Two of the three possible concentrations of the Humanities, the Arts, and Social Thought (HAST) program at Bard College Berlin are Literature & Rhetoric and Ethics & Politics. 2020 graduating senior Mandula van den Berg is double concentrating in both and told me all about her experience at BCB and what she gained from being part of these two different concentrations of the HAST degree.
Daniela Silva: Tell me a little bit about yourself… Where are you from? What are some of your interests?
Mandula van den Berg: Hi, I’m Mandula, and I’m originally from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. As for my interests, I love cooking and baking! I’m also very much into art, painting and life drawing particularly. I think art is a fun way to bring people together, especially in these times of self-isolation, and life drawing can definitely do this. BCB’s Life Drawing Club is a space for people to make art in a community setting, and the club aims to include students that aren’t in the Art & Aesthetics concentration (like me), as well as promoting body positivity and desexualizing nudity. I am one of the coordinators of the club, which has also recently moved online, and we are now doing virtual portrait drawing sessions. Drawing from a screen is really different, but also really cool, and we are joined by BCB students from all over the world.
D: What are your future plans for after you leave BCB? Where do you see yourself working/ living/ studying in the next year/ next few years?
M: Well, prior to all the uncertainties we are all going through I was already planning on moving back home to Amsterdam, where I currently am right now during lockdown. I want to do a master’s program at the University of Amsterdam in Visual Anthropology starting in the Spring semester of 2021. I’m also interested in podcasts and will participate in a program for wannabe podcast-makers with one of the Dutch public broadcasts this summer. Lastly, journalism is something I’m looking into as well, so what I wish to do is bring these three outlets together to explore the visual, written and auditory side of stories.
D: Now, I invite you to reflect a little on your education. What do you feel like you will take from what you’ve learned during your time at BCB to your personal and professional life after graduating?
M: BCB has taught me so much in terms of who I want to be and where I want to be in the future. It has helped me realize in what environment I wish to be a part of, and with which kinds of people I want to be surrounded by with what kinds of thoughts, based on what I was exposed to and the amazing people I met during these four years of college. Not only that but what type of approach to knowledge I wish to take on, which is one that is much more process-oriented rather than focused on the final product, for instance. In my view, BCB has been more than a place to attend classes at and obtain a piece of paper after concluding our studies. While it is its own bubble in a way, isolated from the rest of society, it does allow you to be in dialogue with society if you want to.
D: What was the highlight of your college experience?
M: One of the major highlights for me was studying abroad at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. I went in the year that they announced the university would soon have to move to a different location because of political reasons, so it was an incredible opportunity to be there at that time. I had always wanted to spend some time in Hungary in a meaningful way, as I’m half Hungarian, and so it was very special for me to actually be able to go before the campus moved to Vienna, Austria. I was happy to be politically engaged with the issues involving the institution and at that turbulent moment I could see the importance of education to me on a personal and political level. Then, of course, I think just being at BCB was an ongoing highlight, too. The little things like having lunch outside the cafeteria with friends during spring months is something I cherished and miss a lot.
D: What were some of the struggles? Was there anything you wished had been different?
M: I really hate everything related to regret, I think it is such an unproductive way of going about life. However, it is important to look back and see what perhaps wasn’t that great even though in general I am very happy with the way my college experience has turned out. As a Literature & Rhetoric major I do have the sense that I didn’t get much of a grasp of literary history, given the structure of the program offered at BCB wasn’t history-driven, and that’s something I wished was encompassed more in the program. Yet I did do a lot of reading and a lot of writing, and it was an enriching learning process nonetheless. Furthermore, it actually makes me kind of sad that the college and campus are growing and expanding so much every year. I really enjoy the smallness aspect of our community, but am glad that more and more students are becoming interested in BCB.
D: What are some classes that influenced you at BCB?
M: In my first semester at BCB I took The Odyssey class with Professor David Hayes which blew my mind. I absolutely loved it and it ended up influencing my choice to concentrate in Literature & Rhetoric, as I was very uncertain about which concentration to pursue when I first arrived. Then, along the way I took numerous interesting literature classes that consolidated my concentration decision and have shaped a lot of my education thus far. Thinking back to your previous question, I wish I had taken even more of these literature classes.
Another class that comes to mind is one of my favorites was called African Narratives of Migration: from Colonialism to Globalization with Professor Fatin Abbas. The course contained literature from African authors and was very valuable to me for the chance to explore non-Eurocentric texts and interpretations. As electives, I have taken multiple hands-on practicing arts courses simply because I love how we have the chance to improve techniques and always learn something new. In fact I have even repeated certain courses, like Advanced Oil Painting, which I’m currently enrolled in for the second time with Professor John Kleckner.
D: What was it like to double major?
M: It was totally doable and made a lot of sense overall, mostly due to the fact that BCB as whole is very interdisciplinary and that HAST concentrations specifically give you a high degree of freedom to mix and match and try out all sorts of classes and subjects. So I didn’t feel limited at any point—on the contrary, I feel like one complemented the other very well. I did have to fulfill more requirements and consequently had fewer electives, but that was no problem at all for me. I would definitely recommend it, I think this is the time to not limit yourself.
D: Could you tell me a little about your thesis?
M: Sure, I just submitted it! It is very much a linkage between both my concentrations, and it’s about the phenomenon of Country clubs and cowboys in East Germany after 1989. In my thesis, I discuss how this phenomenon might give us an insight into East German identity and history and what is the value of this playful interaction with history.
D: Do you feel like you’ve changed since you first started studying at BCB? Has your education here shaped your decisions for the future? If so, how?
M: Yes, naturally I’m a different person than the one I was when I first came to BCB. This is in part because of personal growth, maturity and independence, still also influenced by my life as a BCBer for sure. Berlin city life shaped me, my choices and my development, as I took part in many activities, volunteer work, and projects outside of campus. I appreciated the places and spaces I was in, with people who like me were gradually figuring things out in this process of coming to terms with all the changes, while separating what I found valuable and not and so on. It sounds clichè but I leave BCB as a much more patient, understanding and empathetic person. There’s even a phrase that I once heard from someone at BCB that goes: “BCB is a place for the politics of slowness,” and I will take this concept of slowness with me for life.
D: As a final question, if you could give advice to someone following a similar academic/career path as yours at BCB, what would it be?
M: One of my favorite things about BCB is that you can easily branch out and let yourself be surprised by unexpected courses or subjects that don’t necessarily align perfectly with your concentration. I was stimulated to go out of my comfort zone and it turns out that much of what will stick with me from my education at BCB comes from classes I didn’t initially plan on taking or that seemed “random.” There is always so much to get out of any course regardless of your program. Finally, the small student body size allows us to lead and create our own initiatives, expand Civic Engagement opportunities and indulge in the elasticity and openness of the college which is all so amazing. So, I would tell anyone who’s coming to BCB to take advantage of this!
D: This is great advice, thank you for talking with me!