Ukrainian Yulia Hudoshnyk won a grant from the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme and received her master’s degree in global studies in Denmark and Germany. Any Ukrainian of any age and status with a bachelor’s degree or a fourth year student can apply for a master’s programme. Yulia explains how to choose a programme, what to say in a motivation letter, what should be your English level, how studies in Germany and Denmark differ and how to use the knowledge acquired in Europe upon return to Ukraine.
Actions for the sake of a dream
I dreamed of becoming a journalist since my childhood, and at the age of ten I decided that I must study at the best university in Ukraine. At that time, I was convinced that this should be in the capital city, namely at the Faculty of Journalism of Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv. As a result, I qualified to study on a free-of-charge basis, moved from Lviv to Kyiv and began to work almost immediately: already in my first year of study I had practice, and on the second course – work at the What’s On journal, the only English-speaking one in Kyiv back then. So I combined theory training at the university with practice in the international environment.
Even then, in my second year of study, I began to realize that I would lack experience in Ukraine, and I definitely needed to test myself abroad. My multicultural environment in Kyiv, in particular communication with foreigners, the opportunity to learn from them, to look at other approaches to work inspired my very much. At that time, I already understood how much you can grow, going beyond your boundaries and your comfort zone. Therefore, when studying for the bachelor’s degree, I began to collect a portfolio for the master’s degree abroad.
I applied for various scholarship programs. One of the most desirable was journalism and media management, but I was looking for extra moves, so I was actively applying for around ten programs across Europe where I could find scholarship opportunities. My fourth year was the time of active work, searching, filling in relevant documents, writing cover letters, taking the IELTS test in English, collecting reference letters, etc. And after that, long waiting, because decisions are not made quickly. By July I got the “green light” for all the programs I wanted.
What you need to enter higher education institutions in Europe
The most difficult thing to me was waiting. You take a lot of efforts and when you receive a letter, where in the first paragraph you are informed, for example as follows: “Congratulations, you have been accepted! We are very pleased to see you as a student at Westminster University in London!”, you already want to jump and clap your hands. But then, in the second paragraph you read: “Unfortunately, the university cannot give you a scholarship, so you have to pay GBP 10 thousand…”. First, you have a wave of inspiration, and disappointment comes after that. It seems that you have received what you wanted, but there is a financial issue that will not allow you studying in London or any other good university in another country.
But there was an opportunity to study with financial support in two countries under the Global Studies Program.. It is interdisciplinary, so it helped improve knowledge in various fields and gain practice in political science, economics, cultural studies and sociology. In other words, to eliminate all “gaps” for two years.
I felt that in order to work in international journalism, I needed to better understand world processes – what is happening, what globalization is, how the world is united and what separates us – and to get a better base of knowledge. But I had to support it well, firstly, in my cover letter, and secondly, to show what disciplines I have already listened to and whether I have a certain background in international relations, meaning that I had to explain very well why I suddenly decided become an international relations professional, while being a journalist.
I have never done copy-paste from Google templates, as it is often done. For each university, I wrote the letter on my own and personally focused on why I wanted to study there. Not by schemes – from me personally, from my heart.
I understood that I was competed with people from all over the world who also wanted these scholarships, and I was worried if they would give me this chance. Then it turned out that graduates from Cambridge and Yale became my fellow students.
Even, seemingly, such a simple thing like English language can play a cruel joke. For many people, the results of the IELTS and TOEFL exams are an obstacle to admission, because there are certain minimums, and if you do not get them, you cannot be admitted at all. And to get your scholarship, the minimum will not suffice. You need to have a very good result.
Many people are now asking me what to write in a cover letter in order for them to like you, because the qualification board receives thousands of such letters. And there is no doubt that they have neither time nor wish, nor the desire to read them completely. It is necessary to make them interested, to distinguish yourself. Therefore, I have never done copy-paste from Google templates, as it is often done. For each university, I wrote the letter on my own and personally focused on why I wanted to study there. Not by schemes – from me personally, from my heart. And I think people feel it and understand it, reading the first lines.
Difficulties of adaptation
In the end, I was admitted to the double magistracy, and I received the Double Master of Arts in Global Studies. Erasmus Mundus is a mobile program itself and allows studying in several universities that are in partnership relations. I chose my own universities myself, and even then, at the admission stage, I had to justify, explain why I chose these two. As a result, I studied for one year in Germany, and one in Denmark according to different programs. Professors know each other, but the courses do not overlap. In the German university they gave me a very good theoretical base, and then in Denmark I had the global sociology specialization, where we studied actions, solutions, media, human factor, etc. – and more practice.
As soon as I received a confirmation from the university, they arranged a short-term German visa for me, and then, upon arrival, I received a permit to study and stay in the country. An assistant, who works with the international community, students, consulted on insurance, housing and visas. Moreover, we had the so-called “integration week”, during which we were told where we were, what would happen to us, what should be kept in mind about life in Germany and what would await us during the next two years.
Obtaining a diploma was not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal was to return home and implement this knowledge. This goal motivated me perfectly.
But it was difficult not to adapt, but rather to leave everything and return home. 2013 was a very difficult year for Ukraine. Euromaidan, war, and I was far from home, and could not think of any studying. I just watched the news 24/7. “What globalization, why do I need it all?” I was worried about my family, my friends, my country, and I felt very guilty, although when I applied for studying, of course, I had no idea what would happen next. But still, I reproached myself and worried because I did not help anyhow.
I have never studied in English previously. I had a very good level, I took every effort and spent many years to speak fluently and write. Finally, I worked in the English-speaking press in Ukraine. Therefore, I should not have faced any problems. But I went to study with people who were native speakers, graduates of higher education institutions of English-speaking countries. You are sitting with them at a lecture or a seminar, and of course, nobody asks you which country you are from, from which the university – they expect equal English language knowledge from everyone along with well-reasoned thoughts in English. And you feel how fast you need to improve. Moreover, previously, I did not have to study profoundly the economics or other subjects, which were not available at the faculty of journalism. And here they give you both academic articles and dozens of literature with its corresponding terminology. You should not just read in English, but also write these on these topics and freely discuss at the lessons.
German success, Danish happiness
Germans love to give a lot of homework, and at first, it seems that it is impossible to do it at all. For tomorrow, you need to read 500 to 1,000 pages on different subjects, and not just to read, but to analyze, understand not the general idea, but the details, and also be ready to answer questions. Therefore, I was shocked with the amount of work at the beginning, and not only me, but also approximately 80 percent of those who qualified for this program. I studied not only with Europeans, but also with Americans and Asian people. The latter are known for the fact that they study a lot and actually live in libraries. But even they complained that the load in Germany was too high.
The fact that I was always very purposeful helped me and I realized that if I had already entered and spent so much effort on it, I had to go to the end. Obtaining a diploma was not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal was to return home and implement this knowledge. This goal motivated me perfectly: study, work, prove to yourself, first of all (because teachers do not need it), that you can, that it is not a problem to analyze five hundred pages in economics and write an essay. It was a competition with myself: I set challenges to myself and tried to succeed.
For me, Denmark is a country in which everyone will be heard. I noticed that they are making decisions for a very long time, because they try to take into account everyone’s opinion and find consensus. There’s no such thing – I’m a leader, I said. Only team, collective work.
Germany, which I saw, was life according to rules, life by order. I want to sound impartially, not to generalize the whole country, but that is how I felt it. This is a calm enough life – at least, this was the case during my stay and study. It is about a lot of work, hard work and a desire to be and act solely pursuant to the rules. At the moments when I tried to add a little creativity, or in some case to be so bold as to say “In my opinion” or “It seems to me”, I was immediately interrupted and told: “Keep your opinion to yourself. You just need to refer to a person, an academician who has published a work on this topic.” And from what I see and feel, I can conclude that that is how the Germans live. There are less thoughts and creativity there, unfortunately, but there are more references to an authoritative source. At least in the academic field.
In Denmark, I felt much more freedom, and creativity is very welcome there. There, you also need to read a lot, analyze, but in the end, a teacher comes in, divides you into groups, puts a cup of coffee with cookies and asks: “What do you think about these books you have read? What impressed you?” It was a big surprise. I was so trained in Germany that it now became a kind of challenge to share my thoughts and discuss, based on my not only academic and life experience. That is why Denmark for me is a country where everyone will be heard. I noticed that they are making decisions for a very long time, because they try to take into account everyone’s opinion and find consensus. There’s no such thing – I’m a leader, I said. Only team, collective work.
I understood that the boundaries as such do not exist, and that they are actually only in our heads. Neither geographical nor cultural – all these things could be erased if you wish. The main thing is dialogue, communication, an attempt to find a common denominator and the search for some common points of contact.
And Denmark for me is a very warm country, no matter how paradoxical it sounds, given that it is raining there almost all the time. But it is warm in terms of relationships between people. I communicated, lived with very warm people, they taught me what it was to be happy here and now, what it was to appreciate the moment, communication and people who are around you. For the Danes, their social ties are very important. Compared with Germany, there is more individual work there, “I am for myself”, and in Denmark it is a team, it is “we, and together we can do more.”
Science of dialogue and washing of borders
In two years, I read more books than for all the time before that, and studied not only global processes, but also cases of individual countries. We took local, and then tried to link them with global tendencies and trends. The topic of my master’s degree thesis was the role of social media in the developments on Maidan.
A lot of knowledge was given to me by communication with my fellow students. There were representatives of many countries in my classroom, with whom all the questions raised at lectures and seminars could be discussed during a break and ask them: is it true, and what you think about this. We paid much attention to the phenomenon of China and why they manage to increase their capacities and win world markets, and many of my Chinese fellow students had their own answers to these questions, which might differ from those written in the theorists’ books.
Simply sit and be – this, you should agree, is not a European set of mind. The European set of mind is to run, do and achieve. In this regard, we are very different from the countries where they are actively meditating.
My attitude towards the world as such has changed. Maybe it sounds very loud and posh, but I understood that the boundaries as such do not exist, and that they are actually only in our heads. Neither geographical nor cultural – all these things could be erased if you wish. The main thing is dialogue, communication, an attempt to find a common denominator and the search for some common points of contact.
I understand now that growth can only be in global cooperation. We are already living in a world where we can not restrict ourselves or our neighbours. Global cooperation is another type of thinking when you realize that you may have something in common with Korea, Chile, and you are trying to find these points of contact, how you can act together – at the big, state, and at the micro levels. This is very well seen in startups, or in social projects, when people gather an international team and regardless of the fact that everyone sit in different countries, but everyone have Skype and the Internet, and something can be done together. I myself practiced it and believe that this is a great advantage of the time we are now living in. There are no borders, we are all together, and if we want to do something together and change the world, then it is more realistic than ever before.
Common language with the world
I really appreciate my friendly relations that I built during my study, because we have gone through a lot of things together and these people are very important to me. In fact, keep in touch not only on Facebook and Skype. For example, six months ago, I traveled to the Czech Republic to attend a wedding of my friend from Taiwan, who, after studying in Germany, decided to live in the Czech Republic. My friend from Bolivia, who now lives in Italy, came to this wedding too. Friends often come to Ukraine to visit me too. My friend from Korea, who is currently working in Poland, visited me recently. Many representatives of Latin America, Asia remained in Europe. And this is all about globalization.
Even before the trip to study, I spoke German quite well, and in Leipzig I trained, solving some kind of household issues. At the university, this opportunity was reduced. We were mainly in the English-speaking environment, the area of English-speaking students, professors and books. Therefore, I cannot say that I significantly improved my German.
I liked the Danish language very much. Initially, I thought I would cope without it, because in Denmark everyone speaks English very well. But I began to live in one flat with five Danes, and they often shifted to Danish, forgetting that I did not speak it. But I try to integrate, I am engaged in sociology, I study their culture, and I need to understand what they are talking about. So I went to school, where I worked intensely for three hours four times a week. Now, this is one of my most beloved languages among those I have heard or tried to learn.
Inspiration for change
It is a great honour for me to be an Inspirator in the Danish organization ActionAid People4Change – people who can inspire others to change socially and culturally in developing countries. I passed three qualification levels: interviews, tests and communication. Now, at any moment, they can write that they invite me, for example, to Sierra Leone, to work with women who are victims of domestic violence. it means that there is some kind of task, and you as an inspirator are ready to go to this country and help solve the problem for a certain period of time, usually six months. In fact, this is semi-volunteering: they cover your accommodation and food expenses, but you do not earn anything. People were chosen from all over the world, and it was a great honour for me to be praised by the commission. But so far, I am not in a rush to go to one of the projects – I returned to Ukraine and I think that there are enough opportunities and necessity to help and solve problems. Inspire at home, not somewhere far away.
Thirdly, I was too skilled. I thought back then that, apparently, I did something wrong. If I did not go anywhere, everything would be much easier. I tried to achieve more, but my successes abroad seemed not to be an advantage to everybody.
As far as I understand, if you want to change something in Ukraine, then you have to be here, in place. But this is just my opinion. In the last couple of years, I hear from many of my friends who have returned from studying in Europe that they need to go abroad to study or work again. It is a pity that skilled people are quickly disappointed. It is not that they did not want to change anything; they just want everything to work well and make them feel needed here.
Return to Ukraine
I was very happy when I crossed the border; finally I was at home and ready to “go to fight”. But in practice, it was not easy for me to find the work at first. I hoped that my two European diplomas would help quickly find some kind of good position and quickly fulfill myself. But I was wrong.
For many employers, the problem was that I did not spend the last two years in Ukraine: I was told that while I was studying abroad, many things have changed, and I did not understand the realities of the present, and they needed a person who had already passed through it. In other organizations, I was offered a salary, which I would not even suffice to rent a home in the city of Kyiv. Thirdly, I was too skilled. I thought back then that, apparently, I did something wrong. If I did not go anywhere, everything would be much easier. I tried to achieve more, but my successes abroad seemed not to be an advantage to everybody.
But after three and a half months of searching, I found an organization that wanted to not only hire me as soon as possible, but me personally wanted to get started as soon as possible. This is the Danish Refugee Council, which has a subdivision, in particular the Danish Demining Group. They were looking for a person, who will deal with the humanitarian demining communications in Donbas and launch a campaign to prevent victims of mines and explosive remnants of war. I have read the requirements for the candidate, what I will be involved in, and my eyes kindled with happiness. When I went to the interview, these feelings intensified even more. And fortunately, everything worked – we worked together for a long time and managed to implement a lot and we still have close ties.
A year later, I began working at the Embassy of the Kingdom of Denmark as a political adviser. And now I advise the Office of Educational Reforms. We cooperate with the Ministry of Education and the newly established State Service of Education Quality – working together on new state standards of education quality in Ukraine. Inspections are replaced by a school audit that will take place every 10 years. From now on, within the framework of decentralization, the school itself is obliged to take on the internal control of the quality of education. Our task is to develop policies and mechanisms that will help the school provide its services in a quality manner. I also advise the United Nations Population Fund. Together, we cover issues of gender equality and prevention of domestic violence.
The main challenges in communication are how to inform people and how to change people’s minds. This is because informing is one thing, but how to inform in such a way as to change the attitude and behaviour is a whole another thing. And in this case you need to get patience, since one should not expect that people will be able to change the mindset that has been developing for decades because of one article or two commercials. Water dripping day by day wears the hardest rock away, and drop by drop it is necessary to seek approaches, not to impose, but to ask, to build a dialogue. How to build it correctly? How to find the keys to people, who think differently, who are more conservative, less prone to creativity, innovation and novelties? How to convince and make it clear that reform brings benefits?
Firstly, you need patience, and secondly, you need a desire. People are reluctant to change themselves. I believe that this is a problem not only in the educational sector, but in general in Ukraine. We demand that someone in authorities changes so that everyone is a good person there, and we can remain the same as we were. We bribed doctors and we will keep doing that. We behaved self-defiantly, intolerantly and will behave like this. Let someone else change. How to change this, how to change this scheme? People want to live like in Europe, but they do not think that something depends on them too. It frustrates me. But nevertheless, there are some results.
There is no doubt that it is easier to work with young people – me and my friends, who are graduates from universities in Europe do sessions, invite young people, who dream of education abroad, or simply do not know what to do after graduating from their university. We try to explain that, first of all, we must set ourselves goals; secondly, to strive for achieving them; thirdly, having all this experience, do not be afraid to change the system from the inside, do something, and not just to expect that someone will do it instead of you.
To future students in Europe
Many people believe that studying in Europe is not for them, they are not worthy of it or they will not cope with it. Therefore, if people do not set these barriers, then this is the first big step. And then you need to work on yourself. I would advise from the moment of making the decision “I want” not to let go of this inspiration, this enthusiasm, and immediately start working on yourself.
First, you need to improve academic results at the university. Secondly, practical experience is important: work, volunteering, social engagement – it does not matter whether this work is paid or free of charge. There must be some things you do, other than studying at the university, which you will write in your CV, and you will have contacts of people who will give you reference letters. Thirdly, it is, of course, English – you need to well-prepared for an exam, and then it will help feel calm and complete in the EU. Do not rely on expensive IELTS or TOEFL courses. You can improve your English on your own, since there are a lot of resources to learn English. I prepared on my own and I think that if a person really wants, he will do it more efficiently on his own, than attending lessons. Television, radio, books and newspapers – everything is accessible in the global world. Desire is the only thing you need.
Do not expect quick results, because the training itself, training your intellectual muscles, takes a lot of time, in particular a year or two, depending on what year of study you are in right now and when you are going to enter. It may happen that everything will not be like you thought and dreamed it would. Thus, I advise you not to set a goal to enter a certain university or scholarship for a specific program. It is better to have several alternatives. The more extra doors you have, the better your chances. I have friends, who have made every effort to enter one university, but it did not agree to provide the scholarship, and the year was lost. Get patience and try, because there are a lot of opportunities, the main thing is to see them and want to move towards them.
Information campaign “European Union Integration: Power of opportunities” is conducted by the Office of the Vice-Prime-Minister of Ukraine on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine supported by the EU and the Association4U Project.
By Svitlana Vasylchenko
The original article was published on The Point