How storytelling can help us to work on a better Europe
How can we better tell stories of Europe? In the past months, 20 communication and media students explored this question as part of a storytelling course at Erasmus University Rotterdam, part of which was facilitated by Studio Europa Maastricht.
‘Telling the stories of Europe’ is unique in its design and objectives, as the course connects the realm of storytelling to European studies. The module is offered as part of the prestigious honours programme, led by Dr Mijke Slot, which is offered to the most talented students of the bachelor in communication and media at Erasmus University Rotterdam. In the module, designed and coordinated by programme editor at Studio Europa Job Zomerplaag, students approach the European Project as an unfinished adventure. They head off on this adventure by examining the ancient Greek story of Europa and the Bull and the significance of this myth in modern Europe. They then travel through time and space to explore some of the stories and symbols and their creators, which paved the path towards the Maastricht Treaty. For example, the origins of the 12-star flag and Ode to Joy anthem are studied. In so doing, the students reflect on the distinguishing characteristics of Europe and being European. What myths and symbols have fostered a sense of community in Europe, and how have they evolved?
Visit to Maastricht and Studio Europa
As the course was designed to be an adventure, the students travelled to Maastricht, the city where the foundation treaty of the EU was signed was 1992. During this two-day trip, facilitated by Studio Europa, they saw first-hand how the European Project is alive and well in Maastricht. The students visited Studio Europa Maastricht to learn more about its research agenda, events and projects. They also visited the No Access exhibition at the Cannerberg, and met with the theatre collective De Kiesmannen.
During their stay, Maastricht served as the students’ living laboratory to collect and create stories. They also engaged with storytellers and researchers to discuss how stories can reveal the way in which the idea of Europe is promoted, shaped and contested locally. In the setting of a so-called vlaaien panel (named after the local delicacy vlaai), the students participated in a discussion with photographer Tetsuro Miyazaki, Eline Schmeets, PhD at Studio Europa; and Amber-Helena Reisig, poet and content creator at Studio Europa. Later in the course, they met and exchanged ideas with musical journalist Andrea Voets, who also performed her show Millennial History in Maastricht in November. One of the participating students, Polina Leonova, created a video capturing some hightlights of the trip to Maastricht:
Students tell their own stories of Europe
After they visited Maastricht, the students participated in a workshop hosted by Mick ter Reehorst, founder and managing director of the pan-European media collective Are We Europe. With his help, the students turned the inspiration and observations they collected during the previous weeks into a final project: telling their own stories of Europe. Stories that reflect upon their stance towards Europe; stories that raise topics that need to be included in the existing discourse and critically engage with the idea and identity of Europe.
The module was concluded with an intimate storytelling event at the Europe House in The Hague. Willemijn de Jong, press officer at the Dutch liaison office of the European Parliament, welcomed the students. The stories display the students’ ability to critically reflect on the notion of a ‘Story of Europe’ and to engage with past and current efforts to tell this story. In addition, their own stories displayed how incredibly diverse presentations and representations of European identity could and perhaps should be.
The student projects
The stories were presented in different formats, ranging from multimedia to video. Please find links to all the student projects, the outcome of a collaboration between 16 different nationalities, below:
Europe is a “relative experience” is the core message of a video produced by Erkaiym (Kyrgyzstan), Siddhi (India) and Gosia (Poland) in which they roam the streets of Rotterdam and Maastricht.
Europe exists because there are people who call it home, conclude Monique (Denmark), Nimrat (India), Minerva (Spain) and Rea (Germany) in their poetry project on the story of Europe as shattered and in need of space to co-exist.
Kaja (Norway), Zoe (Germany) and Sonya (Russia) focus in a multimedia story on how being a woman shapes the history of Europe, in which they argue that such narratives are rather “challenged than being promoted”.
Justine (Latvia), Nini (Georgia) and Caroline (Brazil) ask at the start of their performance the provocative question “where do you belong?,” to then unravel the complexity of both European and non-European identities.
Europe is a tangerine, according to Maxime (France), Polina (Czech Republic/ Russia), Gauri (The Netherlands/ India/ Suriname), and Mariette (Egypt). In their video and subsequent storytelling performance, they show how Europe has a hard skin on the outside, seemingly perfect and round while being flexible, malleable and turbulent in the inside.
While being European is institutionalised in the form of passports, Joana (Germany), Isabella (Colombia/ Spain) and Jade (Suriname) show that Europe is not necessarily found in documents, but rather in encounters and experiences.
Would you like to learn more about the content and programme of the module? Then do not hesitate to contact Job Zomerplaag, programme editor at Studio Europa, for more information.