Béline Hermet (2017-2019, FR) has a background in International Development with a minor in Italian Studies. After a couple of years in Canada, she wanted to go back to Europe. For her, Euroculture was an obvious choice. Apart from her interest in the issues the programme attempts to tackle, she finds additional appeal in the mobility opportunities that the programme offers, which allow her to study in different universities and countries in a multicultural environment with international students.
Béline started her Euroculture life in Uppsala and Göttingen. She spent her third semester doing an Editorial Assistant internship at Eurozine, a network of European cultural journals and an online magazine, headquartered at Vienna, Austria.
Thanks Béline for taking the time to share your experience!
1. So, why an internship?
I know I don’t want to do a PhD, so I was sure from the beginning that I wanted to do an internship to have professional experience and opportunities. I have not yet had the opportunity to do an internship that is of longer duration, and I wanted to get a better idea of what I want to do after Euroculture.
The Asian Century is a debated concept which posits the idea that the 21st century will be led by the Asian continent from an economic, political, and cultural perspective. Supposedly, the previous 19th and 20th centuries, have been the British (European) and the American centuries respectively. The AsianDevelopmentBank is so confident of such an accomplishment that it published a report in 2011 titled “Asia 2050: Realizing the Asian Century.”
The implications are plentiful and, unsurprisingly, global. Yet this article aims to move one step beyond the above discussion. Over the past few weeks, several articles have focused on the possibility of a shift of power in Eurasia, from different angles. The first piece, “Black Wind, White Snow: Imagining Eurasia”by Casey Michel was published on TheDiplomat website, which referred to a recently released book reflecting on the Russian concept of “Eurasianism.” The notion was apparently coined, or at least, co-opted by the Kremlin and surrounding bodies as a way to promote and promise a brighter future to the disillusioned post-Cold war generations. The outcome of this attempt at normative construction has been mixed, according to Michel, but an overall aura of pessimism is perceivable across the book, suggesting that the imagined Eurasia may stay in the Kremlin’s mind.
Still, due to its strategic position and regional influence, it is crucial to consider the role of Russia in any potential Eurasian ‘coalition’.
The second and third articles tackle the issue from a more inclusive perspective and, perhaps startlingly, depict two opposite scenarios. The first one is from George Friedman, an expert in intelligence and international geopolitics, who wrote an article for Forbes claiming that the “Last time Eurasian Instability Was This Bad Was Before World War II”, describing several factors to justify such a dire prediction. A few examples are the supposed failure of the European Union, followed by the Russian and Middle Eastern crisis, in addition to the aforementioned slowdown in both China and Japan’s economies. The only exception, according to the author, is India, but that country alone will not be able to stop a ‘grand’ destabilization affecting the whole Eurasian continent.
Such a vision, in my opinion, is rather unconvincing, especially when considering the economic and geopolitical self-interest of the majority of the Eurasian countries. Their goal is, mostly, to pursue peaceful means of gain, being well aware that armed conflicts can bring far more disadvantages than benefits. A notable exception may be North Korea, for obvious reasons.
The last article, which I particularly enjoyed, provides a more optimistic view on the phenomenon. Graham E. Fuller, a former senior CIA official, wrote for TheWorldPost (partner of the renowned HuffingtonPost) an article entitled “The Era of American Global Dominance Is Over.”Such a bold statement from an American citizen may sound preposterous to some. Yet it is another piece covering the position of Eurasia, seen as an increasingly relevant one in this article. The author recognizes that the term itself may remind the readers of a geographical feature more than a political one, Eurasia as a sole, vast landmass. The author sees it as more than that. The central reason why Fuller thinks that the US is failing to deal with Eurasia is its stubbornness in ignoring the mega-continent “rising force” which is attracting more and more nation-states to its sphere. The article then mentions several economic, military and political reasons that support the author’s well-articulated stance. Nonetheless, the recurring theme is that the current century has seen the demise of Western global dominance and that the US should accept it now in order to take advantage of such power shift, while is still happening.
This last article appears to be the most convincing when you look to the latest global developments. A change is indeed happening, and although it does not mean that the US is not going to occupy a predominant position, their position is certain to be less hegemonic.
The above articles may not follow a common pattern and they likely originated from different pitches. Still, they have all been published in the past few days which may be a peculiar coincidence or a hint of an upcoming geopolitical trend. Regardless of that, it is unquestionable that the current European situation may benefit from additional transcontinental collaborations and a more balanced, multipolar power redistribution may benefit all the global players in the long run.
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.
We moved to a small Swedish countryside house 60km away from Uppsala since we couldn’t find any other accommodation in the town. One day with -15°C outside, I looked at him sawing a huge branch and thought to myself, ”Oh my, this is too much! A Brazilian who is used to walking around shirtless in havaianas along the Copacabana beach in Rio is now cutting wood in some crazy Swedish frost!”
Līga Līce da Costa│email@example.com
I met him 6 and a half years ago. On our first encounter I, as Latvians usually do, extended my hand forward and expected him to shake hands with me. Instead, he pulled me close and kissed me on both cheeks, very Brazilian-like. I stood there a little perplexed. I hadn’t expected that at all…
Today we are married. It sounds like a fairy tale, right? Well, I had no clue that it would end like this. Now kissing on cheeks with strangers is completely fine with me. I eat rice and beans more often than a regular European, and I dance samba. I got used to it all while living in Rio de Janeiro for a year. Enjoying endless summers, hot beaches, cerveja* and caipirinha** was great, but then came MA Euroculture. Once I got accepted to the programme, we started making plans about moving to Uppsala, Sweden. He had his family, a good job and studies in Rio but yes, he left it all because of me.
One might imagine that it is hard for a carioca*** to live in Uppsala. Going from +40°C to -16°C and not knowing a word of Swedish made it pretty tough to adjust. He got a job at the gym giving jiu-jitsu classes. He also worked in construction – outside! And all so that I could study. It is not a secret that Sweden is expensive and since I was not working, nor had any scholarship, he had to work twice as hard to support both of us. The amount of reading material for the courses was quite significant and I was studying a lot. Often I would have him reread my papers before submitting and sometimes take him to open lectures at the university. I liked to get him involved and to hear his opinion. I took him to our group gatherings where we would bring food from our home countries. He knows what Euroculture is about…
When my first semester finished (and with it our lease), but it was still too early to travel to my host university, we moved to a small Swedish countryside house 60km away from Uppsala since we couldn’t find any other accommodation in the town. The house was located in the middle of nowhere, or the middle of the forest, to be more precise. It was literally me and him and the Moon, as we say in Latvia. We are both quite stubborn, but we couldn’t be in a place like this. “Līga”, he told me at the very beginning, “we have to be friends in this place if we want to survive, alright?” The small wooden house was nice and cosy, but meant for summertime only, so every other day we were out in the forest cutting wood for the fire. He had never held an axe in his hands before, but I must admit that he did very well. We also had to bring water from the closest village because the pipes were frozen. On top of that, the bathroom was outside so if one of us wanted to use it in the middle of the night, the other one had to come too, equipped with that same axe. One day with -15°C outside, I looked at him sawing a huge branch and thought to myself, ”Oh my, this is too much! A Brazilian who is used to walking around shirtless in havaianas**** along the Copacabana beach in Riois now cutting wood in some crazy Swedish frost!” Luckily, the second semester was at the door… And we got married on the last weekend before going to Udine, Italy…
Even though I wanted to go to Bilbao, I was accepted to Udine. I was a little upset; however, it worked very well for us since his cousin lived in Venice. So every weekend I would pack up and take the train to Venice to be with my husband. One day he told me: “Look Līga, some couples pay thousands just to be able to spend their honeymoon in Venice and look at us! We have no money, but we are in the most romantic city in the world on our honeymoon!” Indeed. Everything happens as it should! It was very nice having him so close. He was there to support me when I was writing my IP research paper. He was the editor. He also came to see me at the end of the IP conference in Bilbao, Spain. The presentation was behind me and I had just celebrated my birthday, so having him come over was the best present.
Third semester. We were in Vienna, Austria where I was doing my internship. Needless to say that I wouldn’t have been sitting at the computer in the cosy office of the EU Delegation if he had not been sweating in the gym or carrying 40kg cement bags up and down stairs at that time. And I would go home and cook, and I would do it with pleasure because one cannot take things for granted and needs to appreciate the other.
Now I am back in Uppsala. And of course, he’s with me. The thought of being apart from each other is more painful than numb toes in winter boots.
It’s not easy with all this travelling, but one can work things out. Moving along with the other is not always possible, but in our case, thanks to his putting-his-own-life-aside-for-a-while we found it to be the right thing to do. At least a Euroculturer’s spouse’s life is never boring. And we have a deal: once I’m done with school, we switch – I work and he studies.
* beer in Portuguese
** a typical Brazilian cocktail made of lime, sugar, ice and cachaça (liquor made from sugarcane)
*** a person from Rio de Janeiro
**** a Brazilian flip-flop brand
Līga Līce da Costa, Contributing Writer
Līga holds a Bachelor’s degree in English/Swedish Philology from the University of Latvia in Riga. She spent her first semester of MA Euroculture in Uppsala, Sweden and the second in Udine, Italy. She did an internship at the EU Delegation to the International Organisations in Vienna and is now back in Uppsala to finish her MA thesis. In the future, Līga would like to pursue a career in international development. In her spare time she likes jogging, swimming, dancing, travelling, and, of course, taking care of her husband.