As a student in Groningen, you’ll be well aware that the main purpose for you coming here is for your studies. You’ve thoroughly looked through the course online, maybe visited an open day at Hanze UAS or RUG, and have prepped yourself for the academic rigor that’s soon to hit you once the first semester begins. It’s the true university experience of academic challenges that after the first few weeks make you wonder, why on earth anyone would go out of their way to fuel themselves with more information and intellect that can be taught in a lecture, when you could spend all of your free time outside of class chilling, watching television, or crying because you’ve got so much work to do?
It is difficult to provide a universal answer to that curiousity, but as someone who does like being exposed to challenging ideas, it’s a nice way to discover more of the world and how it works. After all, if you have chosen your degree, knowing you’ll study it for the next 4 years, won’t you like to experience more of what it offers than what can be taught? Won’t you like to impress your tutors with all that extra initiative you’ve been taking in your personal life? Won’t you like to be challenged?
There are plenty of opportunities in Groningen for these questions to be answered. Individual lectures, for example, are quite common in this student city. They provide fruitful insight into various topics concerning global issues and what we, as developing, studious minds, can do to tackle them. I attended a lecture back in November, held by the Studium Generale, entitled “Division within Society,” which included the speakers Michèle Lamont and Rafel Wittek. Lamont is a Canadian cultural sociologist and Wittek is a Professor of Theoretical Sociology at the Rijksuniversitet of Groningen. Both speakers brought an insightful analysis on the current state of society in terms of its divisiveness. You may think this theme doesn’t apply to you if you’re not studying a subject even remotely related to sociology, psychology, or even humanities, or you simply couldn’t be bothered, but it’s strange to me to believe that ignorance can stretch so far that students, who are almost primarily responsible for the future of our world, would not wish to know why our society is as messed up as it is. But I can’t tell you what to do, I’m just fascinated with this topic. It is, unfortunately, all subjective here! If you’re interested, do keep reading! If not, that’s up to you.
Now that the I’ve fully expressed my passive aggression, let’s hope you can keep your concentration as high as you (should) do in class. Division is a huge part of why contemporary society is problematic; we are assigned to classifications in a way that seems “normal” whose origins stretch all the way back to history. From what was stated in the lecture, there are a few terms that are specific to explaining the main causes for a divisive society. I cannot explicate all terms, but I’ll specify on one: Cultural Membership.
Cultural membership emphasizes cultural belonging or one’s citizenship. It’s a way of defining collectives in their respective cultural group, like people born in Spain are Spanish, or if you’re asked where you’re from, you’d typically answer with the name of one country, and that country is the land in which you were raised. It completely neglects individuals with international upbringings, something I’ve experienced at my faculty. I was raised in multiple countries between two continents with a European nationality and the face of a South-East Asian. I’m basically the perfect example of a national identity crisis. So, being asked “where are you from?” always leaves me stumped for an answer. I literally stumble over my words. Many students I met at my faculty were always surprised to hear my story, having thought it inspiring and unusual. Ironically, I found it unusual that having a student with an international heritage was unexpected in the community when one of the reasons I applied to this university was for their ‘international pride.’
Already having this societal norm of cultural membership may appear harmless at first, but it’s also the first step in a society with social boundaries that will affect many in the long run. I hope this makes sense! There is obviously a reason why Groningen is a highly ranked European student city for their academics… this is probably one of them.
If you’re interested in more events like these, Facebook is usually the place to go. Follow the Studium Generale page, and there are usually more events suggested alongside them.