Job Allan Wefwafwa, University of The Witwatersrand, South Africa
Between 8th and 16th July 2019, the ECREA Summer School was held at the University of Tartu, convened by Andra Siibak, Pille Pruulmann-Vengerveldt and the team at the Faculty of Social Sciences. The Summer School was a great success with 43 registered student-participants in attendance. Student-participants’ self-introductions filled the lecture room with expectation, warmth, compassion and respect for each other; easily erasing the bad impression created when this student-participant was arbitrarily singled out from the clearance queue at Tallinn Airport for no other reason than being a Black African and bundled alongside suspected illegal immigrants for interrogation in what officials called a “second-line-check”.
The student-participants were divided into two groups for sessions consisting of lectures, demonstrations, discussions and practical exercises. The sessions centred on PhD development right from idea conception to publishing as well as handling publishers’ rejections. To demonstrate how publishers pick/reject academic works, twelve student works were selected for consideration to be published in the ECREA journal. Although sessions such as diploma awarding, roundtable discussions, evaluation and dinners appeared most colourful, student presentations were the
most anticipated because of the feedback that could help students to improve. There were three student presentation groups: Yellow, Green and Blue, each with varying topics; participants gained personalised attention and vast information. Each student presenter was assigned a fellow student respondent as well as a facilitator respondent and was given time for floor feedback.
Facilitators harnessed their own personal experiences and situations into sessions, making them easy and quick to relate to. The humble yet high achieving admirably became role models to students for humility and self-actualisation. Burcu Sümer led the zealous and energetic team, fascinating student-participants into attentiveness amidst tempting afternoon doss-offs. In a way so real-world and unforgettable, Pille Pruulmann-Vengerveldt left students in empathetic pin drop silence when she used her family situation to awe-strikingly take them through auto-ethnography.
The most refreshing session was Simone Tosoni’s afternoon ethnographic walk into the serene Tartu City in search of urban media; where students occasionally lost their attention on their assignment to “interact” with silent statues dotting the City. Well, daily sessions started at 9:30 AM through to 6:00 PM, making such unsanctioned “interactions” inevitable. Locals’ second glances at Black student-participants; with kids and pet dogs literally staring until pulled away by guilty guardians made the walk interesting – contrasting with the compassion in the lecture room. Only taxi drivers found Black people usual.
Tiring sessions were made fun by the varying students’ and facilitators’ heavy accents; with me leading the pack (chuckles) at occasionally struggling to listen. Evening “hangouts” too, helped drown the tiredness of the days, besides casually sharing academic aspirations and interests.
As ECREA President Ilja Tomanić and Secretary General Irena Reifová brought down the curtains at Tartu, the ill-treated student-participant at the airport was filled with contentment that was nipped in the bud when he missed the Milan 2018 ECREA Summer School due to visa mishaps. His hope and glee far outweigh the thought that his freedom to participate in academic interactions lies in the immigration gods’ “second-line-checks”; that is way beyond ECREA’s intervention.
Photo Credits: Stephanie Tintel