Die Bärliner - The Bard College Berlin Student Blog
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on the Bard College Berlin Student Blog

Passing through, passing through.

Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,

glad that I ran into you.

Tell the people that you saw me

passing through.

–– D. Blakeslee, 1948.

 

One year ago I was finishing a blog article about the 2015 graduation. I had just come back from my time abroad and was glad about the chance to reflect a bit on travelling, on departures, on community and hospitality. Constant leaving and returning is built into the core of the BCB community. If, as a student, you spend your third year abroad, you will see the students of every other generation for only one year, and each year new people find their way to the college from all walks of life and some leave to follow different roads. It is in that sense a very dynamic community and I was wondering then, in my article, whether hospitality could perhaps be the name of the principle that connects us here, in this place where everyone is host and guest at the same time.

Recently I found a song which expresses some of those thoughts and feelings much better than I did then and then I can do now. Having just graduated, I would like to share it with you here by way of farewell.

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The Class of 2015

Bard College Berlin’s Class of 2015

As I write these lines, the urban landscape of Berlin slowly gives way to a haze of green as the ICE train passes along a seemingly endless stream of fields, meadows, and forests on its way to Austria. It’s been a short homecoming for me this time. Returning from Paris, where I lived during my third year, I stayed only a few days to witness the graduation ceremony at Bard College Berlin. In a few hours there will be another homecoming for me, when I arrive in Innsbruck, where a part of my family now lives, and two weeks on there will be yet another one in Vienna, where another part of my family lives and where I grew up. Another two weeks and I will be back in Berlin again.

My international peers, my teachers, and the staff at Bard College Berlin hail from some forty different corners of the world. School breaks give time to travel, to go home, or to explore the country and continent. If, as a student, you spend your third year abroad, you will see every other student generation for one year only. After four years we all say farewell, perhaps for good, even though many of us return to the place at some point, or stay in Berlin for a while. Hellos and farewells, departures and arrivals are really built into the very core of BCB life. And if you do something a lot, chances are you will get good at it. Farewells are no exception. Perhaps the most beautiful demonstration was Paris Helene Furst’s student graduation speech.

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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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Ambassador Murphy's address to the ECLA of Bard graduates

Ambassador Murphy’s address to the graduates

“Commencement”: though the word is rhetorically indicative of a beginning, it has trouble escaping its connotation––at least for students––as the official conclusion, the shake of the hand, and the goodbye to the thousands of pages and hours, myriad lunch debates, late-nights, page-tabbing, research forays, and all that comes along with the pursuit of a liberal arts diploma. After a year (or four) of all these activities and then a few final weeks of frenzied epiphanies, tapping through papers, and packing up boxes, the students at ECLA of Bard submitted their final essays, sighed a deep sigh, and welcomed their friends and family from far and wide to Berlin to celebrate the end of the year––and the commencement of what’s to come.

After a lovely lunch in the convivial intimacy of our small-school cafeteria, the assembling group rambled via bicycle and Straßenbahn down to the Rotes Rathaus (the Red City Hall)––a neo–Gothic /neo–Baroque /Jungendstil mashup success of a brick building in the northern Berlin neighborhood of Pankow that ECLAns call home. The Saal (main ceremonial hall) was decked out in a dignified palette of flowers and bunting. Students wore the contented smiles and placid brows of those who have no extant assignments. Professors and administration were looking sartorially sharp, satisfied that we had all submitted our papers, and pleased they had imparted their wisdom, given their grades, and that we had all learned quite a bit about learning itself.

Everyone sat in long rows across the wide, but not deep, floor of the Saal, comfily within a few rows of the stage––excellent positioning for the capture of expressions and gestures from the podium. Towering above the Saal, backing the Commencement speakers and filtering the light and sounds of the street, a stained-glass window glowed with motifs of labor and bounty. The finicky Berlin late–spring sun chose to shine in through the window upon the stage of graduates just as their diplomas were awarded. Flowers and leather-bound Bard-red diplomas, printed in the most graceful Latin, were distributed along with admonitions to excellence and advisor–selected, red–ribboned books for each of the graduates.

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Studying hard

On March 7th, ECLA of Bard hosted a “Career Evening” aimed to give BA graduates information on MA and PhD programs. Together with our Dean Catherine Toal, who was the main speaker of the evening, several faculty members – Marcela Perett, James Harker, Frank Ruda, and Laura Scuriatti – came to answer students’ questions and share their experiences. As ECLA of Bard’s BA program in Value Studies is based on an interdisciplinary approach, it gives students the capacity to qualify for a great number of programs in the humanities – from politics and human rights, to arts and aesthetics. The following briefly describes our faculty’s collective assessment of the application process, specifically concerning U.S. and German universities, which are the particular regions of interest for many ECLA of Bard graduating students.

Graduate and Postgraduate Education in the U.S

Typically, prospective students submitting applications to American PhD programs in the humanities either apply directly following a BA track, or return to academia after some time off spent working in the professional sector. As MA and PhD humanities programs in the U.S. universities are often connected and provide financial aid altogether, a candidate’s potential is usually checked within the Master’s program first, after which successful graduates proceed to the PhD. For this reason, it a bit is hard to find scholarships for stand-alone Master’s programs, but nevertheless it is possible. American universities look favorably upon nontraditional MA applicants (i.e. those with interdisciplinary educational backgrounds), if they are willing to be academically flexible. Often for those students, their particular concentration changes after the completion of their BA. Furthermore, applicants who take a few years of break to gain tangible professional experience in a related field are considered more mature and weighted in their decisions by admissions boards. Unfortunately, however, long gaps can translate into a late graduation, as a PhD track can last up to 9 years. However, those who have strong faculty support and good relations with the department complete with their thesis in 6 to 7 years.

The graduate application window for American universities is around December-January and a bit later for some departments. This means that prospective applicants should start collecting documents in the preceding summer. Most universities require a Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which can be taken in Berlin (it is necessary to register far in advance). Preparation for the exam itself is time-consuming. Many students are afraid of the GRE, as it includes math exercises, but usually if the overall application package is good and math is not your main subject, your candidacy will not be rejected. The GRE may be taken into consideration in the case of tough competition, but its components should not deter you from applying.

Graduate and Postgraduate Education in Germany

Graduate degrees such as MA and PhD in public universities in Germany are usually free of charge. Some English courses in the humanities are also available. Unlike the American system, Germany combines BA and MA programs, leaving the PhD separate. German universities are more conservative about gaps and radical course changes, so in order to increase the chances for a scholarship it is more prudent to select a corresponding Master’s program. In any case, a candidate must have at least 60 ECTS credits of undergraduate study in the subject area to apply.

One can obtain a German degree faster than in the U.S. – usually it takes 3 to 4 years, as the research will not be financed for a longer time. Some graduate colleges have application calls for funded positions as doctoral students. Another option is to work with an individual professor who will be willing to supervise your PhD project. For this purpose it is possible to become an ‘associate’ of a graduate college and its research project.

Application Tips

Three essential parts of every application package are:

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ECLA (European College of Liberal Arts) - Class of 2008

Class of 2008

On Sunday 15 June the European College of Liberal Arts held its graduation ceremony. The event was an opportunity to celebrate the year’s achievements and to say goodbye to the class of 2008. Academic and Project Year students gathered with professors, administration staff, parents and friends to receive their certificates from ECLA’s co-deans, Peter Hajnal and .

The ECLA choir, conducted by Musical Director Michael Geisler, opened the ceremony with Gaudeamus Igitur. Offering musical interludes between speeches, the choir charmed the audience with a small but delightful repertoire. The choir even managed to engage audience participation, with a stirring African number, prepared as a counterpoint to the more classical pieces on the programme.

In his opening speech, Thomas Norgaard told the story of Scott Buchanan, an educational pioneer, who in 1937 introduced the ‘Great Books’ programme to St. John’s College in the United States. While stressing the differences between the Great Books programmes and ECLA’s own approach to liberal education, Norgaard cited Buchanan’s as one of the most interesting educational experiments of the 20th century, and worthy of study. After giving a brief history of the great books movement, Norgaard went on to focus on Buchanan himself. He held up Buchanan’s example as praiseworthy, demonstrating not only a willingness to experiment but also the willingness to learn from those experiments: For Norgaard, Buchanan’s criticisms of the ‘Great Books’ programme that he created may be as instructive as its creation. To mark the day, Norgaard donated to the ECLA library a book of interviews with Buchanan. He closed by thanking professors, administration staff and students for all that they had contributed to ECLA this year.

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