, we ended up hanging out with people from Euroculture instead of the country we live in, creating a bubble for ourselves as we float around Europe. Perhaps it is all part of the grand scheme for creating “European Identity”; however, I’ve yet to meet a “European” that would define themselves as such. We are supposed to learn to be inter-culturally competent, yet since we all live in this international bubble of culturally “open-minded” people, are we really adapting or just observers from our Euroculture bubble?
As my time in Euroculture nears its end, I have begun to reflect on some these unintended consequences of living in the Euroculture bubble. At first, it seemed like a great idea; the opportunity to live, study, work and/or travel in a different country every four months. The perfect way to learn new languages and gain knowledge about other cultures, but now I think it’s too much. We are human after all and need to feel at home with our group of friends, our shared history and inside jokes. It’s as if you don’t completely fit in anywhere. Sure you can get along and everyone will be impressed with your “interesting” life, but making true local friends is another story. It seems almost as if you can only relate to people with the same nomadic lifestyle as your own, but then just as you feel comfortable everyone leaves to start over again. Continue reading “The Euroculture Bubble”→
The Euroculturer has invited Lex Tan Yih Liang, a student in the Erasmus Mundus Europhotonics Master’s programme to feature in this edition. Originally from Malaysia, Lex is an active member of the Erasmus Mundus Student and Alumni Association (EMA) as well as a founder of travel website ‘LeX Paradise’ since 2009, which is followed by over 3,000 people on Facebook. (http://www.facebook.com/LexParadise)
1) Hello, Lex, nice to see you here. Could you briefly introduce yourself and your Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme, Europhotonics?
Sure, I am Lex from Malaysia, an ordinary guy that dreams big. I love technology, entrepreneurship, and traveling. I guess those interests lead me to this prestigious Master’s programme, which is the Erasmus Mundus Master’s program, Europhotonics. It is a Master’s program that focuses on ”light”, or “photon” as it is known scientifically. In the field of photonics there are endless areas to explore and develop. These include laser technology which is used in the medical field, but also in machinery; renewable energy such as solar energy, and wind energy; consumer devices such as lighting, smartphones, and screen panels; optical devices such as telescopes, microscopes, and cameras. I have to say it is a great Master’s programme and I am finishing it later this year 2013.
2) Why did you choose to come to Europe to study one of the Erasmus Mundus programmes? And after studying Europhotonics for over two years, what do you feel about the choice you made two years ago?
I choose this program because I have a strong interest in technology, especially in renewable energy and the IT sector. Secondly, the Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme is one you would not want to miss out on if you like to travel. Lastly, this Master’s programme also offers entrepreneurship training and courses in its curriculum. That’s why I am in this program right now.
What I feel about my decision to take part in this programme? Simply awesome! Totally! I made the right choice, no regrets!
3) Could you tell us about LeX Paradise? How did it all start?
I founded LeX Paradise back in 2009 when I was living in South Korea. It was just a virtual space for me to write down my travel experiences in Korea. Four months into my stay there, Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) organised a contest for people that write about South Korea. I was really curious about the contest, and ended up joining.. I continued to write more about my travels and I was getting more familiar with Korea. At the end of the contest, I received an award as one of the top 30 travel bloggers. All of the winners were invited to a luxury trip around South Korea. I met many professional travel writers, youtubers, and entrepreneurs in the travel industry. From that point on, I learned to improve as a travel writer, webmaster, and internet marketer.
Yes, that was how I started LeX Paradise!
4) There are many Erasmus Mundus students who wish to run their own travel website given that we travel a lot as part of the curriculum, but it is not easy to keep it running since we normally have very tight schedules. How do you juggle with your studies and your extra-curricular activities as a travel writer, especially considering LeX Paradise is getting bigger and bigger every day?
Really? I met some of them but not so many. Are you one of them? If anyone is interested to start one, let me know – we could discuss it. (You can contact Lex here).
You are quite right about the amount of work as Erasmus Mundus students have to complete. It is not easy to manage all the activities alone. For that reason, contributors play a big role of maintaining the website as well as ensuring that quality contents continue flowing into the website. So that’s mainly how I get by.
And finally, LeX Paradise is not as big as you think but yes, it is getting better.
5) Have you heard about the MA Euroculture programme before? What is the first impression you had upon hearing the name of the programme? Let’s put it another way: if you were to meet a MA Euroculture student for the first time, what kind of questions would you ask to keep the person interested?
I heard about it when I was at the EMA-General assembly. What came to my mind was a Master’s program that covers a wide range of European cultures, including politics, social issues, communities, and of course Culture.
As for the question, it would depend on where that student is from.
To a European student I would ask: “What has the main influence of European culture been over the past decades?”.
To a non-European student: “What is the main difference between European cultures and the culture of where you are from?”
6) You are an active member of the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA). Could you briefly introduce your job as Promotion Team Coordinator in the EMA-Southeast Asian Chapter (EMA-SEA Chapter)?
As a Promotion Team Coordinator, I am responsible for promotion-related activities in the region, managing social media platforms, brainstorming on promotional events, providing latest Erasmus Mundus information to all the potential candidates as well as representing EMA-SEA Chapter for EMA events. Those are the main features of my job.
7) How did you get involved with the association, and what do you like most about the EMA?
At the beginning, I was a member of EMA, just like anyone else who registers once they start their Master’s program. From time to time, activities were organized online, and I got involved in some of them.
At one point, I thought I should get more involved in the association by contributing with my experiences but also to gain new skills and expertise. For that reason, I ran in the board member election of EMA-Southeast Asian Chapter and I was elected. So, that’s the actual starting point from which I became very involved in the association.
EMA provides a platform for students and alumni to explore endless opportunities including social networking, soft skills, professional development, mentoring, activist, community development and many more. It is a hub for all Erasmus Mundus Awardees to connect, share and make the world a better place.
This is what I really love about EMA.
8) What is the easiest way for other Erasmus Mundus students to be more active in the EMA?
Since EMA members are spread out all over the world, it is hard to get everyone together to tell them more about the association. One of the ways to contribute that I could suggest for other EMA member is to start with online virtual events. For example, participation in webinars, online professional speed dating, online conferencing, as well as in the discussion board. This is one of the best ways to start, and it is the way I started as well. Another way is to get to know EMA members locally and start organizing events and hangouts in your area.
9) One of the two themes of the 4th edition of The Euroculturer is “Welcome home”. Have you been back in Malaysia yet since you started MA Europhotonics, and if you have, how did it feel to be back? Do you think your experience as an Erasmus Mundus student in Europe drastically changed your perspectives toward your home country?
I haven’t been back to my home country yet, but I can imagine how I am going to feel about it. I think I am going to feel very glad to be back home again after such a great time in Europe, feel loved and cherished to meet all my loved ones, and feel a sense of responsibility by being part of a local and global community that strives to make the world a better place.
I think my experience as an Erasmus Mundus student in Europe changed my perspectives toward my country, especially those perspectives that could improve and develop my country, Malaysia!
10) Lastly, could you please tell us about your plans after graduating from the MA Europhotonics Programme? What kind of work do you want to do? Also, will you still be a travel writer then?
After Europhotonics, I will definitely return to my home country for a while and will be back again in Europe to do a PhD or to launch a start-up. As usual, my work will be very technological.
Of course, once travel writer, forever travel writer. Once EMA member, forever EMA member!
Thanks, Lex for sharing your story with The Euroculturer Magazine. We wish you all the best with everything you do, especially your studies, LeX Paradise, and your engagement with the EMA.
Interview by Eunjin Jeong, 2013-14 EMA Programme Representative of MA Euroculture.
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).