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EMMIR in Oldenburg: a welcome surprise

by Gabriella Mikiewicz for EMANATE magazine. Read the issue online here:

When I was first accepted into the EMMIR programme, one of my very first questions was, “why Oldenburg?”. This small town in the north of Germany seemed like a very random place for a master’s programme about Migration and Intercultural Relations. It seemed like a small (I’ll even be fully honest here and say boring) place to live and study for the first semester of such an exciting two-year master’s course! With a population of around 165,000, Oldenburg definitely isn’t the central hub of excitement in Germany. But what I learned during my 5 months there is that the city doesn’t have to be the central hub of excitement to be a diverse, accepting, and interesting place to live.

an old-style German building
A small cafe in the Oldenburg city centre

EMMIR is the European Master in Migration and Intercultural Relations. We are a network of over 200 students and alumni from 62 countries and speak over 56 languages. EMMIR is the first African-European Erasmus Mundus Masters course in migration studies and is jointly run by three African and four European universities. The first semester of EMMIR is in Oldenburg, Germany, followed by the second semester in Stavanger, Norway. In the third and fourth semesters students chose their mobility paths between the seven partners:

- Carl Von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Germany

- University of Stavanger, Norway

- Ahfad University for Women, Sudan

- University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg, South Africa

- University of Novi Gorici, Slovenia

- University of South Bohemia České Budějovice, Czech Republic

- Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda

Cohort 7 students exploring Oldenburg during their first semester

Living in a classic university town means that there’s a lot of student life and young people surrounding you. From stylish cafes to hip political bars and clubs to giant parties in the university, you’re always invited to some event and meeting new people. Once we even had a student night out on the town where some professors from the university were DJing, including one of our EMMIR professors!

Apart from the student night life, there’s also real significance as to why UOL is the central organiser of the EMMIR Consortium. According to Lydia Potts, the EMMIR Consortium Coordinator, UOL is one of the first universities in Germany that started a migration studies programme (in 1982), and for many decades it had a very successful programme in intercultural education.

According to Lydia Potts, the EMMIR Consortium Coordinator, UOL is one of the first universities in Germany that started a migration studies programme (in 1982), and for many decades it had a very successful programme in intercultural relations.

“Although, compared to many other cities in West Germany, Oldenburg had a comparatively small migrant population, the University early on developed an academic focus in this field,” says Potts. Additionally, “geographically, many migration hubs are within easy reach from Oldenburg.”

This significant connection to migration studies is part of the reason why EMMIR was founded. The first EMMIR students began in 2011, though the universities involved had started cooperating well before this time. In 2006, the European partners of EMMIR implemented a joint master, JMMIR. Eventually, as the African partners became involved, the EMMIR consortium emerged, In 2010, EMMIR successfully applied for an EMJMD.

Gabriella drinking glüwein at a traditional German christmas market in Oldenburg

During our first month, what we call the Intensive Phase (though the ‘intense’ part doesn’t seem to end with September), we attended an ‘Arrival Cities’ tour around the city. The Arrival Cities project is created by URBACT, a European exchange and learning program promoting sustainable urban development. Community leaders from the various Arrival Cities meet together a few times per year to share experiences and learn from each other.

Oldenburg is one of 10 “Arrival Cities” around Europe. According to URBACT, “Currently, almost 22% of the Oldenburg’s population is from a migrant background, with people from Iraq, Turkey and Poland making up the largest migrant communities. Oldenburg is also home to Europe’s largest Yazidi community and has become the heart of the worldwide Yazidi diaspora. Through the German national dispersal plan, Oldenburg received over 1400 refugees in 2015, at a rate of around 40 new arrivals per week.”

This has created some obvious tension, as is the case in many cities in Germany, and even a racist pushback against migrants and refugees. But it’s also created a resistance movement against that racism. During the Arrival Cities walking tour, we wanted to get to know Oldenburg through the lens of migration, history, resistance, media, and more.

While walking around the city, we really focused on unique and modern forms of resistance: graffiti and stickers. One of our stops on the tour was a football club formed to combat racism and stereotypes, where you could also catch local games! The tour showed us a completely different side of Oldenburg that you might not get to see on the surface: one where students host anti-racism parties and post “refugees welcome” stickers all over the city; one where international Erasmus students can come to form new experiences together; one where diversity truly blooms.

After my first semester in Oldenburg, I think that I got to know a different side of Oldenburg than I had expected to. This small city now has a big place in my heart and I look forward to going back for my graduation in September! I hope that future EMMIR students look forward to spending their time there and contribute to the diversity of the city.

Congrats my Cohort 7 family! We did it!

Read Gabriella's travel guide for Oldenburg featured in EMANATE magazine, the official magazine of the Erasmus Mundus Association:


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