Thrown into the big wide world
March 20, 2008 Leave a Comment
“Sometimes I feel insecure and I don’t know where I’m going.” These words might sound completely random at first, yet they describe a contemporary feeling among many students, especially here at Maastricht University (UM).
Strangely enough, the university’s attractive international atmosphere and broad variety of new, innovative Bachelor programmes can also be very disorientating. Often, I find myself wondering: “Where do I belong?”, and “What does the future hold for me?”
Blurring the boundaries
University College Maastricht (UCM) is a prime example of an innovative European Bachelor programme at Maastricht University. Courses such as “Globalisation and Inequality”, “Cultural Studies” or “European Integration” all relate to the growing importance of international relations and deal with issues that are increasingly disconnected from national levels.
Whereas formerly one used to study German or Dutch law, nowadays it is regarded as being much more progressive to tackle “International law”. This type of global approach is meant to give us a better understanding of the complexity of the world we live in, where boundaries are blurred.
Sometimes, I almost forget that I’m studying in the Netherlands. Everybody can get by in Maastricht speaking English only. There is no need, not even at the supermarket, to learn the Dutch language. University tutorials are attended by a mostly foreign audience, with only one or two Dutch students. We all learn to adapt to an international community, and to get along with people from different cultural backgrounds.
Thinking back to high-school times, I smile at my past naivety. Studying on an international level has made me become aware of my previous limited views. After taking a course in “Globalisation, Environmental Change and Society”, I can no longer ignore the problems posed by globalisation on global health, especially for those who are already poor and disadvantaged.
Sometimes, paradoxically enough, I almost resent learning so much about the world, and especially about developing countries. How am I to ever live a happy simple life again while knowing about the worst inequalities on this planet?
I understand that this kind of awareness is meant to foster the development of foresighted, sophisticated human beings. But still, it also adds to the feeling of being disconnected, as new dimensions blur formerly localised perspectives.
Where do I belong?
It is natural for human beings to strive for comfort and a sense of belonging, but these notions seem to be increasingly disregarded in the globalised view of the world. Yet, it can be disconcerting to know that a Bachelor’s degree will allow me practically work everywhere.
Many Bachelor students at the UM, although eager to continue on a Master’s programme, are still undecided about which concrete study to choose, or where to take it. There are so many options open!
The decision becomes especially difficult if one doesn’t even know where the ‘train’ is going. In fact, most students don’t have a clear idea of the kind of job they would like to have later. “Maybe I want to do my Master’s in literature, or culture. Though I don’t know where”, UCM student Sytske Knol confided to me. “I don’t know where to enter the job market. Sometimes I am unsatisfied with all this openness, because it produces a feeling of insecurity. Nobody knows where she or he will end up.”
Luckily, not all students are frightened by future prospects. UCM student Isabelle Boetner describes the variety of options offered by international study programmes as an advantage: “I am not restricted to anything, and actually I think this feels quite good. You can develop your own direction during your studies and choose a more concrete Master’s.”.
A recent article (February 2008) in the well-established German newspaper Die Zeit showed that Isabelle’s confidence in the future isn’t misplaced: “German employers are enthusiastic about the UCM-programme, and starting salaries for UCM graduates are 20 percent higher than those of an average German university graduate.”
The EU Studies Fair
In order to better assess future options, I recently visited a large “EU Studies Fair” in Brussels, where around fifty universities introduced their programmes to a large crowd of motivated Europe-oriented students. A representative of the College of Europe, located in Brugge, Belgium, told me that his stand had been very busy throughout the day with participants who were clearly interested in European Studies at postgraduate level. “We made over 200 contacts,” he said.
It was especially interesting to see how many attractive study programmes have been created in the last few years. The Maastricht School of Governance, only launched in 2007, is a good example of this trend. The school offers challenging opportunities for graduate students who wish to specialise on public policy analysis and governance in general. The fair made me realise that nearly every big European city now also offers at least one programme dealing with global governance, European issues or international relations. Most of these programmes are taught in English and target an international audience.
The Hertie School of Governance, for instance, located in Berlin, Germany, offers a Master in Public Policy, a two-year programme completely taught in English, including a semester abroad and an internship at the German government. The school promotes its location in the new German capital as the “vibrant heart of Europe.”
Other programmes were less convincingly presented, like for example the Master’s in European Union Policy Studies in Florence, Italy. The kind lady at the stand gave prospective students sweet encouraging smiles, showing them a brochure with pictures of the university’s dormitories near the beautiful river Arno. Julian Blohmke, studying Economics at the University Hamburg, Germany, observed the scene with a smile: “Obviously, not everybody is interested in contents,” he whispered to me.
“The EU Studies fair definitely helps to get an overview of all the options that are open to us,” Isabelle Boetner commented at the fair. “Still,” she admitted, “if you don’t have a well-formulated idea yet of what you’re looking for, the overwhelming ‘supply’ can make you feel lost.”
All for the best?
It is reassuring however to know that whatever they are, there are many prospects for us out there. At the end of the day, being a student in an international community that focuses on global issues and broad perspectives is an enriching and useful experience. Even if the options seem overwhelming sometimes, the freedom to choose is actually a luxury. And if the world is open to us, shouldn’t we respond by behaving openly too?
By Stella Wolters
Stella Wolters is from Hamburg, Germany. A student at University College Maastricht since 2006, she concentrates on politics and international affairs in combination with philosophy and history.