UM Heritage – experience to understand
You remember travelling, don’t you? The UM Diversity & Inclusivity Grant has enabled three students to travel and share the landscapes, people and customs that shaped them. UM Heritage’s Daniel Bogdanski talks about their journey to discovering their own and each other’s heritage.
Daniel Bogdanski is cooped up in his flat in Sofia, the capital of his native Bulgaria. It is spring. It is snowing. The 3rd-year student of International Business at UM has just returned from his ERASMUS semester in Madrid, cut short by the outbreak of COVID-19. However, Daniel can look back on how he and his friends made impressive use of freedom of movement while that was still a given.
Early in 2019, he was having coffee with his friend Loukia, who also worked for the UM video team. They were talking about how international the university was – and what that actually means. “You have promotional videos with people from five continents – but you only ever see them in Maastricht. We wanted to show where they come from, what their heritage is.”
Fostering cultural intelligence
Thus the idea for UM Heritage was born. It is more than flashy travel videos about landscapes, food, music and architecture – although it is also that. “We wanted to help foster cultural intelligence. Often when you work in groups at uni, you only focus on the project. But if you see how someone grew up and how it shaped their thinking, you understand better why people think and behave like they do.”
Daniel and his friends Loukia and Mario applied for UM’s Diversity and Inclusivity (D&I) Grants. “We were so excited about the project! We submitted out proposal just in time it was approved at the end of April. We had to start filming in July and I had exams in June as well as a busy student job. So the project management was a big challenge – you learn to delegate and organise things quickly.”
Cold frappé and excellent Wi-Fi
So, did he gain a deeper cultural understanding? “Cyprus has a really different pace of life – everything is slower, more laid back – people are having frappés at the beach. And it makes sense – it’s unbearably hot and humid in the summer. So now I understand more why Loukia’s late sometimes,” Daniel laughs.
South Korea strikes a different balance between wellbeing and productivity. “I was blown away by how modern and fast-paced everything is.” He was struck by the omnipresence of technology. “Everything is online – you have great Wi-Fi even at remote temples and people use their smartphones constantly. It’s convenient but a bit isolating. I was sitting next to a girl on the bus and she didn’t look up from her phone once in four hours.”
You can’t make a gaida from a sow’s ear
Daniel also relates differently to his country, now that he got to appreciate it through the eyes of visitors. “When you realise that things that are normal for you are weird to other people, that’s when all the talk of cultural relativism starts to make sense,” he remembers. “I love eating pig’s ears but Loukia and Mario found it quite weird… Then again, in Spain they have amazing pig’s ears – it really depends on where you are.”
He says Bulgaria might have a rough charm, with its communist architecture and somewhat sullen people, but “it was great to see how welcoming and happy my compatriots were to receive visitors. We are very patriotic and keen to preserve our traditions. I’m no exception; I love my country, despite all its problems. This trip was a reaffirmation that I’d like to work towards sharing our beautiful nature and culture with tourists.”
Storytelling and sweaty hands
Despite all of their previous work for UM’s video team, it was the biggest project any of them ever did and they learned a lot along the way – from logistics to filmmaking itself. “I was in charge of camera and editing, Loukia was our director and screenwriter, and Mario used his drone and GoPro for establishing shots, underwater footage and the likes.”
They learnt how important storytelling is – but also got to appreciate the technical nuances more. “We struggled with sweaty hands and equipment malfunctioning in the Mediterranean heat or just with the settings being a little bit off. A lot of the time, we thought we could fix things in postproduction, but it’s not as easy as that.”
There were also challenges beyond filmmaking, of course. “The education at UM prepares you for working in an intercultural team, but travelling and being together around the clock for six weeks in challenging conditions is taking it to a different level. But it all worked out well and we’re really proud of what we have achieved together,” Daniel says, adding promptly, dutifully, “and we’re really grateful to the Diversity and Inclusivity Grant!”
The gaida: traditional Bulgarian bagpipes