So, I just came back from the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA) General Assembly in Krakow— coincidentally also celebrating the ten years of existence of the Erasmus Mundus programme— and my mind is still reeling with the massive amount of information crammed into it over the span of two days, most of the information being linking names to faces and degrees!
Besides the “EMAzing” new people I met, a few key details pop out:
Considering the youth of the organization, it’s surprising and gratifying to see such a vibrant alumni organization spring up, connecting members globally. I have yet to see such an organization appear for the Australia Awards alumni, who are mostly connected only within country borders (the ‘chapter’ equivalent of EMA). While I know many fellow Australian Leadership Award Scholarship Alumni, we’ve pretty much drifted apart except for their faces popping up on Facebook ever so often. The Australian alumni associations are strongly country based and from what I’ve observed, extremely driven and highly organized— much more so than EMA! — but while that’s great in connecting people within one area, it leaves diaspora babies such as myself out of the picture. EMA on the other hand not only has country and regional chapters, but also program representatives, service teams, advisory boards, and professional networks. For a first timer, it was rather a lot to take in— and reminded me a lot of Brussels’ ‘the-more-committees-the-merrier’ system—but it somehow works.
During one of the general sessions on the first day, many program representatives had spoken up with suggestions as well as a good number of complaints, but these were brushed aside by Jana Fiorito, the EACEA representative present, with the statement: “You don’t want to have angry professors who are angry at you because you complain and complain,” and the reminder that these professors “know what they are doing.” Perhaps Ms. Fiorito forgot that of the people gathered at Krakow at the moment, many are doctors, lawyers, businessmen, mothers, fathers, and yes, also former or current professors such as myself— in short, we don’t ‘complain and complain’ unless there is good reason to. There is even an Erasmus Mundus program called “Master in Research and Innovation in Higher Education” (MARIHE) which had at least two representativespresent, both members of the Q-CAB (Course Quality Advisory Board), so in short we were not a bunch of complainy children. In fact, there were no ‘inexperienced’ people in the room, and the only children were the adorable mini-EMA members there under our collective watchful eyes. The representatives present at the GA were a crowd with a good collective few decades of expertise, and the patronizing tone was not appreciated.
A further observation is that even though members are so very active— Kate Alyzon Ramil, Shiella Balbutin, and Jenny Lind Elmaco of EMA Philippines host informational events so often that I’m surprised they have enough energy left for their actual jobs— it appears as though the allocated funding from the EU is not being utilized. And I’m not referring to just the SEA chapter, it’s all the chapters with the exception of the European and African chapters. There are three possible scenarios here: (1.) EMA members use their own funds and their own connections to organize events, such as what EMA Philippines is doing; (2.) EMA members tap their respective European Delegation representatives for a bit of funding, the EU Delegations are often quite generous with these events; or (3.) no activities are being organized, perhaps exemplified by the Oceania chapter which dearly lacks membership. I was quite active in Australian academic circles and did not even hear anything about the Erasmus Mundus program from anyone, which is surprising considering how many young Aussies go on exchange in Europe.
And perhaps a final interesting observation, Erasmus Mundus is like Erasmus, but we’re older, more international, and based on the EMA GA, put in a full nine-hour work day before we party. To those who know the difference between ‘Erasmus’ and ‘Erasmus Mundus’ without looking it up, cheers to you!
Lastly, while I had an amazing time and gained so much clarity on the workings of the scholarship program, I’m not sure if I’m going to the General Assembly in 2015. I’m definitely not running for programme rep again— that’s a job for whoever will succeed me, bless their heart— and to be honest, suddenly being face to face with two hundred strangers is not a pleasant thing for someone undeniably introverted. I had to take refuge in my hotel room during the nights (mercifully not shared, I paid extra) and shied away from group dinners. Yes, I know that networking is one of the main goals of these events, but a girl needs her quiet time. And a girl knows that other, better people are more suited for these types of networking things in the future. In any case, this girl thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone and sharing observations and laughing with that adorable baby, and it’s gratifying to know that at least two hundred people are fighting the good fight and not settling for complacency!