The Euroculture universities are full of surprises, as was demonstrated in the last edition of the consortium universities, that govered the hidden gems Olomouc, Krakow and Udine. All of the universities in the consortium have their own beauty, and this time we are travelling a little further north: to Groningen, Göttingen and Uppsala. The more northern universities, especially one particular very northern one, have a very obvious con: the rain, the snow, the ever-present cold. Or, in the Swedish case, the darkness. But do not be fooled by this particular con of the north of Europe, because these cities and universities have their own charm.
There’s nothing beyond Groningen
The Groningen city slogan is the following: “Er gaat niets boven Groningen“, or: “there nothing above and beyond Groningen”. It is a pun, due to its northern, and some might say peripheral, location in The Netherlands. There’s literately very little above and beyond Groningen. However, due to the small size of the Netherlands, you are only an hour and a half away from the West of The Netherlands, with cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Not that you would need to go, though, because Groningen is a beautiful and cozy city, filled with students and activities. Continue reading “Euroculture: The Not-So-Cold North!”→
Whenever I tried eating Dutch spice cake, Ontbijtkoek, during my semester in Groningen or Swedish cinnamon buns, Kanelbullar, during my time in Uppsala I couldn’t but wonder at the long history of Europe’s culinary tryst with spices. It is these spices that allured Europeans to cross difficult terrains and set sail to distant shores. The fascination with spices made a group of Europeans take part in maritime trade across the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese were the first, the Dutch were not far behind, followed by the French and pursued by the Brits. Spice trade gradually gave way to trade in cotton, followed by Europe’s stake in the global slave trade and the mobility of indentured labourers. However, the nature of trade and the interaction in the early modern era between European traders and local communities in various littorals around the Indian Ocean were much different from what they came to look like in the days of high colonialism. In most of cases during sixteenth and seventeenth century, the European maritime powers could only access a few places nearer the sea, not the continental hinterland lying beyond it.
Our narrative is about such a patch of landmass known as the lower Gangetic basin of Bengal, where the Ganges, one of the mightiest rivers in Asia meets the Bay of Bengal. For strategic reasons the mouth of the Gangetic delta, the largest of its kind in the world, allured maritime traders throughout the early modern era. Land-based trading communities, such as the Turks and the Armenians in the India of that time were met with seafarers like Portuguese and Dutch traders. Conflicting interests controlled their destinies; and Gangetic Bengal became what would later be known as the potboilers of wandering traders and changing communities. Calcutta (now Kolkata), the capital of British India till 1911, and the second city of the vast British Empire, grew out of this unique story of conflict and reconciliation. However, this was never a unidirectional and easy narrative, for multiple political actors from Europe flocked into a tiny patch of landmass and made this region a unique exception in an otherwise homogenous story of British colonialism in the Indian subcontinent.
Long time before the Brits got involved in lower Gangetic Bengal, the Portuguese were busy operating their riverine ports of Hooghly and Bandel, some forty kilometres upstream on the river Hooghly (Ganges) from what would later become Calcutta. This dates back to mid sixteenth century CE. As the navigability of the river decreased with time the Dutch East India Company settled some three-four kilometres south of Portuguese Bandel. The Armenians got their fair share within Dutch territories, allowing them to operate Armenian Orthodox churches in the region. The French East India Company settled in farther South, nearer the sea, in a place they named Chandernagore, managing to keep it under their hold until 1952, five more years after India gained its independence from the British Empire. Greeks were in the next town called Bhadreswar, and the Danish were busy with the next town, Serampore, the only Danish colony in eastern India. With the decreasing navigability of river and a want to have a British fortress in an advantageous position closer to the sea, British Calcutta was founded some twenty kilometres south of Danish Serampore. To make this long story short, the essence of it is that for almost two centuries in this small patch of land on the bank of river Hooghly, hardly forty kilometres in length, there were trading posts or proto-colonies of so many European communities that it was not surprising for later historians to refer to this tiny area as ‘Little Europe’, way before Brussels got its theme park of the same name.
These small towns, which now make up the northern suburbs of the metropolis of Calcutta, were once very distinct from each other in their respective culture and architecture. Portuguese Bandel boasted its culinary distinctiveness, as it provided modern Bengal with Bandel cheese, a Portuguese variant of cottage cheese and were responsible for the invention of Bengal’s national sweetmeat, Rasagolla. Dutch Chinsurah was an amazingly fortified city with a fort named Fort Gustavus. French colonialists were so invested with their Petite France in Chandernagore that they remodelled the Gangetic riverbank with French-styled promenades. The Danes followed suit. The church of St. Olav in the heart of Serampore and the Danish cemetery were distinct from the British architecture of Calcutta.
One might notice that although the different ‘national’ actors were competing with each other for more than two centuries in a tiny space like this, the political structures gradually became homogenised, as it was seemingly impossible to practice exclusivity within the otherwise British surroundings. Brits were late in reaching the shore; but following the saying that slow and steady wins the race, Brits were the ones who remained in pursuit of colonial power and eventually got hold of most of these other European trading posts in exchange for something or the other. The Dutch East India Company left Chinsurah in 1825 in exchange for complete hold over Java in Indonesia. Brits gave up their stake in the Dutch East Indies, modern Indonesia, and occupied Chinsurah; the Dutch fortress got demolished and with the dismantled Dutch material they made a British Chinsurah. However, the civil institutions conceived during the final days of Dutch rule over Chinsurah remained as a bizarre mix of Dutch, British and indigenous Bengali customs. Hooghly Collegiate School, established in 1812 and the oldest European styled school in Eastern India bears testimony to this rare Dutch-English-Bengali conjunct.
Danish Serampore’s fate was a bit different, mostly because of the Christian missionaries. Since the late eighteenth century Danish Serampore had become a melting pot of missionaries coming from different European backgrounds, eventually making it a prominent centre of scholarship and printing. Whether or not all these activities were Danish or English or Scottish does not make the narrative less fuzzy and complex. Panchanan Karmakar, a master craftsman from Danish Serampore, assisted Nathaniel Brassey Halhed and Charles Wilkins, two Englishmen coming to serve the British East India Company; and together they made possible the first ever moveable typefaces for Bangla script. With this Danish-English axis in the background there came out the first ever book in Bangla printed with those moveable typefaces. A Grammar of Bengal Language by an Englishman Nathaniel Brassey Halhed was printed in 1778 in Hooghly, the erstwhile Portuguese port next to Dutch Chinsurah.
Chandernagore, ‘la petite France en Inde’ for the French colonials, was perhaps the only place that passionately resisted, for more than three centuries, the cultural influence the English could exert from its surroundings. Chandernagore, along with a few other French towns like Pondicherry in the south of India, remained a symbolic and ideal space of what could have been a French-influenced Indian subcontinent, had the British not defeated them in the Indian extensions of the Napoleonic wars. Chandernagore continued to be a French town up until 1952, making it a safe haven for French architecture and culture to flourish. It was the only town in eastern India to have a school-curriculum with French as the medium of instruction. Generations of Bengalis in Chandernagore were taught in Bangla and French, with little or no English interference whatsoever.
In a nutshell, this small patch of land, affectionately called ‘Little Europe in Bengal’ garnered among generations of Bengalis a sense of Europe in its totality. This awareness of an ‘other’ Europe, a Europe outside the immediacies of British colonial interests, kept fascinating the Bengali psyche for a rather long time. Bengali revolutionaries who were struggling against the British Empire often took refuge in these non-British territories so as to avoid arrest, eventually taking French ships to flee to the mainland of Europe, the Continent in British parlance. This, in turn, gave rise to a different pattern of mobility that was quite different from usual colonial mobility within the metropolis and the margins of a single empire. Little Europe’s legacy transcends those otherwise homogenous patterns of binaries. Just like the theme-park in Brussels, this Little Europe had also tried casting the idea and image of Europe in a multi-national and pluri-cultural mould. The narrative, however, does not end there. Permeating its historical specificity etched in a distant past, Little Europe has again started attracting various European nation states to have a closer look at the somewhat forgotten territories they had once occupied. The early twenty-first century has brought back Dutch historians to Chinsurah, allowing them to have a closer look at their forgotten Dutch-Bengal style of painting and architecture. Danes, as usual, are not far behind. The National Museum of Denmark, under a project named ‘Serampore Initiative’, has plunged into one of the biggest urban conservation projects in recent times, taken by a European state outside Europe’s territorial outreach. These renewed national interests are manifold, involving more and more historical nuances to unearth and contemporary narratives to explore. Little Europe continues to be an incessant point of convergence between Europe and South Asia.
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.
If someone asks me what my favourite part of working for Euroculture is, I get an emotional, teary look in my eyes and tell them: “the students”! Fresh faces every semester, eager beavers waiting to be filled with information. Students coming from all corners of the world, all sharing that Euroculture-gene of being triggered by intercultural affairs, with mouths that start foaming by hearing words like ‘Brexit’, ‘transnational’ or ‘identity discourse’. Being in charge of the general firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail account, I’m often the first person an interested student talks to. It’s my duty to talk them into entering that great programme of ours. But with great power comes great responsibility, mostly in the form of a never-ending cascade of e-mails from students who just write ‘I want scholarship please I need it can I start tomorrow?’ and then expect us to transfer huge sums of money into their accounts. No joke. This happens. A lot. Even worse are those students who have enough brains and punctuation skills to trick us into believing they are genuinely interested in a position in our programme, who ask us to guide them through the application procedure, upload reference letters for them, prepare invoices and insurance certificates, and spend valuable time into ensuring a smooth transition into Euroculture studenthood, but who back out at the last moment by saying ‘sorry I’m not coming anymore, I’m going to Laos instead on a spiritual journey to find myself’. It’s time-consuming and annoying, but my bitterness never lingers – partly due to the great coffee bar in the vicinity of the consortium headquarters, but mostly because of that sweet sweet sound of a fresh new student knocking on my door, asking where they can find accommodation or how to open up a bank account. “Try the mobility office”, I tell them smilingly.
Albert Meijer works with the Erasmus Mundus Master of Excellence in Euroculture: Society, Politics and Culture in a Global Context, one of the most successful Erasmus Mundus programs. To read more of Albert’s work, click here.
(Europe needs all its voices to weather the challenges faces it today. Equip yourself with the knowledge you need to stand up for your Europe. Join the FREE online course, ‘European Culture and Politics’ starting September 26.)
To find out more about the Euroculture program, visit their website here
Finding a place to live is probably going to be one of your biggest worries over the two years you will spend as a Euroculture student. You will soon be living out of one big fat suitcase, and you will master the art of bookings, security checking and visa applications.
What I recommend:
Use the university student accommodation system. It’s easy to use (Google Docs) and reliable.
Plus: avoid all the troubles of finding private accommodations while living and studying abroad and make new international friends. (Or not. No one forces you to.)
Minus: you most probably won’t get to live with locals, which could be a shame if you’re trying to learn or improve your Spanish! If this is the case, Facebook might be your best friend. Check out local groups for flatshare, or browse through some local websites. The process will take you longer, but it is worth it. (A friend of mine – an outsider to the Euroculture progamme – was living with three lovely Spanish guys, and it made his Erasmus experience unforgettable.)
Oh the weather! If you thought moving to Spain meant sea, sex and sun, well, it’s not exactly what you’re gonna get in Bilbao. The climate being oceanic on the Atlantic coast, I suggest you pack a pair of wellies. On the other hand, you should also get yourself a bathing suit and a pair of sunnies, because it does get better. (I started going for a swim around April in Bilbao. Not even lying!)
University life. I know that’s also one of the big question marks here. At the University of Deusto, typically, bachelor students have classes in the morning, and masters students in the afternoon. My schedule (you might not get the exact same one but something close to that) was roughly three hours of classes per day from Monday to Thursday, almost always in the afternoon (starting at 3pm). You might occasionally get a class on Friday morning, but you’ll get over it. Continue reading “Second-semester Experiences, 2015”→
After a whole year, I’m returning back to Uppsala, Sweden, with only two days to recover from the jet leg. It’s back to the classroom for Swedish classes.
Welcome back from your holiday (although, for me, it was not really a holiday, as I was working back in my homeland, Brazil), but anyway, welcome back to Euroculture, Mada!
In class, I sit next to a student from Colombia, it is time for speaking exercises. We ask each other questions in Swedish:
“When is your birthday? What do you study?”
Our group gets bigger, we are joined by a girl from Germany and a boy from Canada. It is time for the Colombian, Juan, to answer:
“I was born on the 20th of September. I am studying a Master in holocaust and genocide studies.”
I remember the Holocaust Memorial Day (January 27) and, back in America, the “Dia do Índio” (Day of the Indigenous April 19 in Brazil and April 9, the International Day of the Indigenous Peoples of the World) – two anniversaries, two different commemorations. One of the holocaust, and the other of several different genocides – in some cases an event isolated in the past, and in others ongoing genocides. These dates were created so that we do not forget, like now in the middle of class, and so that we honor their memory in our actions.
Lisa, the physics student from Germany, expresses a ‘wow’, seemingly anxious to question him further, this time in English:
“What is it exactly that you study?”
Juan tries to explain:
“I study psychology.”
Lisa is not satisfied (neither am I, I have to admit):
“But what can trigger someone to commit this kind of act?”
I am sitting between them, turning my head as though watching a tennis match (as if turning and shaking the brain would erase the memories). Juan goes on:
“Well, we study the more individual aspects, there are a few things that might trigger such actions in a ‘normal’ person, like religion…” He keeps listing other reasons, but I stop listening. Instead, I quickly think about current news headlines about Gaza, and ISIS, and the attacks on mosques, even here in Uppsala.
For me, this is Euroculture. It is being in a language class, and going all around the world in a minute, in your mind. It is caring about what goes on, knowing what is happening and looking at it from different perspectives. We meet with other students and hear stories and learn about cultures beyond Europe.
The class finishes before we can finish asking all of our questions. We say our goodbyes and I take the bus home. It’s Friday, so I get ready for some Friday evening entertainment. Music, please! The first online radio page I open, I see this:
“U2 releases the new clip for Every Breaking Wave”
I click on it, and watch two teens, in 1980s Belfast, a Catholic girl and a Protestant boy, who fall in love in the middle of a conflict.
“Every breaking wave on the shore
Tells the next one there’ll be one more…”
I decide it is time to go to bed, I can only sleep hoping that Bono’s idea of the repetitive or cyclic nature of life is wrong, at least when it comes to human history. With the certainty that this last term will be as interesting as the other three were, I fall asleep
Magdalena Coelho (34) is a fourth-semester Euroculture student, currently finishing her studies in Uppsala. She has also spent semesters in Italy and Mexico. She is very interested in gender studies and hopes to take a PhD. She calms her mind through writing, swimming and watching the sea. For The Euroculturer, in the coming months she will write some pieces on her life as a Brazilian-Italian student in Europe.
To my surprise, I was a bit tongue-tied when I first met Alex in front of Pushkin’s statue in Pushkin Square, Moscow on a Sunday afternoon. He was emitting aura which made me forget what I had prepared to say. What am I doing in Moscow? Unfortunately, it seemed like I couldn’t remember why I was there. This is embarrassing. I wanted to sound like a real journalist but apparently it was not working. I just wished I could fool him for the next two hours.
The timing Alex appeared in my life couldn’t have been better. Six weeks before, during the Euroculture Intensive Programme (IP) in Bilbao, Spain, I was anxiously preparing to start an online magazine, The Euroculturer, in the MA Euroculture community. I was also looking for ways to bring alumni back to Euroculture. I heard Alex speak on Career Day and thought that his story could be a great example to many Euroculture students wishing to expand their horizons during their studies. What would be the best way to cover him? I wanted to find out something other than what he already presented on Career Day. Then I got an idea. After the IP, I contacted Alex to ask if I could meet him in Moscow. A few weeks later, in the middle of August, I found myself in Moscow, lost in Cyrillic but full of spirit.
On the way to the restaurant from Pushkin square, as I relaxed a bit, Alex gave me a few details of his life. He studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Scottish men wearing skirts came up in conversation and he told me that he also had a kilt. He wore it for various occasions but mainly in his ceilidh band, Achtung Ceilidh, where he played bass for a few years. He has played guitar for about 15 years and music has always been a big part of his life. Cool.
At the restaurant, Alex ordered for both of us, my Russian not being so hot. I wondered how good his Russian was and he said it was functional to the extent that he could communicate with his Russian colleagues. When asked why he chose to work in Russia, he told me that he had worked in Moscow before he started the MA Euroculture programme. He hit it off with the city and that’s why he decided to come back when he got a job offer. I asked about his current job at BKC International House Moscow where he has a mouthful of a title: Executive Centre Assistant Director of Studies. The job is a healthy mix of teaching, management and training teachers. It’s the variety that makes it, he said.
When the food arrived, I asked more questions about his Euroculture years. He started Euroculture in 2009 at Uppsala University. Outside of the classroom, he was hired as International Secretary of the Uppsala Association of International Affairs, helping to organise weekly public lectures. He joined the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA) just before moving to the University of Deusto in Bilbao for the second semester. In the EMA he was selected as course representative for Euroculture and was given the chance to participate in the Madrid General Assembly and Communications Conference in Bordeaux. After joining EMA, he wrote regularly for their in-house magazine, EMANATE, and worked closely with the EMA communications team. The idea of his most recent project, Human[i]ties Perspective, was born out of this network, but also from a joint initiative of the EMA and OCEANS Network called Realise It.
Our plates were almost empty when his research interests came up. While keeping himself busy with EMA activities, Alex found the topic of cultural diplomacy interesting. He wrote his IP paper on town twinning, a form of cultural cooperation between two cities, which he further developed in his Master’s thesis. He completed an internship with an EU-funded project, Monitors of Culture, hosted by the University of Deusto, on the role of cultural observatories in Europe in the future. Talking about Bilbao reminded me of his charity marathon which impressed me so much − Forrest Gump being one of my favourite movies – that he had spoken about on Career Day during the IP. Rather enthusiastically, I asked about his marathon and he told me the story in detail. Back in 2010, Alex and a friend of his, George, decided to raise money for charity by running the Bilbao Night Marathon. He’s a passionate runner so it was not intended only for charity, but also for fun. The marathon was a great success and they raised over 4,000 US$ for charity: to help build a well in northern Ethiopia. The support from his Euroculture colleagues, both financial and emotional, was amazing, he said. His charity work, highlighted by the marathon in Bilbao, was one of the reasons why Alex was selected as 2012 EMA Star. Other reasons include his dedication to the EMA communications team and his role in Human[i]ties Perspective, an annual two-day conference with which he has been actively involved since 2011.
Before we parted, Alex said that Euroculture, which distinguishes itself from other Master’s programmes mostly by its mobility aspect, could also be a ‘platform’ for the wider world once you start to see how to get involved. I asked if joining the EMA was one of the critical moments of his life. The word ‘critical’ seemed to entertain him fairly but he soon admitted that it was pretty important because it widened his Euroculture experience and eventually brought Human[i]ties Perspective into his life, not to mention an amazing group of friends from all over the world. Cool, I thought and wished that more Euroculturers would take advantage of what EMA could offer. Then we both looked down at our watches. He had to interview some new staff at work shortly and I had no more questions left. It was time to go.
Eunjin is from South Korea and studied Education for her BA. She began MA Euroculture in October 2011 in the University of Göttingen, later studied in the University of Strasbourg, did a research track in Uppsala University and currently finishing her MA thesis in Strasbourg. Her research interests lie in finding ways for diaspora groups to feel as ‘citizens at heart’ in host countries. Eunjin is a part-time realist and a full-time idealist.