The community of Bard College Berlin is very diverse. Students come from six continents and their life paths have taken the most peculiar trajectories. Whereas some had never even left their home country prior to coming to Berlin, others have lived in different places and traveled all over the world. In the belief that everyone here has an interesting story to share, the blog team decided to interview the students and find out more about their background, their interests and their decision to come to Berlin. In this first interview, you can “meet” Lucas Anthony Cone Møller, a first year BA student from Denmark who plays an incredible number of music instruments and is interested in politics and education.
Lucas, have you always lived in Denmark?
So you don’t really have a multicultural background?
Well, my mom is from the States. She was born in Brooklyn, so I spent a lot of time in New York, passing back and forth between cultures.
Are you bilingual?
Yes. I guess I grew up with both cultures under my skin. I learnt children songs in both English and Danish – it is a useful insight into how to live your life within different cultural backgrounds.
Would you still consider Bard College Berlin your first multicultural environment?
Definitely. Denmark is very… monocultural. Everyone is kind of the same; we all kind of think the same – even though we like to say we think really differently.
What do you mean by “monocultural”?
We think alike, in the sense that we all agree on fundamental values regarding our welfare system, a green profile etc. So it is interesting to be in a place like Bard College Berlin where people come from different cultures and, of course, have different views on basic things that I would take for granted. From a Danish perspective, with our cultural history and the way we look at things, the international environment here differs from what I’m used to. In that sense it is my first experience.
Do you like living in a multicultural environment?
I love it. It’s fun and it’s useful — it’s a great possibility to get a different perspective on the various cultures around the world, to be confronted with their historical backgrounds directly in discussions, and understand how they approach certain political and philosophical matters.
It makes me wonder when you say that the Danes are all alike – I thought it was a very open-minded society, tolerant towards cultural diversity etc. This seems to me like a product of outer influences mingling with the Danish culture. How do you think the Danish society could have become so open-minded, if you say that the culture is so homogenous?
The unity in Denmark, I think, comes mostly from the awareness of being a small country. There is a constant awareness that you do not have to prove yourself––rather you just need to be open. I think it’s a basic understanding that we also rely on other cultures. Also, I think that the Danish mentality is affected by a general awareness of Europe, and of the fact that there are other countries in the world and that we have to work together. So we have to remain open-minded, as we are not self-sufficient (even though we could be).
Has it always been like this or is it recent, because the society needed to get to that point?
It has been a historical process. Denmark is one of the few countries that had a very peaceful transition into democracy, simply because everyone agreed that it was the best. Denmark has a long history of holding a surprising amount of power in Europe, and I think the historical roots run deep in our feeling of nationality and attachment to our idea of the good. Our welfare system is based on the fact that we are a smaller country. It wouldn’t have existed in this form had we had a totally different culture that acted in a totally different way.
Isn’t Denmark the most expensive country in Europe?
One of the most expensive, definitely. But its people are among the happiest. Who says money can’t buy you happiness?
That is one stereotype about the Danish people – they are always smiling and happy.
Indeed. Why would you live in a country with a 60% income tax if you could go somewhere else where it would only be 40%? This attitude necessarily involves a certain appreciation for the society you live in, and an awareness of some greater good. It all comes back to you at a certain point and it is nice to know that if something happens, you will be taken care of.
Since you are half–Danish and half–American, it must be really interesting to compare the two political systems.
I think the difference is too vast to really compare the two systems. Americans are stubborn when they feel the government is subjugating their liberty, whilst the Danish mentality of not perceiving yourself to be more than you are dominates the social discourse. I am not saying that Danes are a part of some Confucian system – Denmark is just a country that very much praises what there is, and builds society around the same central values.
How does it feel to move from Denmark to Germany? Are they different?
Denmark is a small country, and everything is discussed on a somewhat local political level. In Germany, there is a different mentality. It has the third most technologically powerful economy in the world, and the size and impact of the country have cultivated a more efficiency-based approach to the political society. Culturally, there are, however, many similarities. Berlin is more international, in the sense that there is a greater variety of cultural events. There is a big experimental music scene; there are cool clubs and nice venues for alternative music… But all in all, Copenhagen and Berlin are very much alike, the way I see it. Berlin is just bigger and so there are more possibilities to reach out to people that would like your specific style as an artist.
Leaving Denmark aside, have you ever been to Berlin before?
Did it contribute to your decision to come here?
Yes, definitely. I think that Berlin is, culturally speaking, the capital of Europe. A lot of the artists I like and a lot of the events I would like to attend – it’s all going on in Berlin. The rent is still (relatively) cheap, it’s easy to get around and you have lots to choose from when going out, such as concerts, clubs or academic conferences.
Speaking of concerts and artists – you play a lot of instruments, right? Could you name some?
Well, the piano, guitar, ukulele… I sing, I play the bandoneon – it is like a harmonica, used more for tango by the likes of Piazzolla. Furthermore, I am trying to learn how to play the trumpet, the saxophone and the baglama, which is a Turkish guitar with a beautiful sound… And I would like to learn to play the banjo. As you see, I have a lot of projects to carry out before that – but ambitions are what keeps us alive. And Lysan [note: another BA student] will maybe teach me how to play the violin.
So what’s your favorite instrument?
There are different purposes for different instruments. The piano is my go-to instrument, but to feel challenged I go to one of those I am currently learning how to play, like the trumpet. I normally prefer the guitar for songwriting. Then, I am naturally restricted, in the sense that I focus more on what I can actually sing, and cannot just cover it up in major sevenths.
Do you compose music yourself?
That’s mostly what I do: I compose music on the piano. I already have some songs recorded and I have released an album in New York. I am still writing, although it has been hard starting in a new place. Writing music requires a certain state of constant creativity. It is not like I can just tell myself that I will sit down from six to eight and compose. You have to be constantly aware of what you are doing. It is about making it accessible – like having a piano close by so that I can play. It’s a lot about having an instrument nearby.
So if I wanted to buy your album, I could just go to iTunes and download it?
No, you can just download it for free on my website www.lucasanthony.bandcamp.com. But the songs there were recorded a while ago. I have more recent ones that I feel represent what I do now better. They are coming out soon.
It looks like music has been keeping you pretty busy – or do you still have other strong interests?
Well, most of my interests are related to music. Back in high school, I played in several bands with my friends (and still do), so music has always been my way of meeting people. Other than that, I have been teaching kids a lot, I like working with children. Last year I started developing a musical project, for which I traveled with a group of fellow teachers to Kenya to work at a school in Kangemi, a slum just outside Nairobi. I guess music was the incentive to teach and from that I have developed a passion for teaching in general. In that way my interests have shaped new interests. Now I am very interested in working with the concepts behind education as a whole.
Can you say a bit more about the Kenya project? Was it self-planned?
Yes, it was self-planned, together with three others, also from Denmark. The idea was to let a group of children at the school – Hamomi Children’s Centre (www.hamomi.org) – write, prepare, and perform a musical for other schools in the local area. We wanted to focus on the arts and creative writing as important for nascent school systems that are being directed towards maximizing outcome and profit through education, as there is no political interest to support creative subjects in a country like Kenya. So we set up the musical in a little more than a month, and it was simply wonderful to see how the children embraced the idea of having to use their imagination and created even stronger bonds with each other through participating in the project.
Did the project turn out the way you imagined it?
It by far exceeded our expectations. We went there with a suitcase of fabrics and things the children could use to create the costumes for the musical. Three months after we had left, we found out that the kids remembered the songs and tried to play them with new outfits they made themselves, because they thought it was a lot of fun. And that was really the essence of the project. We were hoping to inspire. And by inspiring I also mean that the kids have also inspired the teachers to understand that this can be an important part of education in the Kenyan perspective.
What did you enjoy more – working with the kids directly or working with the teachers to establish (new) ways of how to work with the children?
It was a combination of the two things. The teachers all started as volunteers for the school. We prepared for the project a lot––we had money and resources. They could never develop a project like that on their own, or keep it as an ongoing thing. It is essential that the students engage in performances such as these, but potentially it should come from within the educational system. So what we were doing there was more of an extracurricular thing. If you, as the teachers at the school, volunteer from 6am till 8pm and then have to walk all the way home, it’s hard to find the energy to encourage dancing, singing, and acting activities. I believe the structure of the educational system must be redefined, but alone the development we saw in the kids involved in the project gave it validity, for me at least.
How long did it take you to prepare the project before you actually went to Kenya?
It started in my final year of high school, maybe April or May. We developed it throughout fall 2012 and in the winter period of 2013 we went down there.
Did you take a gap year?
Yes, I worked in a kindergarten for half a year while creating the project and applying for funds with my friends who were also going to Kenya. Gap years are very common in Denmark. I thought that if I were to travel, I might as well do something that would make sense for me. It was natural to keep working with kids, in one sense or another. I didn’t feel like taking up a given volunteer job in some orphanage in Nepal – not that I didn’t want to, but I just wanted to try to create something myself, just to get the experience of making an organization work. And although it was hard to get funding, I am glad to say that we’ll be creating another musical next summer with kids in an entirely different setting.
What was more interesting for you – working in the Danish kindergarten or working with those kids in Kenya? What age groups were they?
In Denmark, it was a mix of kindergarten kids and 1st to 3rd grade of primary school, so they were younger. The smallest kids were around 3 years old. So they were all really cute and everything – until they walk over to you with that special look on their faces, the look that comes before confessing that they might have accidentally forgotten that they weren’t sitting on the toilet when they should have. It’s a very different experience. But for me it was very interesting, starting in childcare. Imagine asking a 6-year-old boy who just started school what Africa is for him. I remember this 4-year-old girl in the kindergarten who asked me why I was leaving and I said I had to go to Africa, so she asked me how I could carry so much food in my bag – she heard that they didn’t have any food down there. So how could I eat there––I had to bring all the food in my bag…
Do you have any concrete plans for the future? Are you thinking of doing something connected to education?
In one way or another, yes. If I had to go into a future in which I’d work for an organization, it would, if not for my own projects, probably be bigger organizations like the EU or the UN. It’s always interesting to pursue all these non-profit projects, but you also realize that part of the game is also changing the actual way the politicians think, because they do have a lot of power. I can see myself working with education maybe on an institutional level, or at least lobbying for our governments to revisit the purpose of our democratic education.
So you are basically trying to learn about the whole teaching process “with little puppets” so that you can learn how to implement this on a national/international level, to play the real game?
I think it is good to have some experience in actually seeing how kids think. Especially when you are debating education from a framework like Bard College Berlin. I find it important that our education fosters sympathetic ideals that can influence how we act as citizens of any given society, be it local or global, and for this the humanities are excellent resources. Bard College Berlin is a great place to understand through experience the thoughts of others. So in that sense I hope it will equip me with a greater understanding of how these ideals could be turned into concrete solutions for our educational systems, especially in countries where the ability to reflect critically on things is undermined.
So that would be the reason why you chose this school?
Yes, that’s one part of it. It’s one part of our society where I feel there may be some change needed, so it is something I would naturally head towards. Although I am aware of the fact that things might change in the future.
And what do you think about the liberal arts concept as such?
It’s a great model for higher education, but the concepts behind it should be seen as general guidelines for our schools as such. Becoming an educated person is also in many ways choosing to attach yourself to a set of values that you then explore and develop. So I think Bard College Berlin is all about awareness in that way.
Before I let you go, can you share one interesting fact about yourself?
I can’t burp.
And whom would you play in a movie?
Hm, that is difficult… Maybe Watson? No, it would probably be Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks – although I could never be so slick!
And a classic one – what would you take to a deserted island?
A book on how to build a ship.
I know :). And grape soda. And maybe some good music. Or two sticks. Then I can rub them together and see what happens. [note: this is a reference to the 1st year core course “Plato’s Republic and its Interlocutors”]