This blog was created as part of the Erasmus Mundus Crossways in Cultural Narratives Masters programme, which is the only one of the EU approved and funded Erasmus Mundus Masters programmes to specialise in traditional humanities with a modern languages background. The Crossways Consortium comprises 6 top-class European universities.

For further information, please check the programme's official website and the universities' websites on the Useful Links section on the left. If you wish to have a specific question answered, please click on Email here and submit your query.

Mundus students, here you will find regular posts regarding the universities of the consortium, tips, activities, events, pictures, etc. Apart from checking it regularly to keep yourself up to date, a good way to use the blog is through the search device. We already have a significant amount of information on some universities of the consortium, so if you want to find information on a specific city, type its name in the search field (top left). You will then see all posts related to that specific city (because each post title contains the city's name in it). You can also type "General" in order to find information concerning everybody.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Sheffield Induction Days 4/5/6 September 2013

  The second edition of the Induction Days of the Erasmus Mundus Master Crossways in Cultural Narratives took place this year in Sheffield between the 4th and 6th of September. After the success of the first edition held in Lisbon in 2012, Sheffield’s team worked hard to prepare a flawless second edition to what is aiming to be a fundamental event for the organizations of the Consortium and an additional mark of excellence for future students.

Sheffield welcomed the different delegates and the students with its best weather, the kindness typical of Yorkshire people (together with their challenging accent and their peculiar characteristic of calling whoever they are talking to “love”), still half empty and getting ready to start the new academic year with its usual frenzy. All the guests were hosted at Endcliffe Village, the student residential campus, about 20 minutes’ walk from the University’s main buildings, with its modern buildings surrounded by the luxurious green of the parks and trees that give a feeling of peace and tranquillity.

                Prof Michael Perraudin, Dr Sophie Watt and Caroline Wordley took care of the organization in every little detail, from the preparation of a dedicated website to the organization of a Gala dinner, and an intensive 3 day programme was scheduled for all 2013 participants in the degree.

            Day 1

Early arrives joined the research seminar presentation by Prof Claudia Kozak (Universidad Nacional de Entre Rios) on the topic of Experimental Poetry and Technology in Latin America. Towards a Theory and Critique of Translanguages. The seminar was the Mundus way of welcoming everyone and declaring the opening of the Induction Days 2013, which this year numbered 41 participants, including professors, students and administrators.

The introduction to the research of Prof Kozak was a great opportunity to share one of the various on-going projects supported by the members of the academic staff and have a better understanding of the diverse fields of study that exist at the different Universities. This element should definitely be added to the standard programme of the Induction Days for the next editions as it is a unique opportunity to inspire new ideas and projects and fuel new collaborations and connections.

            After the presentation the group gathered in a local pub, where they could indulge in the British habits of having a pint and eating some extremely caloric food. However we all know that taste comes with calories, so no one seemed to be disappointed by the end of the night.

            Day 2

The morning of the second day of the Induction Days started with official welcome speechs by Prof Michael Perraudin and by the Head of the School of Languages and Cultures, Prof Neil Bermel. This took place in the Exhibition Space in the Jessop West Building, where the Sheffield Faculty of Arts and Humanities is located.

            Then the programme was given over to presentations by the ten different institutions who are part of the Consortium, given by the representatives of each University. Only Universidad Iberoamericana had no representative, so the aim of next year’s meeting is to have a full house!

                Before starting these presentations Prof Jonathan Pollock, together with Prof Michael Perraudin, welcomed everyone, summarizing the developments achieved by the Master’s programme in the past years and explaining the purposes of the meeting.

Poznan, Bergamo, Perpignan, Lisbon, Santiago de Compostela, Guelph, Sheffield, St. Andrews, Paranà/Entre Rios. On behalf of each faculty a representative described the facilities available, the programmes and research methods, the courses students could attend, the support offered to the students, the city lifestyle and its attractions, and anything else the University and its city could offer.

The Induction Days represented the first day of class for the students, who started to understand what their life was going to be like in the next two years and also began to become familiar with the faces and names of their future study companions. They could explore the geography of the Master’s, discover the different academic approaches, understand the different accents when using the lingua franca of contemporary society, put a face to names that for the students were previously only the signature on an email or a link in the page of Contacts on the Crossways website.

Academics and staff members were able to appreciate some improvements in the powerpoint presentations presented by some members of the Consortium and could gain a better insight into the different Universities.

During the lunch break professors and students had the chance to continue discussing the MA and get to know each other better, but in a more relaxed context. After lunch professors and students went their different ways and resumed work in different rooms to discuss matters concerning the respective sides.

Also present at the professors’ meeting was Maryan Ansari, student representative for the 2012-2014 round, who was in charge of bringing up the issues the students had encountered during their first year, in order for  the staff to understand gaps in the organization and administration of the partner universities. The implementation of a new structure of credits was also discussed: 30 per semester, as strongly suggested by Brussels, instead of the current system of 40/20/20/40 credits. It was agreed that this could almost certainly not be implemented in 2013, but that it should go ahead for the 2014 round. The meeting also agreed on holding the 2014 Induction Days in Poznan.

In the meantime the students were having their meeting with Chiara Dalla Libera (Crossways administrator at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa and previous Crossways student). This meeting had the purpose of helping the students clarify their uncertainties, creating a first core of information and connections that would then also be useful for the other students who were unable to attend the Induction Days. During the meeting the students elected their course representative, Natnaree Kanjanawattana.

                One of the suggestions made by the students was the creation of a database with the abstracts of the dissertations that had been written by the students in previous years, in order to have an idea of possible topics and contents that could be undertaken. Before getting ready for the dinner the student group then took a tour of some of the facilities available at Sheffield University: the Information Commons and the Student Union. This was led by Ana Carolina Torquato, a current second year Crossways student at Sheffield University.

The annual programme dinner was held in Firth Hall, part of Firth Court, the main representative building of the University of Sheffield, a beautiful Edwardian college in neo-Gothic style dating from 1905. The participants were welcomed at the dinner by Prof Jackie Labbe, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Arts and Humanities at the University of Sheffield.

Day 3 and 4

English weather finally made its appearance and the combination of cold, rain and grey sky accompanied the participants during what was for some of them the last day of the Induction Days in Sheffield.

The programme of the morning meeting of the third day gave space to the students to present themselves to the Professors, to talk about their expectations and to allay their fears and clarify their doubts. It was a first appetizer of what the Professors should expect form the students this year: each student would bring to the programme a range of projects and ideas, each influenced by his or her own cultural heritage and mindset.

The word was then passed to Dr Jocelyn Dupont and Dr Victoria Donovan, who explained the mechanism of the workplacement, the possibilities, the requirements and how the report of the workplacement experience should be structured and developed. They both clarified that the workplacement is an option and is not mandatory, and that the dissertation is still the main focus of the Master’s. The workplacement is a practical experience that is to be followed by an academic production that should mirror the cultural content of the experience, with a solid theoretical basis.

Dr David Evans, as the Crossways coordinator of dissertations, explained to the students how the preparation and production of the dissertation should ideally be distributed during the two years: when the topic should be chosen, when the first draft of a bibliography should be put together, the role of the supervisor at each university, the language of the dissertation and the criteria for evaluation. He also took a moment to clarify the difference between the dissertation report and the dissertation and how the dissertation report gives the student a margin for failure, in the sense that, as it is a preamble to the main dissertation, students can develop and explore a theory and establish whether or not it works well. This will give them the space for development and innovation and will allow them the chance to adjust the structure of their ideas later on. The dissertation report is a place of experimentation, while the dissertation is the logical objectification of the theories developed. According to Dr Evans students, when approaching him for the first time to choose of the topic of the dissertation, usually either do not have any idea of what they want to focus on, or they can have a very specific idea in mind, but sometimes this can be impractical in terms of production. He underlined that the main thing to take into consideration is the corpus of the dissertation: gathering a consistent bibliography and always remembering to try to be practical in terms of production planning.

Chiara Dalla Libera added her input, explaining her experience in writing the dissertation. She reinforced the suggestion of thinking also in practical terms, depending on the chosen path within the universities of the Consortium. As soon as students are able to identify the core of their dissertation it becomes easier to gather a relevant bibliography and plan the evolution of the dissertation towards the aimed conclusions.

Prof Pollock clarified the policy of the Master’s regarding plagiarism, quotations and the format of the dissertation, and he also shared with the students the main topic of discussion during the staff’s afternoon meeting on the previous day. He explained the possibility of redistributing the credits over the two years with a new system of 30 credits per semester, and he asked for the students’ opinion, even if most probably it would not be possible to apply this change to their round.

The last part of the morning meeting gave space to questions by the students and to their feedback regarding the Crossways and local webpages: the difficulties they had encountered when applying for the Master’s, the areas that did not have enough information and the suggestions they had to improve them.

The hard part was over and students and professors had a deserved lunch and a hot cup of tea while outside it kept on raining. A group of brave adventurers took an energizing two-hour hill walk in the nearby Peak District during the afternoon, while another group opted for the safer and drier option of a bus tour through the region.

The farewell dinner took place in Butler’s Balti, a well-known local Indian restaurant, honouring the tradition that claims Indian food to be the really typical British food, even if the Indian food that can be found in the UK could actually be called “Indish”, as it is far less spicy then 100% authentic Indian food. We all know that Korma is the Brits’ favourite but definitely not spicy enough for any Indian palate.
         On Saturday the last group of a dozen aficionados took a trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield to see the Henry Moores, Barbara Hepworths and several current exhibitions. The sun shone brightly again.

          So the 2013 Induction Days came to an end, succeeding in their intention of facilitating the students’ access to the Master’s, creating a first core of experience and ideas that would help them in facing this new adventure in the best way, with more information and better tools to get the most out of this experience, and minimizing the cultural shock they will have to face at each change of institution.

For academics and members of staff was a great opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences, plan possible collaborations, and share suggestions to improve the Master’s on a local level and increase the number of students. It was interesting to understand the bureaucracies and university structures in the different countries and their position within their national systems of education.

Again, each one of the participants was going home with a general sense of optimism and excitement for all the possible projects they could develop and for the range of achievements they could gain from the degree.

Author: Chiara Dalla Libera