Dr hab. Joanna Kulska is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Political Science and Administration of the University of Opole. From the very beginning, Mrs. Kulska has been a coordinator of the Europa Master program on the Polish side. In this interview, we will discuss with Dr hab. Kulska the origins and evolution of the Europa Master program, as well as the future plans for its development.
What are the origins of the Europa Master program?
The whole process started in the spring of 2007 when the delegation from the University of Burgundy visited the University of Opole. We had the official meeting with the delegates in which prof. Janusz Sawczuk and I were representing the Polish side. I remember that it was the first time I met Mr. Bernhard Altheim, whom I would really call the father of the whole project. He was the one who brought all three parties together. During the meeting, Mr. Bernhard Altheim mentioned that there was a Professor Herbert Dittgen at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, who had been planning for a long time to broaden the cooperation between Mainz and Dijon and include into it a new partner from Central Europe. Mr. Altheim asked us if the University of Opole would be interested to participate. Both prof. Janusz Sawczuk and I were thinking that it was a fantastic idea! This is how the exchange of emails started.
Why were Opole, Mainz, and Dijon chosen for this program?
From the political point of view, there is regionalcooperation between Rheinland-Pfalz, the Burgundy region and the Opole voivodeship. Later on, using this background, we joined this cooperation on the scientific and research levels. Eventually, the Europa Master became a very strong point of the cooperation because the program is a very concrete achievement. Whenever the representatives of the regions meet, Europa Master would be mentioned as one of the most successful projects!
How did the first meeting with the professors from the partner universities look like?
We were supposedto meet for the first time with the three parties in Mainz in the summer of 2007.
Unfortunately, on the day of our departure, there was a huge storm. Prof. Sawczuk and I were already on the train to Poznań from where we had to catch the train to Frankfurt am Main. As a result of the storm, the tree fell down on the railway tracks and it was not possible for us to catch the next train to Germany. Due to that, the Polish side did not participate in the first meeting.
How did the program evolve?
As I have already mentioned, in 2007 the correspondence between future partner universities started, and closer to the end of the year we already had initial ideas on how to run the program. Suddenly, in the November of that year, we received the terrible news that prof. Dittgen had passed away. Since earlier that year we did not manage to attend the meeting in Mainz, unfortunately, I never had a chance to meet him in person. After that, the situation complicated terribly, and for a while, not much was happening in the development of the program. Even though, during that time we managed to meet in Mainz and have a meeting in Opole in 2008. This was the time when on Mainz’ side, dr Wolfgang Muno was coordinating the project. We also got to know the “Dijon team” led by prof. Philippe Icard who, as far I remember, has also been part of the program from the very beginning. The situation speeded up in 2009 when prof. Ruth Zimmerling took over the responsibilities at the institute in Mainz. I would say that she is the mother of the Europa Master program on the German side. Later in 2010, we had our first meeting at the University of Burgundy in Dijon. These are the first stages towards the creation of the Europa Master program. At that time, we were planning to start the program in 2011 but certain complications occurred on the French side. Due to that, we had to postpone the “Big beginning” of the program till 2013. Overall, it took us 6 years to start the program. It turned out to be much more complicated than we expected because we had three different systems, three different ways of giving diplomas. It was extremely difficult to adjust to all the requirements that would enable us to award students with the national diplomas of the three countries. To be honest, it was the greatest challenge for all of us.
What did you feel when the program was finally launched and the first generation of students came to Opole in 2013?
It was one of the highest levels of emotions that I have ever experienced in my life. In fact, October of 2013 was doubly emotional for all of us in Opole, as this year we held a very festive inaugural event, which was attended by both the rectors of the University of Burgundy and the University of Johannes Gutenberg. Also, I remember that I was really stressed. Sometimes my colleagues and I had trouble sleeping at night. I can explain why…We were the first front, we were the first semester of Europa Master. Currently, I am very happy to have the opportunity to meet all the generations first and then pass them proudly to my colleagues in Mainz and Dijon. But then we experienced all these emotions for the first time.
How do you see the future of Europa Master?
I definitely hope that we will be able to improve the achievements that we already have. It is always possible to teach better or meet the expectations of the students more fully.What is also important for me is not only to deliver the knowledge to students but also to continue creating interpersonal linkages between them. In this regard, we are trying to create more opportunities for students to meet and interact outside academia. In my opinion, the Europa Master program is actually special because of that. For example, in one generation we had some French students who invited their Polish group mates to come to their houses in France and live there for a few weeks in order to improve the language. This is what I am hoping to keep and develop.
From the academic point of view, some changes into the module division system can probably be expected in Opole soon. For the last couple of years, everything was pretty stable since every change in the program needs to be accepted by all the partner universities.
Another thing is the promotion of the program. Currently, all three partner universities are a part of a bigger project —FORTHEM Alliance. In the future, I would like to share the knowledge about our program with other European Universities.
As a professor, why would you recommend students to apply for the Europa Master?
This is a chance to gain knowledge on European issues from very different perspectives. The semester in Opole is devoted to more cultural and social issues of the EU. The University in Mainz is mainly focused on political issues. The third semester in Dijon gives a broader perspective of the legal issues of the Union. In my opinion, the construction of the program may give students a holistic picture of the whole European integration process. The program is also a great opportunity to find an interesting job within state institutions, or the EU institutions afterwards.
Another reason why someone should consider the Europa Master program is the intercultural exchange. We have a unique way of fulfilling it within this program. We also have the international group, students from the EU and even beyond. On this program, the famous motto “United in diversity” can be directly experienced.
Festive inauguration in 2013, welcoming the first generation of the Europa Master