– Andreas Kruzel about his 6-months stay in Ukraine, the reasons which brought him back, vision on perspectives for reforms and further developments of the country.
1. What is your affiliation?
I am a graduate of East European studies and a project manager of intercultural youth meetings. I studied in Potsdam and Berlin.
2. Where did you have your exchange programme in Ukraine (department, university, etc.)? What was the international academic mobility programme you applied through (if any)?
I participated in a one-semester study exchange programme Euroeast in the framework of the Erasmus Mundus programme at the Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University in Chernivtsi. Mainly I attended courses at the Department of History, Political Science and International Relations. I had also fruitful contacts with the Department of Theory and Practice of Translation and especially with the Ukrainian-German organisation “Gedankendach”.
3. What motivated you to choose exactly this education institution? What documents did you have to submit? Was the application process difficult?
As a student of the East European studies, I wanted to have a better inside opinion about the region. In Germany, the subject is very much dominated by studying Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, the Baltic States, and Russia. While Belarus and Ukraine are to some extent neglected. Within the offered programme I could choose just between the universities either in Minsk or in Chernivtsi. I chose Chernivtsi because of its rich European history I have heard of. In addition, even despite the then Yanukovych’s regime, Ukraine still seemed to me much more open for the European values with much more developed civil society. And I really wanted to get it known.
The application process for the exchange programme and this particular university was quite easy. The application included a motivation letter, a CV and a copy of my Bachelor degree.
Obtaining a student visa for Ukraine was a very hard obstacle to overcome. The Ukrainian embassy in Berlin demanded all documents that were required from foreigners to start a regular study programme in Ukrainian university (not 6-month exchange), including an HIV-test, a health certificate, a birth certificate and my university diploma. Everything should have been translated into Ukrainian language and officially acknowledged with the international Apostille stamp. I had to pay 500 € for the translation of all the documents. I had a permanent communication with the international office of my host university about the visa application process. The international office staff contacted the Ministry of Education of Ukraine and tried to speed the process up and make it easier but it did not work. Finally, after having all the documents, I got the visa but I missed two weeks of classes in Ukraine.
4. What project have you been working on?
During my stay, I did a research about the Polish community in Chernivtsi and especially its past during the Austrian period. I was working at the university library and speaking to the local historians on this topic. Later I used the results of the research for my master thesis.
5. What are the fundamental differences and similarities between Ukrainian and foreign higher education system experienced by you during your stay in Ukraine?
First, the age of the students is much lower in Ukraine than in Germany. Some of them just turned 17. This also means that pedagogical methods used in Ukrainian universities differ from the higher education in Germany, e.g. there are less discussions and more teaching from the front desk. Additionally like in Germany, the quality of the lectures depends on the subject. The linguistics and international relations seemed to me much more connected to the international academic discussions and methods than the other subjects like history. There are also some leftovers from the old soviet system like sports-lessons, which are not obligatory in the German system.
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?
The exchange in Ukraine was my first visit to the country. I have known some Ukrainians before; most of them are English-speaking students from Kiev and Lviv. I got the impression that young Ukrainians are proud of their country, share European values and are eager to get more acknowledgement from Europe.
While I was positive about Ukrainian people, I did not share the same about the Ukrainian state and Yanukovych’s government. So, I was a bit worrying how I would cope with the state that violates human rights and does not have much experience with foreigners.
In Chernivtsi I was surprised how open minded people are towards foreigners, although it seems to be a matter of age and generation.
For sure, the events of the Maidan Revolution impressed me. In my life there was no such a revolution that I would have supported as strong as the Ukrainian one.
7. What were the main impressions of the city, campus, higher education institution?
How did you settle your everyday life? Were there any preferences, bonuses for students, faculty of your higher education institution?
Chernivtsi and the university provide a good atmosphere for studying and getting to know Ukrainian students’ life. The international office, the “Zentrum Gedankendach” and the faculty of History, Political Science and International Relations form a network that helps foreign students (especially Germans but not only) to cope with the university and everyday life very well.
The dormitory had a good standard but some rules (like doors closed at 10 pm) did not comply with our needs and we had to adjust to them.
8. Can you mention three main reasons for studying, working or living in Ukraine as for foreigners?
The first is: Ukraine is the most interesting country in Europe to go abroad now because it is in a rapid transition that needs exchange and support.
The second: Ukrainians are open-minded and help foreigners to make the best out of their stay. Even though sometimes it seems to be chaotic, at the end you find the flexibility and creativity that you would not find in another country. And that helps to have a successful stay.
The third: The country has many sights and places to discover that are connected to our shared European history. Travelling through Ukraine is beautiful. It is an adventure at the same time.
9. From your perspective: do Ukrainians share the European values? From your personal point of view what part of the civilization space Ukraine is?
I think again this is a matter of generation. Young Ukrainians raised in the post-soviet era share European values more than older “soviet” citizens and want them to be acknowledged by the state.
Ukraine is an Eastern European state and therefore certainly belongs to Europe. It also has the culture and history shared with the Eastern Orthodox world and therefore is in the situation of a bridge between these two worlds.
10. What are the main achievements and problems of the Ukrainian state?
Ukraine is the only post-Soviet state (with the exception of the Baltic States) that has a critical civil society that wants to live in freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, the political and economic transformations did not result into a stable and democratic state. To catch up with 25 years of lost transformation and to match the people’s will that has been represented during the revolution is the task for the next years.
11. Are you planning to return to Ukraine? What do you consider it is worth to implement into Ukrainian universities from the foreign education system?
I have already returned to Chernivtsi twice: once for a summer school and once for a study trip organised by me and a friend who also studied in Chernivtsi.
As I have heard reforms are on the way. I consider international experience is of a great significance for the Ukrainian higher education system as well as the attachment tothe international standards like the Bologna process. Students should have a free choice of the focus of their studies, courses and lectures they would like to attend.
The European Union should integrate Ukraine into the students and graduate mobility programmes and support the Ukrainian higher educational system by providing professional assistance and generally relaxing the visa regime for Ukrainian students.