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Protesters line up on the streets of Budapest to protest Orban’s bill. (Credit: BBC)

A few weeks ago, news that the Central European University located in Budapest, Hungary had come under threat spread like wildfire around the BCB campus. Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, had launched a legislative attack on the institution, indirectly calling for it to close down. When pressured for a reason, Orban’s government claimed that the legal measures they had taken were only to protect the affairs of higher education in the country. However, the proposal underlined many prospects that seemed to single out CEU, including complex conditions it was required to meet to remain in existence. One such demand was that Hungary would have to sign an intergovernmental pact with the home country of the university, meaning that CEU’s associations with other universities would become highly politicised as Hungary would be obliged to have political ties with the countries that set up shop in their nation. Another demand was that foreign universities could only exist provided they had a campus in their home land, something that CEU doesn’t have as it is a cross-border institution. Orban’s government also seemed to be opposed to the issuance of double degrees (i.e., Hungarian and American) by the university, which many American universities operating outside the United States do, including Bard College Berlin!

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Matias Ehrsam

Matias Ehrsam (BA 2019) in an L&T seminar (photo by Inasa Bibic)

It has been three years since Bard College Berlin first adopted the Language and Thinking Program as a mandatory, three-week orientation in which admitted students are meant to practice both academic and creative writing. The program was initially introduced in 1981 by Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York with the aim of encouraging students to practice certain methods of thinking and writing so as to prepare them for a smoother transition into university.

The program’s activities start in the morning, last until the late afternoon hours, and stretch over five days each week. They are practiced in small seminar groups and include a variety of readings, creative exercises, thought-provoking games, and visits to Berlin, but are mostly focused on writing. At the beginning of a class, the students are given a few minutes for free, private writing, so that they write on anything that’s on their minds without any particular requirements or guidance. Apart from these tasks that are mostly helpful for “getting into the L&T mode” (and also into the “English mode” for the non-native English speakers among us), students are constantly asked to share their thoughts, discuss readings, and react to their peers almost only in writing. To new students, the emphasis on writing rather than on oral discussions or creative exercises might seem somewhat confusing, even exaggerated. James Harker, the coordinator of Bard College Berlin’s Language and Thinking Program, explains the logic behind the writing-intensive format:

Writing is the number one source of worry for new college students. The first goal of the L&T Program is to introduce and instill productive habits of exploration, inquiry, and writing. Some of those habits might seem counter-intuitive. For example, most students might naturally try to write a paper in a crunch session at the last minute. But L&T emphasizes writing regularly in very short bursts, as little as just a few minutes. Often students want to work slowly and perfect each word or sentence before moving on. But L&T often asks for quickly sketched, unedited writing as a first draft. Many students would rather only let others see their finished work, but L&T demands that everyone share their roughest versions. Most people write in isolation, but L&T makes it a group experience. The methods and exercises of L&T are intended to give students strategies for coming up with observations and ideas about texts and to make writing fun, social, and habitual.

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