– Johann Zajaczkowski, lecturer of the Robert-Bosch-Foundation, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, about the experiencing of teaching in Ukraine
1. Where are you from? What is your affiliation?
I was born in Krakow, Poland. In the end of the 1980s, my family and I immigrated to Germany, where we lived in Ludwigshafen, an industrial city located next to Mannheim and near Heidelberg. I am a political scientist with a focus on foreign policy and International Relations. Now I am a political science lecturer with a fellowship from the Robert-Bosch-Foundation.
2. What institution do you work for in Ukraine (department, university, etc.)?
I work at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla-Academy. My work there is strongly connected with the Master’s program in German and European Studies, which is a binational project of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena. This program already exists for nearly 10 years.
At the moment I teach a group of 11 second year’s students. Our seminar deals with the foreign policy of the FRG.
3. What motivated you to choose exactly this education institution? Why did you decide to work in Ukraine?
When I applied for the fellowship, I did not know that I would have the possibility to work in Ukraine. The program I applied for is called “Lektorenprogramm an Hochschulen in Osteuropa und China”, and it entails more than 20 locations all over Eastern Europe, Russia and China. I have some friends from Ukraine and we closely watched and discussed the events on Maidan Nezalezhnosti back in 2013/2014. When the foundation asked me if I could imagine to work in Kyiv I didn’t hesitate at all.
4. What research project(s) are you currently working on?
I am currently sketching a first draft for a doctoral thesis. At this stage, it seems that I will examine the interconnection between ideology, post-imperialist thinking and the construction of geopolitics in the Russian Federation.
5. What are the fundamental differences and similarities between Ukrainian and foreign higher educational system experienced by you during your stay in Ukraine?
First of all, I want to acknowledge the outstanding educational work that is done at KMA. In my humble opinion, both some of the academic stuff and some students there show a very idealistic and dedicated approach towards higher education – under literally much poorer working conditions than in Germany. This is a real dilemma, especially for KMA, which is actively fostering its internationalization. On the one hand, it is obvious that good teaching with the aim of self-determined learning and critical thinking needs time and some open space for reflection. On the other hand, it is not easy to create this space within the university, since the teaching stuff is paid by hour and some old-fashioned lecturers cannot (and should not) be simply removed. The result can be seen in packed timetables which create the necessity of what is called “Bulimie-lernen” in Germany.
In this sense, we approach the let’s say “European” way of higher education from the wrong end. The German university for a long time was exactly the kind of open space that I was talking about. Now, since the Bologna process, this era seems to be slowly declining. You still can study and learn in this critical way, but the pressure both from the peer-group and from the institution as such is much bigger. This whole system creates a conformist functional elite at best, reducing the rest to a new precariat that struggles with low paid secretary-like jobs.
6. What stereotypes have you had before your arrival in Ukraine (if any)? What interesting aspects in the life of Ukrainians did you discover for yourself? What surprised / impressed you?
I didn’t have a real stereotype since I already knew the post-soviet way of livingfrom Poland, which in many ways underwent the challenges and transformations that Ukraine is confronted with today. I also spent some time in Russia. So what was interesting for me was to compare my rather sophisticated point of view towards Ukraine with the prejudices or ignorance of some people in Germany. The span of stereotypes was really astonishing, ranging from “you go to Ukraine? Are you a development aid worker?” to “don’t go, there is a war all over the country”. In my opinion, the fact that Ukraine was an unknown void in the eyes of many citizens of the EU is somehow the reason why it was so easy for Russian propaganda to exert some influence in the heart of Europe, which always considered itself as enlightened, but can be regarded as Eurocentric in many ways.
I was somehow impressed by the warm-heartedness and open-mindedness of the Ukrainian people. If you are willing, you can always have a nice conversation with someone, although the daily live is very hard and full of difficulties for most of the people.
7. What are the main impressions of the city, campus, higher education institution? How did you settle your everyday life? Are there any preferences, bonuses for faculty of your higher education institution?
The city is really beautiful, especially in autumn, when the leaves show their play of colors and the sun still preserves their strength. People (especially tourists) tend to forget that the city center comprises only a small part of the city with its 3 million inhabitants. Most of them doesn’t live in the impressive buildings on Khreshchatyk but in characteristic prefab blocks. I like this huge difference.
I also like the campus, although it is rather small. But it is always full of live and the students are very innovative in organizing something there.
8. Can you mention three main reasons for studying, working or living in Ukraine as for foreigners? What do you consider to be the most attractive in Ukraine to visit the country?
First, in these rather depressing times a stay abroad in Ukraine will definitely be an eye-opener about the own – safe, comfortable and secure – situation, especially for students from the western countries of the EU. Nowadays, more and more people see the EU as a solely bureaucratic apparatus that tries to make their life more complicated. The fact that this strange organization is one of the reasons for the longstanding peace in most of Europe is taken for granted and is not recognized as a big asset anymore. If you listen to the Ukrainians you begin to see the EU with different eyes – more Robert Schuman, let’s say, and less Bernd Lucke.
Second, at least when you decide to live in Kyiv you can find a vibrant expat community there so you will easily catch up and get to know new people.
Third, in no other European country you will find such a diverse and rich history – which is of course partly overshadowed, and partly fuelled by the national tragedies such the struggle after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Holodomor or the Second World War. From Lviv to Odessa, from Kyiv to Kharkiv – every city is unique in its own way and can tell you a lot about the plurality within Ukraine, which was coined rather as a danger than a benefit in the last year.
9. From your perspective: do Ukrainians share the European values? From your personal point of view what part of the civilization space Ukraine is?
In general I rather neglect such top-town civilizational concepts since they tend to create an artificial order where there is none. Just take a look on the writings of Samuel Huntington or, even worse, Alexander Dugin, whose conception of antagonistic civilizational spaces serves as the ideological background for the war in the east of Ukraine and for the build-up of close ties to anti-European and regressive forces within the EU.
So in this way I would rather say that at least a small elite shares the values that I would rather describe as cosmopolitan than European.
But to show some optimism, I clearly see that the last elections showed the will of the Ukrainians to foster the pro-European path. Looking at the people in the civil society, the government and so on, one could say that Ukraine has the most “European” government of all times. Sooner or later this will help to diffuse the “European values” within the society in an extensive way.
10. What are the main achievements and problems of the Ukrainian state?
The biggest problem is that the Ukrainian state is under enormous stress regarding the expectations of society to solve the immense problems. He needs to tackle corruption, manage the economic crisis, deliver some long-awaited reforms – and fight the Russian army (or the Russian-backed separatists, as it is still said in some German media outlets) in the east.
Under this extreme conditions it is remarkable how far the state is able to follow the path of a liberal democracy and does not plummet into authoritarian or somehow regressive behavior.
One reason for this is that the civil society is both acting as a substitute for some state functions and within the state since some of the members of parliament are representatives of the civil society. This watchdog-function cannot be overestimated.
11. What do you consider it is worth to implement to Ukrainian universities from the foreign education system?
More freedom for self-determined learning, more seminars in which a lively debate is an important component and an increased international mobility. The new Erasmus Plus-framework has a larger budget and raised the funding especially for the part of incoming mobility. I think this was a very good decision.
12. How long are you planning to work in Ukraine? Are you planning to return to Ukraine afterwards within other projects?
I will be working here for at least one year. And even when I return to Germany I would like to stay in touch with the people I met here since they are very dedicated to make projects in Ukraine. The “Ukraine-Crisis” showed that there is an urgent need to provide Ukraine a better place on the mental map in Germany, so I hope to bring in my knowledge in this way.