One of the most baffling, yet unavoidable, situations with which we are confronted is determining the education that would suit both our interests and our passions. It is not uncommon to find it difficult to balance between academic learning and what most of us would call “our hobbies”. The constructiveness provided by both types of learning should not be hierarchically structured. Ideally, we should study what brings us utmost enjoyment, but in many cases, this clashes with other prominent interests that we hold. From my own experience, finding places where one’s passions can properly be manifested is truly valuable.
There are many options to be adhered to, but sometimes a lack of guidance and information can preclude that from happening. Along these lines, I believe that presenting some activities taken up by people that overstepped their academic field could be a kickoff. Three students agreed to give an interview on their extracurricular activities. They are shortly describing their experience with: a podcast, a film club and a movement in university politics.
1. Working for a radio station
Daniel Nejat-Aski is a student at Goldsmith University in the United Kingdom. Starting with this year, in his words, he is currently putting most of his endeavours on hold to help with the fox obesity problem that Lewisham faces in increasing rates annually. “My chapter has personally rescued 7 such foxes. The radio station could help in this matter, but it is hard to convince Goldsmiths students about the long term effects of what has been coined as the “Fat Fox Borough” (William McNeill, GOA/RA)”. In other words, his work as a radio host allows him to discuss several mundane topics while engaging with a broad audience.
Q: Which were the decisive factors that made you eager to hold this weekly podcast?
N: For starters, it is not exactly a podcast as its on wired radio, goldsmiths’ student-led radio station, so the format is live. Back to your question, I am always looking to dive in unusual settings, especially if they involve verbal ping-pong. I felt as if an hour where I could showcase people, ideas, or blunt stupidity I find online or offline couldn’t do any bad to anyone.
Q: Could you briefly describe the way you feel before and after doing the podcast?
N: Being that the radio station has a very wholesome DIY vibe, given the shows are pretty much what you make of them (both content and audience wise), I am pretty relaxed about it. I didn’t kick gears in yet full throttle, as in putting it out there, I want to make sure what I do put out there is somehow curated and mildly thought through. So expect sh*t for now.
Q: Are you following a specific train of thought in choosing your topics and which particular subject do you find most appealing for your audience?
N: I find any kind of complex formula for idea generation ridiculous, it is just not how things go. If you are looking to optimize an impersonal communication system with the audience, highly popular now, “prove-to -work” patterns are the way to go.
Take for example Jimmy Kimmel jokes, music band bullet point interviews, or the little pantomimic routine that flight attendants do about safety measures. These work for getting messages across, but I’m more interested in sparking messages across. The conversation is not there to please, but to be treated as a contemporary social artefact. As for range, I’d be pleased to talk to anyone, from anthropologists to soda can factory workers or Jordan Peterson.
As for statistical data, these are my best and worst performers across current samples:
-The Dacian Wolf, conversations with Dan, my multi-continent travelled entrepreneurial neighbour (75% user retention across 2 samples)
- The “Fat Fox Borough” How do we stop the epidemic? Fox obesity and chicken shop left-overs in Lewisham (10% user retention across 8 samples)
2) Starting a film club
On a different note, Alin Rotaru Segall is one of the organizers of “Ayneh”- a film club in Groningen that, once every two weeks, screens a movie relevant for the history of World Cinema. Afterwards, the directors and the cultural and socio-economic context of their craft are presented, yielding the floor for further discussions all in regards to the movie just seen. Recently, the screenings revolved around environmental themes.
Q: Where do you stand in today’s debate on environmental issues and how is your position mirrored in your work for Ayneh?
A: Ayneh is a Persian word meaning mirror- also a movie by Jafar Panahi. We try to put in perspective humanity’s relationship with technology, industry, nature and, most importantly consumption. In this season we chose the theme of climate anxiety- and try to explore through film both the cultural and political context in which environmental abuse arose.
Q: Could you identify one particular moment during your events that brought you to utter bliss? If yes, which one and why?
A: One such moment was a month ago when we screened “The salt of the Earth” the masterpiece biographical documentary about the life and work of Sebastião Salgado, the Brazilian photographer. The movie, co-directed by Wim Wenders and Salgado’s son, contains some of the most shocking scenes we showed at Ayneh, from the beautiful exploration of nature and indigenous cultures to the horror of war and genocide. It was quite a brutal journey through the images that characterized the second half of the 20th century Earth. What was, however, awe-inducing and, in some ways, blissful was the confessions-talk at the end of the movie.
We had quite a diverse audience that night and as such, we had all manner of reactions- from people who felt the images resonated deeply with their hearts- to people who felt less but were stunned by the photography itself to a girl who had a first-hand experience of the Yugoslav wars pictured by Salgado. Our discussion evolved to debating the possibility of creating paradigmatic change in society, but the most important thing was that I felt the experience raised awareness for all of us. You could feel it in the air.
Q: Could you name a couple of things that these events have changed in your perception of the world?
A: Ayneh, in general, is about a direct collision with alterity. This does not mean that you automatically become a defender of globalism – it just makes you more comfortable with relating to the human condition beyond culture, ideology or any other particulars. For me, this is what cinema is about. The moving image, despite being far from innocent, has a way of ripping through all the outer shells and showing us -deep down, what happens to the human heart.
3) Joining a movement in university politics
Gijs Altena has been a member of the Democratic Academie Groningen (DAG) for two and a half years now. He is doing the ReMA Literary and Cultural Studies and currently writing his MA-thesis on German and Dutch speculative fiction between the two world wars. DAG is one of the city’s movements that tackle political issues on the academic level. Some matters that it deals with are decentralization, transparency and profound democratization within the University of Groningen. From their perspective, academic institutions should emphasise the value of the university as a community project of knowledge, apart from the corporate mindset.
Q: Why do you think university politics matter, taking into account the short-lived experience of a student in an academic institution?
G: To some universities, politics might seem to be about power sockets in the library and more parking spots for bikes, but there is also a societal dimension to university and in a broader sense educational politics. Education and research are of massive societal importance. They have a direct impact on our society but also help to shape people and therefore the future of society. Even if we can’t improve the university for ourselves, as changes might happen after us, safeguarding the university as a stronghold of contemplation and Bildung, free of radicalized efficiency policies and subjugation to the market forces, remains a goal. I believe that it will eventually benefit generations after us and also the society we, ourselves, live in.
Q: How is ” DAG” getting involved? Could you name some of the activities in which it involves itself and one of its particularities?
G: David van Reybrouck has written, that in neoliberal times society has started to believe that it has reached post-ideological times, in which politics is merely about trying to check whether managers or politicians execute their policy efficiently and well enough. In reality, though, this is just an illusion. Politics, also university politics are ideological.
Rather than trying to ensure that the university board or the ministry of education executes its policy efficiently, DAG believes it is necessary to offer fundamental criticism, questioning the underlying ideology of most of the board’s and ministry’s policy. We wish to reprimand the perceived necessity to force students to finish quickly and uncover the negative impact of the politics of efficiency on the quality of research and education, safeguarding the university from becoming a school.
Outside of the university, we try to support protest groups like WOinActie in their efforts to fight budget cuts in education, but also ourselves be active in organizing protests and other things, like during the housing crisis in 2018, when we organized a couchsurfing alternative to the ‘solutions’ of the university and shortly occupied the academy building to protest the way the university board dealt with the crisis. Furthermore, we try to be a place in which critical thinking about the politics of education can thrive.
Q: Could you name an intrinsic problem that leads to a rather sceptical position when it comes to university politics? Did you also ding yourself in that position before joining DAG? If yes, how and why did that change?
G: What used to make me sceptical about university politics was the messages I received during election time by people that I knew from my study association to vote for the party on whose support list they stood. I was asked to vote for Lijst Calimero or SOG, not because of their ideals, but because of being acquainted with someone. It seemed more like a game that could get the most popular people on their list rather than an actual political choice.
Then I heard that DAG was going to be founded, criticizing among other things this culture within university politics. This encouraged me to give DAG a try. I quickly became enthusiastic by the engagement of most people and the diversity of political positions, having a combination of socialists, progressive centrists, intersectional feminists, and animal rights activists. Furthermore, there seemed to be an open atmosphere in which learning and thinking about education were welcomed and even supported.
There are many things that we could do to find and refine ourselves. It might be true that in the end, none of these matters, but as long as we are here now, we could at least strive for “our” place. These three people, from different parts of our world, stand as examples of the possibilities that we could find around us. It might be hard to start digging into what works best and what does not. It might come with major disappointments or utter felicities, but – well, now I wanted to mention that nothing is a waste of time, yet that would go against my own belief that, everything we are doing is a (more or less productive) waste of time- find your ways.