Knowledge transfer on flexible borders
The approach of 25xEurope
ince May last year the European Union (EU) has expanded to 25 member states encompassing 456 million citizens, yet it remains a hollow concept for many young Europeans. This begs the question: ‘What is Europe about and why should we be concerned with it?’
The majority of EU related media attention is centered on bureaucratic issues; we can read about policymaking, the appointment of new euro-commissioners and quarrels between politicians, but rarely how citizens live in the countries that make up the EU. We learn little of how an average Friday night unfolds in Budapest, Seville, Tallinn or Rome, or what the employment prospects are for young people in each respective country and what are their dreams and desires. These and similar topics have lead a handful of students from several locations in the Netherlands to establish Foundation 25xEurope, an organization allowing young Dutch to explore what it means to be European beyond their own borders.
For project 25xEurope, several young Dutch Europeans will visit the 25 countries of the European Union in 2005. During this trip they aim to experience the current spirit of Europe and simultaneously inspire others to follow their example. 25xEurope searches for the European state of affairs in specific areas of interest to the individual travelers. Accompanied by a local youth, the team members engage in conversations with people from the educational field, the art scene, journalism, the political realm and youth culture. With this trip and its coverage on http://www.25xeurope.com, they want to present a different picture of Europe – A Europe more relevant to its young population!
The travelers therefore bring their different backgrounds together and join their knowledge from different disciplines in investigating what Europe is all about. They compare life in the various member states on several levels. This way, they show that the real Europe consists of culture, people and customs and is more than governance or the introduction of the Euro alone. In each country, they stay with young locals and accompany them and their peers in their daily routines. By combining all data gathered, they create a richer, multidisciplinary image of Europe.
Europe is a diverse region in countless ways; one can think of many things that aren’t the same within each country. Many of these differences are tangible while others are not. The travelers’ stay is confined to pinpricks on an enormous European chart, but it is often possible to map them out to get a broader picture. Borders between countries, languages, religions, ethnic groups, landscapes and important events in history are just examples. Comical and seemingly irrelevant borders can also easily be determined. Who eats sweet or salt bread? What country do people joke about in a certain area? With which other European member state do people identify most? Where is free news distributed and where not? Where is the blond border? Internet, recycling, obesity, human rights, mobile phone penetration, ideal images of the other sex, nothing is too absurd. People’s understanding of what Europe entails differs as well. Israel, for example, takes part in the Eurovision Song festival and borders of sports clubs run criss-cross the continent.
Since cultural boundaries differ from national borders, the travelers of 25xEurope also examine similarities. Europe is thus not only defined by differentiation but by unity as well, which may take a less obvious form than expected. In certain respects, the Netherlands may have more parallels with Poland than with Belgium and the southern Dutch may diverge less from southern Germans than from northern Dutch. The stereotypes we hold about ‘others’ based on citizenship may therefore not be as well founded as we think.
To make youth in the Netherlands aware of Europe’s diversity and surprise them with its unexpected similarities, Foundation 25xEurope is developing an education project for high school students. Students will be challenged to think about prejudice and stereotypes. The numerous impressions, anecdotes, facts and images gathered by the travel team all over Europe will prove invaluable in this endeavor. The idea is to construct multiple European thematic maps that can be (digitally) placed on top of each other. Students will be asked to explore a certain topic in two different locations and subsequently discuss where similarities and differences between the sites come from, what their function is and which problems and possible solutions they involve. Students will also talk about the influence they themselves could have on the development of stereotypes and learn about the formation of mentalities as a result of shifting societal conditions.
The development of this teaching package for young people has the aim to confront them with the relativity of borders. After taking part in the education project, students will realize that there are more borders in Europe than those between countries alone. They will grasp how borders come into existence and change and they will recognize the effects of borders on people’s thought and behavior. In this way students will get a more balanced outlook on perceived similarities and differences between European citizens.
The multidisciplinary approach of Foundation 25xEurope is evident in the range of topics that it tackles; history, political science, geography, sociology, journalism and linguistics are just some of the fields drawn upon in both the trip and the educative venture. The effect of these interrelated projects, however, should extend beyond those immediately implicated in their design. Simply combining various disciplines does not guarantee interdisciplinarity. To achieve this end, a certain surplus value must be produced, making the result more than the sum of its parts. A truly interdisciplinary approach hence yields a ‘new’ discipline generating broader knowledge that could not otherwise be obtained.
25xEurope bridges disciplines by crossing borders and is a commendable enterprise that aspires to inspire the youth of the EU to look beyond their preconceptions and perceive differences and similarities in a balanced manner. The real potential success of this endeavor, however, lies in the welding of disciplines into an overarching framework. Then interdisciplinarity will be achieved and long-term effects substantiated.
Will they succeed in their interdisciplinary endeavor? Find out in a future edition of BLIND! in which 25xEurope will report on their findings.
Jojanneke van der Toorn is afgestudeerd in de Arbeids & Organisatie Psychologie en werkt momenteel aan haar eindscriptie voor Culturele Antropologie aan de Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.