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  • Jenny de Jong

Lisbon Winter School: An Ambivalent Experience

One of the most fun parts of academic life is the chance to travel for events and conferences, such as intensive winter schools organised by EUROPAEUM. In this article, a first-year EPS student, Jenny de Jong, reflects on the Lisbon Winter School, giving dozens of reasons why you should apply for the next one. 


Jenny de Jong

EUROPAEUM organizes extracurricular courses on various topics throughout the year for master’s students from its partner universities in Europe. The year 2024 kicked off with the 4th Winter School in the study of media and communication at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon. This sounded interesting and appealing to me. But now you may be wondering, as I was wondering when I applied: what does ambivalence actually mean? I googled the term and found the definition "the state of having mixed feelings or conflicting ideas about something or someone." Little did I know that the term ambivalence carries more connotation and context. Still, I enrolled in the EUROPAEUM with my research on "Media Discourse on Migration in 2015: A Case Study on Germany." This is a study I worked on during my undergraduate studies in Leipzig and would like to develop further.


On January 8, I took a plane from Prague to Lisbon. Once I landed in Lisbon, a fellow EPS student and good friend of mine Freya Entrup was waiting for me, as she had just arrived from Berlin. We took a taxi to the hotel and met the EUROPAEUM coordinators there, two professors from Oxford University. In the evening, we had welcoming drinks which was really fun with two Brits, as it led to interesting conversations, because don't we all have that hidden dream of going to Oxford for further studies? We talked the whole evening and got to know each other better. A nice thing about participating in a EUROPAEUM school is that you meet other master’s students; for example, in our group, there were students from Scotland, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Estonia.


The next day, it was finally time for the Winter School to begin. Together with the group, we walked to the university. When we entered the university building, we were given a badge with our name on it and had the opportunity to grab coffee and some goodies before we started at 10 am. This also gave us the opportunity to meet the other students. These were the PhD students who had come to Lisbon to present their PhD research. The Lisbon Winter School was opened by the school's coordinators, including the dean. Emphasis was placed on ambivalence and how we as humans often see ambivalence, i.e. the state of uncertainty, as something bad and negative, while the coordinators emphasized the positive side of ambivalence, explaining that it can also lead to change for the better, progress, or new perspectives. I hadn't thought about it that way myself.


The Winter School was divided into several parts. In the morning, there were professors in the field of media and communication who gave lectures about their field of expertise, and in the afternoon, it was the PhD students' turn to present their research. In between, there were plenty of breaks, because networking and exchanging ideas during this kind of event is very important. There was no need to starve either, as the tables were full of tasty snacks, especially the typical Portuguese pastéis de nata, which were very popular. In the evening, we went out to dinner with the EUROPAEUM group. It was fun to talk to each other about what we had learned that day, as well as each person's own research and interests.


The remarkable thing about the study of media and communications is that subjects within this field can vary incredibly. This is something that also made participating in the winter school so immensely fun and diverse. Prominent professors and PhD students from around the world were teaching us about a diverse range of subjects. The themes discussed that appealed to me were news avoidance, stereotypes portrayed by media, and feminist movements organized through media. 


A PhD research project by a student at the University of Amsterdam stuck with me. She presented her PhD research on the TikTok trend "Is It Fashion? Or Is She Just Skinny?" A trend where plus-size TikTokers try fashion trends, taking the fashion industry and its clothing only made for slim women into question. In addition, the research of a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania was about the manifestation trend on TikTok, where people are encouraged to record certain audios or certain sayings and share them on TikTok in order to manifest into something they would like to see come out. This is especially popular among Generation Z. The study looked at the relationship between manifestation content on TikTok and emerging spirituality among young people in America.


On the last day, it was our turn, the master students. We felt like amateurs. After all, we are doing an MA dissertation research, not a PhD research. But presenting a proposal for potential research was enough. We were all very nervous, but there was no need to be. I presented my research on the media discourse on migration in Germany, where refugees were presented differently by German media over the course of the migration crisis in 2015. It was very beneficial to present this and receive feedback from professors and PhD students who were attending. And, of course, the question was asked: what is the ambivalence aspect of your research? Hard to answer, but after this intensive week, I believe that the ambivalence regarding media discourse on migration in 2015 reflects the complex interplay of factors that determine how this issue is framed, discussed, and understood within German society and beyond.


The Winter School concluded with an interesting lecture by a recently retired professor from the University of Southern California in the United States, Larry Gross, who talked about how he experienced the rise of gay rights as a young American activist and participated in this activism himself to create a better world for the LGBTQIA+ community. I was all ears during this lecture; the way Professor Larry Gross told us his personal and moving story, as well as the essence of standing up for human rights, affected and inspired me immensely. This illustrated ambivalence in perfect fashion for me and showed how ambivalence is sometimes needed to see change for the better. The advice given to us young people in that room was "be ambivalent!" Especially in turbulent times like these, when it sometimes seems like there is more decline than progress in our world. This highlights the most important lesson I took with me to Prague: be ambivalent!


So, to everyone reading this: be ambivalent and apply to the EUROPAEUM schools!



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