Mika Launikari


Eurovision Song Contest for the 60th time - Cross-cultural ponderings and wonderings

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Only a decade after the 2nd World War, the European Broadcasting Union established the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) as an attempt to unify Europe through music, to encourage cultural exchange and sharing as well as to construct a common European popular sphere. In 1956, when the ESC was organized for the first time in Lugano (Switzerland), Europe was still recovering from the war that had divided the continent into two separate political systems in 1945 due to an ideological conflict between East and West.

The Swiss organisers of the ESC 1956 were brave, they had a vision and most importantly they understood the revolutionary power of having the live singing contest broadcast on the television. Their technological experiment succeeded and the rest is history. Since its creation, the ESC has snowballed in popularity and grown to one of the most-watched events in the whole world with hundreds of millions of spectators annually.

Over the years, colourful, amusing and even phenomenal performances have been seen on the ESC stage, but sometimes also acts that some people would call foolish farces or freak shows. All in all, this contest has developed significantly in size, geography, diversity and content, and has to date become a spectacular multicultural gathering with more than forty nations singing and competing under the flag of Eurovision.

We may of course wonder, whether it is really all the songs that attract the viewers to watch the show, or is it rather the uniqueness of the event itself that magically captures the TV-audience. But for many Europeans, despite its superficial pop music kitsch and commercial aspects, the ESC is their favourite annual TV entertainment — a show that makes them both love and hate the rest of Europe.

Often the ESC is plagued by accusations of political and geographical biases. The citizens of all the participating countries are televoting for their favourite performance, but as they are not allowed to vote for their own acts, they in particular tend to vote for performances from countries, whose cultures, languages and geographical location resemble their own. However, despite any such accusations, speculations and critical remarks, which actually only give additional flavour to the contest, this grandiose event definitely contributes to creating a community of togetherness and belongingness across Europe.

The promotion of a European identity is part of the unofficial agenda of the ESC. Does this really happen or is it rather so that the different national identities only get stronger as so much national pride is linked to the competition every time? Or should the ESC simply be seen as a forum that allows the promotion of a European identity by encouraging the expression of all the national and cultural diversities? At the end of the day, no matter who or which country happens to be on stage at the ESC, we Europeans should all feel assured that we are an integral part of Europe.

This year’s host for the 60th Eurovision Song Contest will be Vienna, the impressive capital city of Austria. An amazing feature this time is that Australia from Down Under has been given the permission to participate in the ESC. Okay, even if the Aussies are great fans of the ESC, I personally think that they due to their ESC participation should slightly modify their country name. How about calling them Eustralia from now on ;-) !?

The official ESC 2015 site: http://www.eurovision.tv/

Photo: www.ogaespain.com


Working in an international environment – First impressions based on interviews of EU experts

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The globe www.norden.org

In February-March 2015, I conducted altogether 20 individual interviews with staff members of three European Union agencies (Cedefop, ETF, Eurofound) for my PhD research. The interviewees represented a truly mixed group of people in terms of age, gender, nationality, juniority-seniority, number of years spent abroad, educational attainment and professional background, marital status and family situation, etc. Four thematic areas were touched upon in the interviews: motivation to work at an international level, professional development, life outside of work, and multicultural aspects of working in the EU environment. At the time of writing this blog text, the interviews recorded have not yet been transcribed. Therefore, the in-depth analysis of the data has not yet properly begun, and thus only some first impressions emerging from these thematic interviews will be highlighted here.

Motivation to work abroad – For this theme the respondents can roughly be divided into two main categories, when we simplify the complex and versatile reality a little bit. The first group of informants was emphasizing that working at an international level had always been a goal for them and finding an interesting career opportunity abroad had been their highest, grandest dream from an early age. The rest of the informants, to a large degree, were saying that working abroad had become a natural step in their career progression after several years of professional life within the national context, where many of them had already been involved in internationally oriented duties. There were some interviewees, who said that they somewhat unexpectedly had come across with a job opportunity in their own professional field in another country, had decided to apply for the job and finally got selected for it.

Professional development – Generally speaking, for all informants starting to work in an international environment meant stepping out of their own comfort zone and facing numerous new challenges in their professional life. At the same time, many stated that they were guided by their curiosity and eagerness to broaden their professional and personal horizons, and had they not taken the chance to work for the European Union, they would have missed out a tremendous opportunity for career advancement, continuous learning and self-exploration. Especially the multinational working environment has taught them, among other things, cultural sensitivity, respect for different perspectives and worldviews, as well as contributed to the development of their language skills, but it has also strengthened their ability to interact and network smoothly with people from diverse backgrounds. In most cases, but not for everybody, the work itself has been professionally rewarding and challenging, and without comparison to jobs at the national level. Some of the respondents mentioned that after so many years abroad there is no way of going back to the national level anymore or at least returning would be difficult for them.

Life outside of work – Most interviewees did not focus so much on establishing (close) relationships with the locals in their country of destination. There were several reasons for this, for example, family-related obligations (incl. schooling of children) that had to be prioritized; regular travelling for work in different parts of Europe and beyond that did not support keeping contacts alive easily with many (new) people; not knowing well enough the language of the country was an issue as without fluency in the national language it was quite difficult to get to know local people outside of work (specifically applicable to Greece and Italy; not so much to Ireland); and some other constraints were mentioned such as after work having little energy left for socializing, or pursuing a team sport (e.g. football) does not automatically materialize in becoming friends with the locals. All this often resulted in more superficial contacts with local people, who were rather considered as acquaintances (e.g. one’s neighbour) instead of a circle of close friends. In contrast to the above, few respondents said that they had systematically worked towards breaking into the circles of the locals and had luckily succeeded in getting to know at least some locals better. Finally, some respondents also pointed out that maintaining close relationships with one’s own family and friends back home was taking quite some effort and time.

Multicultural dimension in life – Even if many of the respondents said that it has not always been easy or pure joy to be working with people from different corners of Europe and beyond, still this multicultural dimension in life was highly appreciated. Some interviewees also emphasized that there is no way for them to go back to the national working environment as they would not be able to survive in such a “monocultural” and “monolinguistic” reality anymore. Cultural or national stereotypes do exist, many admitted that, but in their opinion, they do not have a negative impact on the professional performance and cooperation inside or outside of the office. Respondents reported that they act as professionals in a diverse working environment, where all colleagues are seen as experts no matter what their country of origin, mother tongue, ethnic background, skin colour etc. are. Some of the interviewees said that of course sometimes jokes are made about “the (nationality) are like this”, but that it does not affect the way people work together or the way another colleague is being perceived.

The question about what “feeling European” means to the interviewees, was often addressed by mentioning values such as democracy and democratic developments, freedom of speech, and free mobility across the country borders. Some even reflected on the historical developments of Europe or referred to the common currency (€). For some Europe was a geographical region to which they felt belonging (instead of Asia or America), and some indicated that they are more Europeans (or even global citizens) than representatives of their own country after so many years abroad surrounded by people from all over. The European Union was regarded by some informants as an important project with which peace can be maintained in Europe.

See also: Short article by Mika Launikari (Euroguidance Insights Newsletter Nov 2015)

For background information about my PhD research go to www.launikari.eu/phd/

Photo: Johannes Jansson, www.norden.org

A few thoughts on intercultural interaction

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Human interaction (www.norden.org)

Among academics and scholars there is currently a critical discourse going on about what is meant by concepts such as intercultural, multicultural, cross-cultural or even international and global-minded. These terms are being strongly debated and some experts in the fields of interculturalism and multicultural education have started questioning the essence of them. Do they mean anything anymore? Does each one of them mean different things or are some of them to be regarded as synonyms? Or have they simply become old and obsolete in the sense that they do not manage to reflect and describe today’s world well enough anymore?

Or is the problem rather that there is such a plethora of different context-bound definitions of these concepts and that we actually lack a one-for-all definition that could be applied universally to practically everything? Or should we simply take it as a fact that our societies have become so international, multicultural and global-oriented by now that these dimensions are actually such an integral part of our everyday life already that therefore there is no need to put a special emphasis on them anymore? Have we not almost all become hybrids by now; hybrids who have blended and merged diverse cultural influences from all over the world into our daily existence?

Sometimes the terms international, multicultural, intercultural, etc. seem to be empty and not meaning anything real. The emptiness can be demonstrated, if we have a look at how educational institutions usually promote themselves these days, for example, by stating: “For our home and foreign students we offer an internationally spirited curriculum and a truly multicultural learning environment”. What does that mean? What if we get a little provocative and say in a science-fiction style as follows: ”For our interstellar students we offer a wonderfully cross-planetary curriculum and a truly intergalactic learning environment.” Hmm … is there any proper content or serious meaning behind such promotional phrases?

Anyway, inter-national and inter-cultural refer to exchanges and interaction between nations and cultures, although the real interactions always take place between individual human beings no matter which country they originate or which walk of life they come from. Nations and cultures do not interact on their own as we well know. Rather we should put the focus on better understanding human-to-human interaction that – as much as possible – should build upon similarities across people instead of pointing out how different we may be from one another. This still means of course that different values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours between humans are to be honoured as long as they do not threaten or insult anybody.

Photo: www.norden.org