Exploring Liberal Arts and Sciences Education

Interview with Miriam Nandi, Professor and study track Manager for European Identities (LAS)

Miriam Nandi, WP3 study track manager for European Identities with a background in Postcolonial Studies and Anglophone Literature. Before joining EPICUR in spring 2020, she was a researcher and lecturer at the English Department at the University of Freiburg. For EPICUR, she also teaches courses on Europe and Migration.

Ms. Nandi, you have taught two classes for the first round of the EPICUR Study Track European Identities. How did you experience that?

I have taught two courses thus far.“Post-Migrant Europe” is the one, I am currently co-teaching with Allard Den Dulk (AUC) and Sabine Rollberg (ARTE) on fictions about migration from all over Europe. I believe EPICUR is unique in the sense that it offers Liberal Arts and Science experiences to a broad range of other disciplines. In my seminars, there are students from law departments and environmental sciences, as well as film and literature students. In addition, they come from diverse European universities with different academic cultures, so even if students come from the same discipline, they might have divergent understandings of that discipline. This mix has enabled and sparked multi-layered discussions you would not have in an ordinary class situation. And I think they – indeed we all – come away from these courses with a better understanding of the topics but most importantly of each other.

I say we, because the diversity of academic cultures and teaching modes was felt equally by the staff. Our co-teaching, in contrast to other collaborations, was born out of coincidence more than long planned partnerships. As EPICUR opens new pathways for teachers to connect across our partner universities and departments, we have the opportunity to form new and unexpected collaborations.

How does migration matter to the topic of European Identities?

It would be easy to fall back on traditional European courses on history, ancient philosophy, or European languages but, to me it seems very important to also address what is happening right now, to complicate the narrative about Europe as it is undergoing a transformation towards a society that is marked by migration.

I think, it is also sometimes easier to ask “what are not European identities.” European countries traditionally do not identify themselves as countries of migration. That, however, is currently changing profoundly and I wanted to offer students an opportunity to look at the change while it is happening. We explore the way that Europe is slowly adapting to the idea of being deeply impacted by migration and how that is expressed in culture, art and media. We must expand the perspective of what that means for Europe and ask what that means for the people who do have that migrational background. I have found that this approach resounds well with the new generation of Europeans who often do have different experiences. We also cannot leave the interpretation of what is happening to the extreme right; and students from across the alliance seem to feel the same way.

Was there an eye-opening moment? And how does that relate to the Liberal Arts and Science approach?

One of my students from Greece for example has done grassroots work in refugee camps and could share her first-hand accounts. Other students have volunteered with refugees who have settled in Germany. Other students are themselves exiles from Syria. These personal experiences create different perspectives, bringing them together in a common classroom helps students to understand the large spectrum of refugees’ realities in Europe – from one of immediate suffering to moving closer to the dreams that brought these people to Europe in the first place.

Connecting real-life impressions with the academic inquiry offers the opportunity to explore the ways in which multicultural and multilingual societies could actually work. We are investigating into the present moment, but also create visions for potential European futures. This is at the very heart of Liberal Arts and Science education. Therefore, my course and its multifaceted discussion tie in well with LAS ideas about interlinking personal experiences with critical academic engagement.

How does partaking in EPICUR courses benefit students?

I think students loved the courses as they opened opportunities to get to know students from other countries as well as educators, each bringing their own experiences, knowledge, and perspectives. Students who would not usually have the opportunity to study abroad can come in contact with truly European classrooms and engage in intercultural exchange. Especially, having to teach digitally has opened many doors and gave a space for unique encounters. EPICUR will continue to make use of this.

A very particular opportunity that will arise on January 29th, when we will have the documentary filmmaker David Aronowitsch as a guest speaker on Jan 29th, who will speak about his documentaries (Idomeni, 2020; I am Dublin, 2016)  in which he has followed migrants going to Europe. He will come to the class to speak to the students about the different aspects of making a film / documentary about technical aspects and social aspects, such as building trust with his subjects.

If you have questions or suggestions regarding collaboration and LAS-based teaching and learning in EPICUR, please feel free to reach out to the WP3 Team in Freiburg.

Dr. Steven Randall
Project Manager EPICUR LAS Development

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