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Studying Humanities in Germany

19/02/2020 - 16:56-0 Comments by Anna Kalinina | russia flag

In this post I would like to discuss how humanities are studied and taught in Germany with the example of cultural studies department at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg and also to draw several comparisons with a more traditionalist and conservative way of teaching humanities in Russia.

In my home country I graduated from a prestigious university that praises itself on its long and rich history, renowned graduates and employees. The echoes of Soviet tradition resonated through professors larger part of whom lived and studied most of their lifetimes in the USSR. This, on one hand, had undeniable pluses – in the end I graduated with a solid level of knowledge in linguistics and two foreign languages. On the other, it was only when I came to study in Germany when I could truly appreciate a different way of teaching and studying humanities which changed my idea of the academia forever.

When I came to Germany for my second degree in Digital Media I had to go through levels of acceptance and even though I come from a European country which also went through Bologna process I was in utter dismay and confusion along the duration of a whole semester. At Leuphana, most of the courses were held in form of seminars, which were also supplemented by tutorials – a format completely new to me. In seminars, we were asked to introduce ourselves, to do group work, to present, and to discuss. We were actively encouraged to ask questions and to engage in conversation with peers and with professors alike. In tutorials, we used to sit in a circle, role-play and draw mind maps. I felt completely out of my comfort zone. For me being used to a very formal environment, where the professors did not seem as approachable, this “playfulness” seemed quite odd and inappropriate. After all, my early experience taught me to believe that the more formal the relationships between the teaching staff and the students is, the less students speak and the more lecture talks – the better the quality of education.

After the first year of studying as I took a position of tutor I started to slowly get into the flow of discussion-based learning and unorthodox research topics and methods, as well as to appreciate the value of interdisciplinary exchange which is especially valuable to the field of humanities. I discovered that in the field it is quite possible to make virtually any topic a valid object of scientific research (for example, once I stumbled upon a culturological study of gestures that characters in fictional movies used to cast magic spells). The perspective of not limiting yourself only to the scientific canon, but rather implementing scientific as well as experimental methods to an infinite variety of topics that can be inspired by your personal interest or passion, seemed to be unbelievably exciting. You would be surprised to know on how many occasions I succeeded in twisting the old classical theory to the questions of digitalisation, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, gamification – topics that lie close to my heart. At that point scientific work did not seem to be so unforgiving, exclusive and elitarian, accessible only the most talented people with inborne almost divine abilities.

As I was getting more positions, encounters and experiences in the field, as I grew not to sweat through assignments and courses but rather develop my own research interests in the field of cybernetics, I finally realized the extent of the impact this specific study climate left. It turned out to be quite empowering for me, to the point that I defended my Bachelor thesis with an excellent grade and was encouraged by my supervisors to pursue my academic interest all the way to a PhD.

The power of open discussion turned out to be not only a buzz word used to describe the liberal education practices, but rather an extremely useful tool used to produce meanings, evaluate them critically and enrich your perspective. At the same time too much interdisciplinarity can be seen as quite challenging since you would intuitively want to concentrate on a narrower topic. But it is thanks to that swim in an ocean that you actually grow to develop your own style and direction. This experience constitutes your valuable intellectual asset that later will allow you not to fall into the trap of a one-dimensional thinking. In the time of unfixed meanings Germany’s academic and social climate of openness, diversity, and inclusivity represents a great asset for those who are willing to jump into the ocean.

Tags: Student Life

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