Euroculture Spotlight #14: Virginia Stuart-Taylor
21 Feb 2017
The Euroculture Spotlight is back! The 14th edition of the Euroculture spotlight introduces Virginia Stuart-Taylor. Next to being a first-year Euroculture student at the University of Groningen, Virginia runs a popular travel blog called The Well-Travelled Postcard.
The Spotlight focuses on special achievements or activities of Euroculture students, alumni and staff.
Thanks, Virginia, for taking the time to answer our questions!
What is your affiliation with Euroculture?
I’m currently a first-year student of the Master's in Euroculture.
Where have you studied during Euroculture?
I spent my first semester at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, learning about the general historical, political, legal and cultural context in Europe. And I’m now beginning my second semester at the University of Uppsala, in Sweden, focussing on the Baltic Sea region, comprising the Nordic countries, Russia and the Baltic states.
While I’m open to soaking up as much as I can during the course, the current fields I’m most interested in include migration, identity, global politics and (unsurprisingly) the EU-UK relationship, and luckily I’ve had the opportunity to study all of these so far.
Can you tell me something about your blog?
4.5 years ago I set up a travel blog in my spare time called The Well-Travelled Postcard. to share my experiences of living, working and studying abroad during my Bachelors degree. After a year of blogging, it really took off and I started working with travel companies and tourist boards, allowing me to travel from North America to Africa to Asia and visit some incredible places!
My blog and social media channels (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) are the hub for collecting my experiences, photos, videos and learnings about the world through travel, and a way for me to hopefully encourage and inspire others to find opportunities to travel and live abroad, thus learning about the world we live in. While I’m a strong believer in a formal university education, there is so much to be learned by getting outside of your comfort zone and experiencing another culture and country, so I try to promote that as much as possible!
Would you like to share something special about your Euroculture experience?
There isn’t one specific stand-out moment that can sum up the essence of what makes Euroculture special. However, having spent a few years in the world of work before deciding to return to university for a Master's, I can vouch for the importance of the active intellectual stimulation provided by Euroculture and the sheer amount we learn during the course, compared to most working environments. Anyone who has the opportunity, like us Euroculture students, to dedicate two years to investigating crucial issues at the heart of Europe and delving into why the world works the way it does, is incredibly lucky and should feel very grateful!
What do you like the most about Euroculture?
The variety. Whether that be the diversity of the other students’ backgrounds; the flexibility to move country every semester; the wide variety of the subject matter and ability to choose our own topics and specialisations; or all the extra opportunities and doors that have been opened to me already through Euroculture. For example, through this Master’s I’ve been able to visit the EU institutions in Brussels, get my academic work published, participate in the University of Groningen Honour’s College and even help organise a summer school in Illicit Trade for the International Relations department. I also believe the level of support offered to students is great and that all the teaching staff and lecturers are really passionate and committed to the Master’s programme.
What did you do before Euroculture?
Before I started my Bachelor’s degree, like many British students, I took a Gap Year and I spent an incredible 10 months abroad, backpacking around Cuba, China and South-East Asia and working two ski seasons in Chile and Italy. I then started my degree in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese at the University of Exeter and spent my third year abroad on Erasmus studying for 6 months in Córdoba, Spain, and working as an intern for 6 months in Modena, Italy.
After graduating from my Bachelor’s, I did a two-year graduate scheme working in London at one of the largest tech companies in Europe, which allowed me to travel all over Europe and even to South Africa for work, and involved a 6-month placement working in the company’s headquarters in Madrid. I then returned to work in London for just over a year, before beginning a 6-month sabbatical to travel around Europe and Sri Lanka, to study in Berlin and St Petersburg, and volunteer for a sustainable development NGO in Nepal. Upon returning to work after my sabbatical, I knew I wasn’t yet ready to settle in London again for the long-term, so I moved abroad again to start the Master’s degree in Euroculture!
What are your plans for the future?
After finishing this Master’s, I’d like to work in the public sector, in a role that has an impact on people’s lives. Either in an international capacity in the civil service, or in a cultural relations organisation, or an international organisation or an NGO. As a UK citizen, who knows whether the EU institutions will still be an option in the years to come, but the grounding in European issues provided by the Euroculture Master’s will surely be of huge value in the current climate, especially in the UK job market, given the UK's relative lack of skills and experience related to Europe. And of course I want to carry on blogging about my experiences around the world and encouraging other young people to make the most of all the opportunities available to them, as I feel all of my experiences abroad have had such a fundamental role in shaping who I am, developing my skills and knowledge, and broadening my outlook on the world.
Where is the best place you have traveled to and why?
If you’re asking about Euroculture… then so far the best place I’ve traveled to with the course is the Netherlands. I’d never heard of Groningen before applying for Euroculture, nor ever been to the Netherlands before either, but Groningen turned out to be such a fantastic choice! I love the Dutch lifestyle and attitude to life, and Groningen itself is a beautiful enclave of intellectual activity, set among historic architecture and picturesque canals, with a great cultural scene and full of youthful vibrancy.
If you’re asking about elsewhere... If I have to choose one country I love most to return to again and again: I’d say Italy, as I’ve spent a year in total living and breathing the Italian lifestyle and I loved every minute. If I have to choose the most fascinating or amazing country I’ve visited: I’d say either Sri Lanka, for the sheer diversity in all senses of the word contained in a single country and the fascinating landscapes, heritage and culture; or Cuba, which was my first rite-of-passage trip when I was 18 and an utter culture shock in every way! A schoolfriend and I spent a month backpacking around Cuba back in 2007, when Fidel Castro was still in charge, when the country had zero internet access (bar a handful of ancient computers in the national library in Havana), when the country was still closed off from the world in many senses. It was both terrifying and eye-opening for two naive 18-year-olds, but we survived, loved it and that trip showed me just how much else of the world was within my reach and waiting to be explored.