Life in Europe

Things to Prepare Before Leaving for Italy for an EMJD (and what you’ll need once you get there)

By Kate Dy, Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate on Globalisation, Europe & Multiculturalism

Kate Dy in Rome

The author (middle) with friends in Rome

I’ve been a scholar of some shape or form my entire life and I would like to think that I handle paperwork, bureaucracy, and ensuing stress quite well, but nothing quite prepared me for the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate program in Italy. If I sound weary, please don’t chalk it up to years of research, it’s actually only my first month here in Rome. But I have learned a lot through the on-going process, and this may be of help for anyone who’s in the same spot.

I would just want to put it out there that you shouldn’t be discouraged from applying to the EMJD GEM program because of the tons and tons of work you’ll have to do even before being able to do your research. Rather, take a deep breath and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel— or so I heard. No one has actually finished their EMJD GEM program as of writing this, so that may be just hearsay. That said, never allow anyone to tell you to be grateful for a scholarship and just shut up. The Erasmus Mundus programs choose their students because of merit and not because of poverty or pity or charity. We are allowed to have the same expectation of excellence from our hosts.

Unlike the Erasmus Mundus MOVER or EMMA programs, EMJDs are handled very differently. The main points of variance are that we are under employment contracts and that we’re pretty much thrown into the deep end of bureaucracy to fend for ourselves. While it’s true that PhD students are supposedly older and more mature, this doesn’t mean we automatically imbibe the knowledge of the ins and outs of Italian bureaucracy from the air!

If you suddenly find yourself as an EMJD scholar in Italy, or if you’re looking to be one, be sure to be prepared mentally, financially, and emotionally.

Before leaving your home country:

  1. Sign all the documents! No, seriously, double check all your contracts and sign everything required otherwise you may find yourself being penalized for technicality. In particular, for the EMJD program there will be four things to affix your signature to:
    1. A letter of acceptance, which you type, scan, and send yourself
    2. The EMJD GEM contract
    3. The Travel and Installation Fund (T&I Fund) contract. EMJD students are given 7500€ and the contract states that this is all our travel funding for the next three years and that we waive any further monetary requests
    4. Your university employment contract (which may be signed when you arrive)
  2. Find a place to stay in your host country. Often, such as in my case, universities don’t consider PhD students as “real” students and as such dormitories are unavailable. Sometimes universities have dedicated housing services that you make take advantage of, such as CasaLUISS in my case, but if not, ask around! Senior Erasmus Mundus people both Filipino and foreign are very friendly and you may even score a roomie.
  3. Book a plane ticket. You need this for your visa application. There is a dedicated Erasmus Mundus travel agency, but don’t rely on them too much— first of all, they rarely reply, and second, they don’t care about the best price and may take a larger chunk out of your T&I Fund than you would have wanted to spend.
  4. Get that visa.
  5. Make sure the embassy that issued your visa stamps everything. You will need it later on for your permesso di soggiorno (if in Italy) or the equivalent permit to say anywhere else. The embassy should give you the documents without you asking, but if they don’t, insist. I was not aware of this, and left Manila with nothing from the embassy then arrived in Rome to find all my fellow scholars with their respective stamped documents.
  6. If required, have the DFA authenticate all relevant documents (mainly school transcripts). Have all these documents translated into the language of your host country. Have these authenticated by the embassy. In the case of the Italian embassy, all of these are necessary and these processes are quite expensive and time-consuming. Be sure to allocate enough time and money, and bring good books–you’re in for a long wait.
  7. Pack everything but keep within the luggage limit! All Europe-bound carriers are rather strict. Come to think of it, all airlines are now rather strict.
  8. Photocopy everything you have. I mean everything. Have 1×1, 2×2, and passport size photos made. At least eight of each. Print out photos of family and friends as well, for your new home.
  9. Make sure you have enough money to survive for two months in your home country. If there’s space in your luggage, bring food as well. Instant noodles will tide you over the worst days.
  10. Say goodbye to Jollibee.

Upon arriving at your host country, in this case, Italy:

  1. Find your way to your home and avoid getting cheated by the cab driver. If you don’t have a home yet, find a place ASAP. Remember that September is the influx month for new students from all over the country and the world, so competition will be fierce.
  2. Inform your local contact point and your supervisor and the Central Executive Committee of your program and your course representatives and your embassy that you have arrived safely. Oh, and your family of course!
  3. Buy a SIM card and bus card. WIND is a good provider, for 10€ a month you can have 400 minutes of calls, 400 SMS, and unlimited internet. This is pre-paid, so don’t forget to load up. Also find your closest groceries, bus stop, police station, emergency room, wet market, garbage bin, and so on.
  4. Open a bank account immediately, so as to receive your salary as soon as possible. But don’t expect anything before two months. Seriously. Don’t. For EMJD GEM students, UniCredit is your best bet as it’s the bank the school uses so there are fewer delays with your stipend.
  5. Apply for your Permesso di Soggiorno. Ask your university for help, but if they are unable to help due to bureaucratic matters, suck it up and fend for yourself.
  6. Apply for your Tessera Sanitaria. As employees who are taxed more than 50% of our income, EMJD students have the right to the national health service. EMJD GEM students have a declared income of 2800€, but what we end up receiving monthly is around 1500€, and even less during December. Be prepared to devote two weeks to this process, more if you have specific medical concerns like diabetes or if you have your family in Italy with you.
  7. Apply for a Carta d’Identita. This is basically a redundant identification document. Despair at the sheer amount of paperwork!
  8. And when this is all over, or whenever you need a break, be a tourist. Bureaucracy can sap the life out of the best of us, and believe me when I say the Italian system is one of the worst I’ve ever experienced in the world. You really don’t have much leeway either, as if you don’t put on a brave face and handle all the official things you may end up facing worse complications. That said, Rome is beautiful and travel around Europe is cheap so once you’re all settled and legal, go for it.
When in Rome...don't be ashamed to be a tourist!

When in Rome…don’t be ashamed to be a tourist!

[Admin’s note: While the views expressed in this post are the author’s own, I agree with the two-month rule on money when dealing with the Italians, having experienced it first-hand. Always have a contingency plan!]

Categories: Erasmus Mundus, Life in Europe, Students | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The 20th Sibiu International Theatre Festival: The World Takes Center Stage

Our European correspondent Mari-An C. Santos immerses herself in world culture at one of Europe’s top performing arts festivals.

In 2007, Sibiu, Romania was named a European Capital of Culture. This meant that the city in the middle of the region of Transylvania came into the spotlight and under the radar of tourists. But in practical terms, it meant an influx of capital in order to improve systems and structures in anticipation of increased tourism.

These firedancers are thousands of miles away from tropical beaches but are just as intense

These firedancers are thousands of miles away from tropical beaches but are just as intense!

FITS (Festivalul International de Teatru de la Sibiu) or the Sibiu International Theatre Festival is ten days of various performances not limited to the four walls of the theater, a convergence of acrobats, brass bands, street performers, mimes, comedy-musical groups, and improv artists. Its 20th edition was held from June 7 to 16, 2013. FITS is the first festival to be held annually among the top three performing arts festivals in Europe and ranked third after Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland and Festival d’Avignon in France.

It's easy to guess where these bagpipers are from

It’s easy to guess where these bagpipers are from

This year, participating groups came from several continents: Argentina, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Georgia, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Serbia, UK, and USA. The streets, concert halls, churches, parks, cafes and fortresses came alive in a vibrant, pulsating series of performances. Aside from the multilingual theater, dance, music, circus, and street shows, there were also complementary activities like art exhibits, film screenings, conferences, seminars, workshops, book launches, and fora.

“The Tragedian,” a three-part four-hour one-man show about British thespian Edmund Kean, one of the most talented Shakesperean actors of all time, may look scary on paper, but the concept and execution itself were engaging. With a big box and dressed in a coat, the solitary actor walked into the dark hall singing…and as his face was revealed by the spotlight, we were all sucked into this story tracing Kean’s life from childhood til death. The actor not only used different accents to differentiate each character but used his entire body to bring to life each distinct person. Between acts, I would be surprised as I checked my watch to find that an hour had already flown by.

All you really need is one man and a trunk of props

All you really need is one man and a trunk of props

“Hot Dog,” a German modern dance tribute to Andy Warhol is also a condemnation of our market-driven, commercialized society. However, more telling is how it makes one think and rethink just how pervasive is advertising and consumerism in our daily lives.

The multi-awarded Romanian production of “Faust” sent shivers up my spine. With a large cast, it was an inspired version of the classic struggle of man between good and evil and, ultimately, free will. The actors as well as the stage design and direction were astounding. It was like being transported to hell!

The truly ingenious “A Streetcar Named Popescu” was also a Romanian production but performed in Romanian, English, German, and French—all at the same time, and inside a running tram. It dramatized the life of poet Cristian Popescu with limited space, an ensemble of expressive actors, and beautiful verses.

The very strong and serious Polish examination of history and how it weighs down on present society was portrayed in “A Piece on Mother and the Fatherland.” In it, the bruised Polish psyche was revealed through references to modern movies and verses.

The hilarious British puppet improv “The Table” employed one cardboard-box-and-cloth puppet and three puppeteers. And a very big table. I wonder, is the Philippines ready to welcome improv that does not involve embarrassing or humiliating people in the audience or public figures?

A Caribbean parade is always colorful

A Caribbean parade is always full of color

From classics by Chekhov and Shakespeare to contemporary tributes to Andy Warhol and adaptation of Antoine de St. Exupery’s classic novel…From Renaissance music to contemporary chorale… From Scottish bagpipe bands and Belgian performers on stilts to Caribbean ethnic performances that reminded me of our very own Ati-Atihan…the Sibiu International Theatre Festival made the performing arts more accessible to the public—not only to Romanians, but to a multitude of tourists.

As if this hubbub of activity was not enough, there were also the Sibiu Book Festival that gathered voracious readers, talented writers, and enthusiastic publishers as well as the Sibiu Performing Arts Open Market that was an accessible venue for performance arts groups to market their latest works to interested members of the public.

Catching some summer sun in one of the outdoor performances

Catching some summer sun in one of the outdoor performances

How was all of this achieved, you ask? With a lot of logistics and many volunteers, plus the concerted effort of private organizations, businesses, and the government. All of the performances were in the native language of the performing group, all of them used Romanian supertitles (think film subtitles, but flashed above the stage instead) and quite a number of them were translated into English. However, the beauty of art is that it transcends languages…and this was proven well during this festival. Maybe next year, a Philippine group will be a part of it.

Curious about Sibiu? Read more about the cultural heritage and attractions of this Romanian City here.  

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Sibiu: A Cultured City

Take a trip back in time

Take a trip back in time at the Transylvanian Fortresses Medieval Festival

Journey to Sibiu, Romania, with our correspondent Mari-An C. Santos, and soak in the culture of her second hometown in Transylvania – with Count Dracula safely out of sight.

Sibiu was declared European Capital of Culture in 2007. Every year, since 1985, the European Union awards this distinction to one or more cities to highlight its cultural and historical significance. Consequently, these cities have experienced economic gains from increased tourism. A former German enclave founded in the 12th century and named Hermannstadt, Sibiu is in the middle of the region of Transylvania and at the heart of Romania. A small city at 121 sq kms, it pulsates with life throughout the year. On any given week, in fact, you can enjoy at least one cultural performance. It never gets boring, as long as you know where to look!

Recreation Destinations

In such a small area, there are several museums. The best among them is the Brukenthal Museum, housed in the former Palace of Samuel von Brukenthal, former governor of Hermannstadt during the reign of the Habsburgs. The oldest museum in Romania, it houses a rich collection of Romanian and European art from the 16th to the 18th century, including Jan van Eyck’s Man in a Blue Cap.

The History Museum has an admirable Transylvanian gothic architecture as it used to be the Old City Hall. It has an extensive collection of stone pieces dating back all the way to the Neolithic age that were excavated from all over the region. The Saxon Ethnographic Museum has a collection of material culture that helps people understand better the beginnings and life of Transylvanian Saxons. There are also museums of natural history, pharmacy, steam engine, and hunting weapons.

Traditional building at the ASTRA Museum

Traditional building at the ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization

The 250-acre ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization showcases houses and windmills, wine and fruit presses, and other such mechanisms as well as wooden churches throughout history from different parts of the country. Here, you can visualize village life. There is also a lake where boats may be rented and a stage on its banks where shows are sometimes held. It is the second biggest open-air museum in the world.

Sala Thalia is home to the State Philharmonic that performs every Thursday night. During special events and festivals, there are more performances. The Radu Stanca National Theatre hosts several plays monthly throughout the year, some in Romanian and some in German. The Sibiu Ballet Theatre Company, composed of ballerinas from America, Europe, and Asia, stages many different classic and contemporary performances throughout the ballet season. Gong Theatre stages innovative puppet and mime performances geared toward children but still very enjoyable for adults—or children at heart. They stage these in Romanian, German, and sometimes, English.

Places like the Habitus Bookshop, ASTRA Film Center, and Casa de Cultura Sindicatelor host film screenings every week. I was even surprised when I saw Poziția Copilului (Child’s Pose), Romania’s Golden Bear winner there, because after the screening, the film’s lead characters came into the venue for a Q&A!

All the world's a stage when festival season comes to Sibiu

All the world’s a stage when festival season comes to Sibiu

Festival Seasons

Aside from these regular or semi-regular entertainment options, there are many annual festivals that make the city come alive! Respiră. Teatru. is an innovation as, for 25 hours in March, there are non-stop performances in different venues. This is in celebration of World Theatre Day. The Sibiu Jazz Festival gathers musicians from various European countries and is held every May.

Huet Square, the oldest settlement in Sibiu, is transported back to the old market days with the Huet.Urban festival. Different vendors and organizations display their wares or their crafts. It is also turned into a green space with beautiful landscaping. The Sibiu International Theatre Festival invades not only theatres but cafes, streets, churches, and parks of Sibiu for 10 days in June. This year, there were groups not only from Europe but also the Carribean, Mexico, Argentina, Japan, and South Korea.

Get ready for cultural experiences beyond the ordinary!

Get ready for cultural experiences beyond the ordinary!

The TIFF (Transylvania International Film Festival) that makes the rounds of the region, is held here in mid-June. The Romanian-American Music Days culminate on the 4th of July. The ARTmania International Rock Festival attracts music fans in August.

Knights and ladies walk the cobbled streets for the entire month of August during the Transylvanian Fortresses Medieval Festival. Here, you’ll hear the traditional music and watch accompanying dances, as well as see jousts and different laborers showcase their work.

The ASTRA Film Festival International Festival of Documentary Film and Visual Anthropology in October is a week-long feast of thoughts and ideas from all over the world. Of course, the unmistakable and iconic Main Square is transformed by the Christmas Fair and market that happens for the entire month of December. Highlights are the big Christmas tree and the mid-sized ice skating rink.

Over and above are summer and winter sports events, different market showcases, bike tours, fairs, and innumerable activities. Not to mention, its proximity to other tourist attractions like Medias, Biertan, Cisnadie, Cisnadioara, Paltinis, Transfagarasan Highway, and Transalpina Road. This is why Sibiu is a good, strategic place to have as a home base.

Read more about Mari-An’s life in Sibiu here.

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A Romanian Easter

Our Europe correspondent, Mari-An C. Santos, tells us about her first Easter in Romania.

Putna Monastery was built by the leadership of Stefan cel Mare after winning in battle

Romania is composed largely of adherents to the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is interesting to see so many churches in both cities and small villages with the uniquely Orthodox elements and Christian icons.

Many Romanian Orthodox faithful observe post, or a fast for 40 days during the Lenten season. In this period, they abstain from eating any meats or animal by-products, in some areas, this means that they do not eat eggs either.

This past Easter, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend the Easter holidays in the most traditional part of Romania, Moldova in the northeast, near the border with Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. This year, the Easter celebration was a week after our own Catholic observance. I traveled with a friend from Pakistan, a friend from Czech Republic, and two American friends who have lived in Romania for almost three years.

We first went to Targu Neamt, which is where my American friends, David and Veronica, used to live. There, we attended the Easter Vigil Mass that was celebrated from 11 pm until about 2 am. It was composed of many prayers and songs and rituals that accompanied the resurrection of Christ. As part of the celebration, people brought bread to be blessed. They also brought big candles in canisters that were lit during the service and afterwards, those whose dearly departed buried in the cemetery nearby brought the lit candles to the graves and left them there. The end of the solemn ceremony signaled a true celebration, a feast of eating and drinking among the faithful.

Multicultural Friends at Easter lunch: Veronica, Claudia and Marius, and Reema

The next day, we had Easter lunch with the Botez family, whose patriarch is an Orthodox priest. It was an interesting, multicultural, multilingual mix. The family members understood English but did not speak it much. We managed with my broken Romanian and David and Veronica’s excellent Romanian.

We started with the traditional Easter egg game using painted eggs specially prepared for the occasion. The eggs symbolize the eggs that were at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified and the His blood rendered them crimson. To color the eggs, they boil the red onions and then use the same water to boil eggs with patterns—either by sticking small leaves on the eggshells or rendering a design with wax before they boil them in the colored water. Of course, this is the traditional way; I encountered egg-painting sessions in other parts of the country where they used store-bought paints.

The author beside a giant painted Easter egg

Anyway, the game goes that people break into pairs, holding one painted egg each. One person says “Hristos a inviat (Christ is risen)!” and the other says “Adeverat a inviat (Indeed, He is risen)!” and cracks one the bottom end of his egg on the top end of the other. If your eggshell is cracked, you turn it over and play the game with another person. This goes on around the table and the “winner” is the person whose egg survives uncracked.

During a visit to the toilet, I saw that there was a painted egg in a cup of water on the sink—and a paper bill under the cup. I asked my hosts about this when I got back to the table and they said that they believe that if they washed their faces with this water in which the egg was soaked, they will look beautiful and healthy all throughout the year. And the money? Well, the last one to wash his face gets to keep it.

They served us different homemade cheeses, meats, salmon salad, and of course, lamb. My friends say that this is the only time of the year when lamb is commonly eaten. We also enjoyed homemade tuica (liquor made from plums) and homemade red wine. It is very nice that they are still able to make things from home here, ensuring that everything is natural and without harmful chemicals. They also introduced me to a nice, new refreshment. They take homemade pine syrup (from young pine) and pour a small amount in a glass then pour in about three-fourths carbonated water. It is a sweet, refreshing, and they say, therapeutic drink. All I know is, it tastes fantastic!

Sweet tooth that I am, the highlight of the meal was when we had traditional desserts like pasca and cozonac. Pasca is only prepared during Easter and can be made with chocolate, sweet cheese and raisins, or sour cream. We had the two last varieties, made by the Botez’s grandmother and they were divine! We also had some cozonac, which is a more common dessert that I also tasted at Christmas time.

We also met David, a Guatemalan who married a Romanian, Florentina, and converted to the Orthodox faith. We had a nice time getting to know them and their beautiful little girl, Maria. They also gave us some homemade cozonac. What a feast this Easter was!

Wall from the Voronet monastery–known for the “Voronet Blue”

Suceava Fortress under renovation

While in the region, we made the most of our proximity to the painted monasteries in Suceava. These are unique sites that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Some of the doctrines of the church as well as stories from the Bible are painted on the outside walls of the churches in order to help the illiterate faithful of that time to understand the teachings. Inside, during service, women stood on one side of the church, and men on the other side. The most visited churches are some distance apart, so you need a car to go on a pilgrimage from one to the other. We visited Putna, Sucevita, Humor, Voronet, and Moldovita.

Overall, it was a different, very educational trip to that part of Romania and I am glad that I was able to do it, gaining more knowledge, experience, and new friends along the way.

Related stories:

First Bursts of Spring in Sibiu

Valentine’s in Sibiu

Categories: Life in Europe | 5 Comments

First Bursts of Spring in Sibiu

Our correspondent, Mari-An C. Santos, continues her series on life as a student in Romania.

March is a beautiful month in Romania, mostly because it is the beginning of the end of winter. Yes, after more than three months of blistering cold, punctuated with snow storms that result in meters-high snow that make roads unpassable, or a crust of ice that makes them slippery, the sun starts to show its warm face again. And that thin ray of hope is enough to celebrate.

Guys buy flowers and trinkets for lady-loves/significant others

There are three events that they observe on such a month: Mărțișor, Babele, and Women’s Day.

Mărțișor is celebrated on the 1st of March, commemorating the beginning of spring. The word comes from the old name of March in Romanian. My friend, Natalia, told me a legend that she has heard since she was a little girl in the region of Moldova/Moldavia. It says that Spring was a beautiful fairy who wanted to bring warmth and sun to the earth. But the god of Frost would not allow it. So when Spring came to earth to bring forth the new season, the god of Frost engaged her in battle in order to stop her. It was a long and tedious battle, and Spring was exhausted that eventually, Frost wounded one of her fingers and blood dripped from her onto the white snow. From the place where Spring’s blood touched the snow, a beautiful snowdrop appeared. It gave Spring the power to defeat the god of Frost, and bring warmth to people, ending the cold of winter. Since then, on the first day of spring, people wear a mărțișor to commemorate the defeat of the god of Frost.

Different kinds of mărțișor on sale at makeshift stalls all over town

A mărțișor is also a trinket that is given to the women (generally) to wear at the onset of spring, to wish them good health. It was, initially, made up of intertwined white and red string, in reference to Spring’s blood and the cold of snow. In more modern times, anything from a simple pin or brooch to earrings and miniature symbols are attached to the mărțișor and given as a sign of friendship or love. It also symbolizes fertility. Women usually wear them pinned on their coats for the first few days of spring.

Ironically, as I spent Mărțișor in Brasov, Transylvania, it was a beautiful, sunny day that felt indeed like a promise of spring. But the very next day, it started to snow again.

The author, fourth from right, with fellow Asians

Meanwhile, Babele or Baba Dochia is observed starting on the 1st of March too. My friend, Adelina, narrated the legend of Baba, an old woman who went up a mountain with her sheep. It was winter, so she was wearing nine layers of coats. But as she ascended, she felt warmer, and one by one, she took off the coats she was wearing. But when she reached the top, the weather became colder and she froze and turned to stone.

Each person chooses a day beforehand, from March 1 to 9, and however the weather on that day is, that is how your year will go. For example, if it’s sunny, then it will be a good, pleasant year; if it’s snowy, then it will be a tumultuous one.

Another related legend is about Dochia, the daughter of Decebal (king of Dacia from 87 to 106). The Roman emperor Trajan fell in love with her. As she was running away from Trajan, she hid in the Ceahlău Massif (also called the Romanian Olympus) with her sheep. There, Dochia froze along with her sheep, and turned into stone. Even today, you can see the rocks that are purported to be Dochia and her sheep, dotting the mountain’s landscape.

Spring starts: streets in full bloom with flowers and colors

Now, Women’s Day is an international celebration. But the celebration in Romania is one akin to the Valentine’s Day celebration that we know. Again, as a testament to the summer that is about to come, flowers flood the shops lining the streets. Women of different ages receive flowers from family and friends—and lovers, of course. Old women also gather pussy willow branches that they sell and are also symbols of spring.

Women from the university dance at the Women's Day party

However, as of the end of March, snow still remains on the peaks not too far away from the city of Sibiu—in Balea and Paltinis. People make the most of the fact that the sun is shining to snowboard and ski. And just the other day, it snowed again. Maybe spring is not quite here yet. But March bears the hope that it will some soon enough.

Read Mari-An’s first post, Valentine’s in Sibiu, here.

Categories: Life in Europe, Students | 2 Comments

Valentine’s in Sibiu

by Mari-An Santos

Valentine’s day is a big, commercial holiday in the Philippines. It is the day that causes traffic jams all over the metro. Sweets, flowers, hearts and pink and red abound in true commercialized style. It is an “imported” holiday, mostly propagated by the West. Here in Romania, it is slowly inching its way into the consciousness of locals, but there is a movement, if you will, that would rather propagate the celebration of Dragobete, a similar holiday held on the 24th of February (more on that later).

I learned from a few Erasmus friends that in Belgium, for example, majority of Belgians perceive Valentine’s Day as a commercial and marketing ploy; and that not all couples celebrate it. Those who do often go out to a restaurant and exchange gifts. Men often give women jewelry and red roses. It is also celebrated in Slovakia, where my friend reassures, the men are educated and you can find interesting conversation, as well as charming and fun—and with a wink, generally like Asian women.

In Pakistan, having a girlfriend or a boyfriend is not so common, so those who are in relationships usually have to covertly buy gifts and hide them from family members before giving them to their love interest. In the university, a single guy will hold out a rose to a girl that he likes.

A few days before the holiday, since some Erasmus students were already finished with their exams and were looking for something to do, our Facebook group page was abuzz with ideas on how to celebrate the occasion—mostly just an excuse to hold a party, but this time, with a specific theme. Ideas from the usual food and drinks to couples paired up to dance were thrown around. The international relations department got wind of the plans and before we knew it, we had a venue at the university canteen and the rector and vice-rector were set to attend the occasion! So from an informal gathering to hang out, we had to get at least a little dressed up, though thankfully, not necessarily in red and pink.

Each student pitched in some money for a few decorations and snacks. More than 50 of us were in attendance, with some Romanian students who were our friends as guests. We had a “paper roses” presentation, where each girl had a number and each guy picked a number from a bowl—and whoever picked the girl’s number would give her a paper rose. The guys thought of different styles, from getting down on one knee, to delivering a romantic soliloquy to one even playing the “My Heart Will Go On” on his harmonica.

There was also the apple-eating game where four couples raced to finish off an apple suspended on a string. Another, was a simplified dating game, where one girl chose from three guys and won…a rose and presented the guy a bar of chocolate. Some of the guys sang for the head of the international department and presented her with flowers. Then, we enjoyed some cakes from the international department and spent a few minutes dancing before heading back to the dormitory. The event seemed interesting enough that it was even featured in a local paper and website.

But the more interesting holiday is the local Valentine’s day that also celebrates the beginning of spring—even in these times of climate change. Dating back to the Dacian era (1st century-1st century CE), the practice is being heavily promoted, encouraging couples to resist the foreign, imported holiday in favor of the local one. Traditionally, in the countryside, girls and boys pick flowers and dance and sing together. Also, it is the time when a boy can express his love for a girl. A boy will run after a girl and if he catches up with her and kisses her, it is believed that their love will be strong for a year. I asked about the next year, and apparently, they do the process again. 🙂 Women also supposedly gather some remaining snow and use water from them to make potions. I have yet to find out a recipe. When I do, I’ll let you know. 😉

Meantime, I am told that more interesting celebrations are coming in the next few weeks, like Martisoare on 1 March and Women’s Day on 8 March. I will surely update you on those events.

Mari-An Santos is pursuing her Masters in Advertising and Brand at Universitatea “Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu in Romania under EMMA East.

Categories: Erasmus Mundus, Life in Europe, Students | 4 Comments

Contributors wanted!

Are you an Erasmus Mundus student or alumnus with something to show or tell about your EM experience? We would be happy to hear from you. Share your stories, tips and photos with the Pinoy Erasmus Mundus blog. Citizenship is not an issue; non-Filipinos are welcome. Feel free to email your suggestions, proposals or drafts to

Categories: Alumni, Erasmus Mundus, Life in Europe, Students | 1 Comment

My Extra-Polished Christmas

There is great beauty in diversity, they say; but that never really holds true until one gets to live that diversity. Which is probably what Erasmus Mundus is all about: bringing everyone from everywhere into one pack of curious minds with eager spirits. Tales abound of how rich Erasmus Mundus life is, but the fun part of my experience in the Christmas of 2008 would underscore why anyone—and I mean anyone—would kill for a stint at an EM program.

I was docked in Wroclaw, Poland for a portion of my EM scholarship, and our high-rise dorm was a time-bomb of students from all over the world: the non-Europeans for their respective EM programs; the Europeans for their Erasmus exchange semester/year.

Just a week before Christmas I went to Warsaw for some partying, which I felt I deserved after all the grueling courses and pre-break exams. After all, this would also be a time when those Polish migrant workers in Germany, England, Netherlands and Ireland would come home to splurge their earnings on booze and shopping; so I thought it would be fun hanging with the locals. I’m most glad to have friends like Igor, Jakub and Radek who kept me entertained with cheap Polish vodka and beers in the middle of a white winter-y Christmas.

The extra bonus to the thrill? Their moms and grannies probably thought I was some cute little extinct animal from an Asian zoo, with brown skin, dark eyes and black hair; so they fed me non-stop with pierogi (dumplings), kielbasa (sausages) and, of course, vodka. I just love being the foreigner!

Before I could think of crashing (and trashing) their Christmas eve dinners I decided to join the other kids back in the dorm who stayed for the break. Most of them were from Turkey, Vietnam and Kazakhstan—places where Christmas isn’t as much of a big thing as it is back here or in Poland. So why not mount a party in the dorm for us who were stuck in there, while all the Europeans and Americans flew off for their holidays at home?

Although I’m completely useless in the kitchen, I embraced the idea of a pot-luck. The Turks brought mezes, kuzus and turlus; the Vietnamese whipped a wicked platter of spring rolls; the Kazakh served mantis and baursaks; a fellow Filipino served a delicious casserole of adobo while I blasphemously invented my own recipe of menudo. They all loved it, except they didn’t know if it really should taste that way.

Soon after the jello shots and vodka and beer were done we all headed out to hear mass. Why not? This is Poland—probably the most Catholic place in Europe along with Italy and Spain. And despite our challenged grasp of the Polish language, we endured an entire Christmas eve mass in, well, Polish. The priest gave away chocolates and fruits and when it was our turn to receive some, he gave the mic to one of us to say a few words to the community. Bahan, one of the coolest and funniest Turks in the group, shamelessly announced, on the mic: Nie mowie po polsku! (I don’t speak Polish!)

The whole congregation laughed in delight, noticing we were all foreign. The priest yelped back, jokingly: Ale nie mowie po angielsku! (But I also don’t speak English!). Another thunderous laughter and applaud from the crowd. As a result, when the mass ended and people were exiting the church, the locals, especially those cute little kids, couldn’t help but take a good glance at us with a very warm, friendly “Merry Christmas” greeting. In Polish, mostly. All we could do was wave and smile back.

Come Christmas day itself, our very good friend and program coordinator Sebastian invited the entire group to his family house to join him and his lovely wife Marta and uber-cute little boy Roch for lunch and dinner. Again, this is Poland—where they take the word “feast” seriously; another reason why I felt very much at home in this country. As token for their kindness in averting our (possibly) home-sickness, we each brought him and Marta a nice little present.

Why am I writing about this now? Because I miss my friends. I miss Poland and I miss Christmas in Europe. I miss the diversity of my circle of friends who are now all in their home countries, probably missing that Christmas the same way I do now.

Above all, I miss all those different dishes on the table for Christmas, in the company of good friends, throwing snowballs at each other on the walk back to the dorm, and singing Merry Christmas songs in our respective languages. Of course, most of us had beers or vodka in hand at that moment.

Merry Christmas, fellow–and future–EM scholars!

Mike Saycon
MA Global Studies, Major in International Relations 2006-2008
University of Vienna (Austria), University of Leipzig (Germany)
London School of Economics (UK), University of Wroclaw (Poland)

Reposted from thegoodmike

Categories: Life in Europe | 2 Comments

Christmas in Europe

Winter Wonderland
Last December 2010, I spent Christmas with a Czech family in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic. It was one of the most memorable Christmases I ever had away from my family.

Adobo Fridge
I made it a point to share our traditional Filipino dish, adobo. They all loved it. But since the fridge was quite full, we had to find another place to store my adobo — the balcony at -15 degrees Centigrade… 🙂

Prague Main Square

Christmas in Prague
Czech Republic is perhaps one of my favorite European countries. That’s why for my second Christmas in Europe away from my family, I decided to spend it in Prague with friends.

Berlin, Germany

Berliner Christmas
Going around Europe during the Christmas season has become one thing I look forward to. I have always loved Christmas tiangge. All over Europe, Christmas markets are famous but the one in Berlin is one of my favorites.

The author (far right) with Chinese-Australian friends

Ken Subillaga
Doctorate in Educational Design and Innovation
University of Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
3rd Year – EMMA program

Categories: Life in Europe, Students | Leave a comment

Experiencing the World of Erasmus

by Sheryl Lozel Bico-Arreola

Students and staff in Gent

My year-and-a-half Erasmus Mundus experience was like living a dream adventure–pursuing higher education while traveling around the world!

Four years ago, I was surfing the internet when I came across the European Union’s Erasmus Mundus website and learned of the European Masters Courses being offered with scholarship grants. Scholarship coverage includes tuition fees, travel expenses, stipend, insurance and accommodation. So I said to myself, “Why not?”

I applied for one of the programs, EM Food Science, Technology and Nutrition ( and two months later, I was accepted. What a great way to realize a dream – pursuing a higher quality of education, European standards at that, and traveling at the same time to some of the most beautiful places in Europe!

The SEFOTECH.NUT program was participated in by students from the EU, US, and Third-Countries like the Philippines [ed’s note: Third-Country means outside of EU and EEA). Although English was our medium of instruction, an English language course was still offered to us to facilitate interaction among students of different cultures and languages. More importantly, a Dutch language course was offered for everyday situations.

The program was organized in a modular format. These modules were offered in specific partner institutions where the topics are most suited. I took the six compulsory modules at Catholic University of Applied Science Sint-Lieven (Belgium) and the four optional in three consortium partners: Dublin Institute of Technology (Ireland), Hochschule Anhalt (Germany), and Universidade Catolica Portuguesa (Portugal). The modules enriched our skills and knowledge for us to understand the complex and important issues of the food industry. Learnings also integrate
the application of other technologies to food such as biotechnology, packaging, engineering and agriculture.

My scientific project, which is a requirement of the program, was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Alcina Morais of Universidade Catolica Portuguesa, Portugal. With her perseverance and determination, we were able to publish two refereed journal articles!

To relieve ourselves from the rigors of studying, we were privileged to have endless possibilities in exploring the grandeur and wealth of cultures in the European Community. We could go on a weekend trip to some of the most beautiful cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Venice! A train ride across many cities, along the tranquil rivers, with majestic castles and mountains as the backdrop, offers a relaxing yet learning experience like no other. The architectural masterpieces we see only in school textbooks abound in every European town or city. And with one currency, the Euro, we could always take the trains, buses, or taxis and buy souvenirs from almost any part of Europe.

What an experience! European standards of higher education. Intercultural interaction. Magical mystery tours. True enough, Erasmus Mundus was well worth the trip!

Categories: Erasmus Mundus, Life in Europe | 5 Comments

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