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Una with the partisan women in Zagreb, Croatia (Credit: Personal Archives)

Una Blagojevic, a Serbian 2013 BA graduate, has been around the world. Currently residing in Budapest, Hungary and beginning her master’s thesis at the Central European University, Una looks back on her time at Bard Berlin, then ECLA*, with great fondness. I sat down for a late-night Skype chat with Una to discuss the transformative and orienting powers of core courses, her shift from Berlin to London to Uganda to France to Budapest, and the consistent and enduring eccentricities of Pankow wildlife.**

Tell me about your time in Uganda.

My Uganda trip was quite amazing! After I left ECLA, I was planning to stay in Berlin for my  master’s, but the program I applied for was all in German, and my knowledge of German was not high enough. I also couldn’t find any scholarships to do my master’s in England, so I was quite unhappy and disappointed. And then, just totally coincidentally, a friend of mine saw that there was a safari company in Uganda looking for interns, which was a totally new thing for me because it had nothing to do with my undergraduate education at all.  

Right. After four years of doing school, this is something completely different.

Yes, totally different! Sometimes when I tell people that I spent a year working for a safari company they think that this was some kind of place where people go to shoot animals, and I would never do something like that. I didn’t do that and this was not that kind of company. They had some lodges all around Uganda, large lodges in the savannas of a national park called Kidepo Valley. I spent approximately four months there. It was so beautiful. I was always in nature, helping out. My tasks also included working in an office and helping with boring administrative stuff, documents, calculating budgets in Excel. I always wanted to escape from this sort of work after finishing my Gymnasium. There, in Serbia, you usually go and work or study in a department, like natural sciences, math or physics After I finished Gymnasium  I said ‘Never again!’ and then I turned to humanities. It was nice to do it again in Uganda, though.  

What was the community in Uganda like?

Even though the administrative work was boring, I was very close with the staff, helping out as much as I could and also hanging around with the guests. It was a very small, intimate approach to work, so we would all eat at a big table and they would serve us and we would all sit and talk about which animals we’ve seen and things like that. Sometimes I felt like it was strange because it was a place where very rich people would come and spend time in a ‘wonderful African, Ugandan experience’. Sometimes I was kind of not sure what to think of myself being there. But I had this great time where every day was filled with new and crazy experiences. I lived in a small hut, too, made out of wood and leaves and such: They tried to make it as natural as possible to give an ‘explorer’s experience’. I lived in one of these, and in the morning I heard animals making such crazy sounds, and, even though the hut was off the ground for security reasons, we would get woken up by screaming animals. It was always wild boars.

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This piece was originally published on the British Council Pakistan website. Republished with their kind permission.

Maria Khan (photo by the British Council Germany)

Maria Khan (photo by the British Council Germany)

27 year-old Maria Khan is this year’s winner of the IELTS Award, the first of its kind in Germany.
Maria, originally from Pakistan, has just finished her Bachelor’s course (her second!) at Bard College Berlin. Her application was chosen out of more than a hundred we received.
British Council | IELTS will cover £10,000 of her tuition fees at Newnham College at the University of Cambridge in the UK. We wanted to learn more about her, so we have met up with Maria to talk about her impressive application and plans for the future but also to learn more about her passions outside of university.

FIRST OF ALL, HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE IELTS AWARD? WHO OR WHAT DREW YOUR ATTENTION TO IT?

Maria: I found about the award through the IELTS website. I was registering for the IELTS exam, I read about the award and thought I could apply for it.

TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF, HOW YOU ENDED UP IN GERMANY AND WHAT YOU’VE BEEN DOING HERE. WE HAVE HEARD A CERTAIN PAKISTANI POET PLAYED A ROLE IN YOUR DECISION AS WELL. WOULD YOU LIKE TO TELL US MORE ABOUT HIM?

Maria: In 2010, I graduated from Kinnaird College for Women Lahore. After completing my BSc Economics I had decided to pursue public policy. However, I always wanted to study in Germany since one of the leading Pakistani poets and philosophers, Muhammad Iqbal, received his education at Heidelberg University, Germany. Iqbal also received part of his education at Cambridge, where he was the student of neo-Hegelians i.e. John McTaggart and James Ward. Iqbal’s poetry and philosophy had been an integral part of my upbringing and not only had Iqbal received his education in Germany, he was very much influenced by Nietzsche’s concept of Will. While looking for schools in Europe I came across a very small residential liberal arts university called European College of Liberal Arts, Berlin, now called Bard College Berlin. Initially I came for a one year program to study literature and philosophy before I began graduate school, but I realized that I wanted to invest more time in the humanities; reading, writing and thinking about works of the Western canon and learn languages i.e. German and French.

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The cover of Aurelia's recently published book of poems

The cover of Aurelia’s recently published book of poems in Romanian

Subtly overwhelmed by the realization of my graduation, I, like my graduating class fellows, have embarked upon the journey of exploring the world of “what if.” Amidst the swirl of mixed emotions signalling the end of another fruitful academic year at Bard College Berlin, I found myself caught within an entanglement which marks a fixed and certain end, and at the same time announces an exciting, but yet unknown beginning. Potential anchors in this unrelenting “self-search” vary from one graduate to another, but beyond these differences, I harbor a wish to discover the promising land of “what if” by finding the trajectory of those who have already been in my situation, but have followed their own inspiring path. I found out about the “road taken” by an alumna of our university, Aurelia Cojocaru, currently a PhD student in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and author, publishing under the pen name Aura Maru. The following interview is an interesting glimpse into the marked stations that Aurelia passed on her path.      

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Maria Khan

Maria Khan attended the Academy Year at ECLA in 2010-11, as well as the ISU on Prussia this past summer.

While at ECLA she was a regular contributor to the news section. Currently Maria is back in Pakistan, working as a production manager and a dancer in the staging of The Taming of the Shrew, which will be shown at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in May 2012.

Susannah Harris Wilson finished her graduate studies in Drama at Stanford University in the summer of 1960. After finishing her degree, when Susannah began looking for a job, someone shared with her a listing for an opportunity in Pakistan. The principal of a liberal arts college, Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore, was looking for a person to help with the schools’ theatre department.

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Conference on Belarus and Ukraine organized by ECLA alumna in ParisOn March 20-25, 2006, Hanna Murauskaya (ISU 2004, Belarus), who is currently writing her PhD thesis at the Ecole normale supérieure in Paris, organized a Cultural Week of Belarus and Ukraine and conference (March 23-25) entitled: ‘Ukraine and Belarus – what neighbors for the European Union?’

The timing was perfect since the Cultural Week and its conference took place just after the Belarussian presidential elections and on the eve of the Ukrainian parliamentary elections, making all the issues on the agenda highly relevant. Among the conference participants there were scholars of Ukrainian and Belarussian culture, history, politics, and languages from numerous countries; papers varied from the analysis of the present day political situation of these countries to very specific explorations of historical or linguistic peculiarities. Besides the conference, the Cultural Week included several events such as a concert by the Belarussian music group ‘Nagual’ and three movie screenings.

At the conclusion of the conference, the former president of the Belarussian republic, Stanislav Shushkevich, spoke to the participants about the concerns and hopes of the democratic opposition in Belarus. In response to the questions from the audience, he urged the West to help the Belarussian opposition in breaking through the information blockade. His talk resonated well with the paper delivered earlier in the conference by Mykola Ryabchuk, one of the most important Ukrainian literary critics and political commentators, who implicitly appealed for the West to pay more consistent attention to the democratic and pro-western tendencies in Ukraine.

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ECLA Alumna Directs the SnowmanAs guests entered the teaching building at ECLA this Sunday, they were presented with two plates of food: one filled with apples and the other with peanuts.  This was not just a Sunday evening snack, but was meant quite literally to be food for thought: it was the opening of ECLA alumna Adina Scortescu’s (AY 2004-2005, Romania) production of the Romanian play The Snowman (in an English translation).  Actors Brindusa Birhala (ISU 2005, Romania) and Sofiya Skachko (AY 2004-2005, Ukraine) performed in the main roles of the play, which explores loneliness in contemporary society.  Lucian Cosinchi (AY 2004-2005, Romania) performed music as part of the performance.

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ECLA Alumna Founds Non-Profit Organization to Help Guatemalan ChildrenThree years ago, Fiamma Rupp-Gembs spent a year in Guatemala volunteering in the garbage dumps of Guatemala City.  In her time there, she recognized a gap in the assistance offered by existing aid programmes in the country: she wished that an organization would be created that would involve more intercultural exchange and communication.  A year later, she founded her own aid programme.  Lead by her “desire to create a new system for aid organizations which would foster development but at the same time would not create new dependence,” she now heads “Sichere Perspektiven – Secure Perspectives e.V.”, called “Seguras Perspectivas” in its Guatemalan seat.

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The Clouds in chorus (Credit: Tamar Maare)

The Clouds in chorus (Credit: Tamar Maare)

Maria Khan is a BA 2015 alumna originally from Pakistan.

Bard College Berlin has a special place in my heart. I love it. I adore it. I am shamelessly and unabashedly its biggest fan. I have loved all its transformations and will continue to do so. I spent my formative years at BCB, and my experience was enriched by the people I met, the friendships I formed, and the lessons I learned there.

Currently, I’m enrolled in a PhD program at Cambridge University, specializing in arts education. My PhD examines the use of drama for the purposes of cultural integration. I plan to work with Turkish immigrants in Germany and use Goethe’s Faust to instigate a conversation about interfaith dialogue, Western versus Islamic values, and how Muslim immigrants perceive themselves in a host community.

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