Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Having the time of my life! (or maybe not?)

The end of the semester came as a surprise for me. One might think this impossible, but really, all of a sudden it hit me, that my first and last Erasmus semester was just... over. I was so absorbed by deadlines, readings and presentations that I barely noticed the inevitable. That is, until last Friday afternoon my teacher dismissed me from my very last class.
It causes a bit of stress to suddenly realize how your semester abroad is drawing to a close. “Wait, when are you leaving? - First of JUNE?!” is just one example of how talk has changed. And it changed quickly: from “where are you from?” to “when are you leaving?” within less than four months. The departure date though is individual, and it is absolutely hopeless to keep track who is leaving when in order to see them one last time. Another part of the stress might be that, “I still want to go there, too!” or “Oh, really? I would love to, but I have to study!”. (Yes, Erasmus students actually do some studying.) So in these last couple of weeks, how am I going to spend my time? What is the most important thing to do, which is the best opportunity? And opportunities seem endless. Hungary has a lot of neighbor countries, and there are a lot of people to spend time with. I still haven't seen some of the top sights in Budapest. And, oh, the studying …  

The normative power of stereotypes

Copyright: Anita Berghoef
I talked with a friend about this strange feeling of the approaching end of our stay here. She reported that she at times felt pressured to have the time of her life. Since my post on the stereotypes about Erasmus students I have given this part of my adventure a lot of thought. Especially the impression that these stereotypes hold enormous normative powers. On a slightly larger scale, they seem to combine to this weird notion about what the time of my life should be. I might start comparing myself to a mighty picture in my head that displays Erasmus students suspended into a faceless crowd – and they are having the time of their lives.

Don't ask me what this means. But it is in the context of this construction of the ominous cloud that my friend and I agreed on having learned one thing during our Erasmus stay so far: to know better than let this elusive pressure dictate our lives. Instead, we practiced to choose according to our own values and wishes. This might be an illusion of course; at the latest since Bourdieu published La Distinction we know how our socio-economic capital determines our tastes.

A lesson learned

It is by reflecting on these stereotypes and powerful norms, our reactions and feelings towards them, that we learn what defines us as individuals – and maybe even gain the strength to at least sometimes chose what we want even if it contradicts what the dubious crowd might value. It is not easy to do so. To not follow a rule or social norm will always put you under the threat of punishment and exclusion. But both on a personal level and in political respects, I can't emphasize enough how precious this lesson is to me.

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