Almost back home: Uncovering conflicting truths in South Eastern Europe

Cooperation project gives Bulgarian TUC Master’s student a first chance to explore academia in the Balkans

Marina (third from the right) enjoyed the spontaneous outdoor discussions about the cultural heritage of Vršac (Photographer Jessica Dheskali)

Near the border with Romania, a slight Austrian ambiance, grilled cevapcici and a familiar Slavic language – the arrival at my first academic workshop in Vršac, Serbia had me wondering whether my colleagues and I had not mistakenly landed in my hometown Ruse in Bulgaria. The shuttle drive from Belgrade to Vršac felt exactly like the summer break trips to my grandparents’ village, yet instead of a rustic house with a goat shed, our group ended up in a stylish hotel lobby with a magnificent view towards the city and the surrounding fields. The steep hills and the Catholic cathedral brought me quickly back to the Banat region.

The workshop took place from 16th to 19th May and was part of the project Conflicting Truths in Academic and Journalistic Writing funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). As a fourth-semester Master’s student, I was honoured to be invited to participate in the project and to be trusted to teach in the upcoming Summer School in Ohrid ( August 22 – September 1).

Our early flight allowed us to roll up our sleeves from the first day and schedule a meeting with our new partners, the hosts from Vršac, and our partners from the previous DAAD projects with the Western Balkans – the universities in Skopje and Ohrid/Bitola (Macedonia), Niš (Serbia), Vlora (Albania) and Split (Croatia). I had known most of the workshop participants only through their articles in the REAL edited volumes and their presentations at the 2018 Digital English World-Wide conference in Chemnitz, so I was excited to meet them in person and get a glimpse into their lives as researchers in South Eastern Europe.

During the workshop, the project leader Prof. Dr. Josef Schmied discussed the notion of ‘Conflicting Truths’ – not intentional untruths like fake news, but truth as a relative concept that can be influenced through language. The other editor of the upcoming volume, Jessica Dheskali, trained us in how to meet important publishing requirements based on good and bad models. She also prompted a discussion on statistics in linguistics, which showed that the Balkan universities mostly teach qualitative methods. Our colleagues explained that students are either not offered courses in quantitative methods or choose to substitute them. I understood the students’ hesitation since I myself was also afraid of statistics until I entered my Master’s studies and discovered new amazing ways to work with data and to reach intriguing findings. So my colleagues from South Eastern Europe and I will surely benefit from more exposure to data science in the Summer School and in the future projects. Still, the detailed feedback I received on my presentation on the expression of conflicting truths through concession in peer reviews already supported me significantly.

The contributions from the partner universities highlighted other fundamentals of good academic practice such as the proper and efficient use of APA style and formatting as well as reference management systems (Đorđević); the citation of demanding sources in MLA (Lazarevska-Stancevska); evaluation of online sources (Kostadinovska-Stojchevska); the use of authentic data (Toska); quantitative data as markers of truth (Mitić); and significance (Petrovska). The presentation sessions thus allowed us to identify the impact of ‘truths’ in numerous aspects of academic and journalistic writing.

Meanwhile, as a student interested in an academic career, I was happy to finally start getting answers to pressing questions such as ‘What do researchers talk about during lunch breaks and dinners?’, ‘How do I properly pair food and wine?’, ‘How do professionals promote their projects without boasting?’ and other essential aspects of networking.

Exploring this part of Serbia was also a special experience because Vršac (Vojvodina province) is located in the geographical region of Banat, which covers territories in Serbia, Romania and Hungary and was part of the Habsburg Monarchy, as the St Gerhard Cathedral reminds us. The locals had a strong sense of identification with the Banat region (instead of merely Serbia) and would always emphasise it, be it through wine and food advertising, or through museums, tourist signs and leaflets. This regional belonging stood out by being somewhat different from other border conflicts on the Balkans, where the most prominent recently has been the Macedonian case. Unfortunately, our time in Vršac was not enough to discuss whether the region insists on Vojvodina Banat as much as the neighbours do for North, Pirin and Greek Macedonia, so we postponed it for our colleagues’ study visit in Chemnitz in July.

After this workshop, TU Chemnitz academic life has become very attractive, and PhD students from our Linguistics department will soon not need to persuade me to continue my studies to the doctoral level.

 

Marina

(Master English & American Studies, 4th semester)

 

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