The Bridge – November 2021

The Bridge is a platform created and administered by our student party to connect with the students of UM and form a spirit of community and contribution. Each month, contributors write a text to tell you about their opinion, an event they have found interesting, … It is pretty free! If you too would like to share your texts, contact us

All views expressed in these articles are the writers’ own and do not represent NovUM’s official or unofficial position.

Home is Where the Heart is: Thoughts of a Conflicted International Student

One thing I have learnt from my experience of being an international student is that the concept of ‘home’ is a more complicated one than I initially gave it credit for, and anecdotal evidence suggests this is not an uncommon feeling among international students, expats and people who move around a lot. Living in one city for 16 years of my life, I never used to give it much thought. If you had asked me what made something home, I would have shrugged and said, ‘where I live’. I certainly always assumed that ‘home’, to any given individual, meant only one place. Until one day during my first few months in Maastricht, my family were visiting me, and we were talking about things back in my hometown of Oxford, UK, and it dawned on me that something had shifted in how I thought about it- that I didn’t feel like it was home anymore, and even picturing myself there now felt slightly alien. Maastricht had come to be my home almost immediately.

            This might lead one to think that I was right, as a teenager, to assume that home was nothing more than a place of dwelling. After all, Maastricht was now where I lived for more of the year than not. But it is more complex than that, because I have now been living in Spain on my semester abroad for over two months, much less time than it took me to feel at home in Maastricht, and I still feel rather like I am on holiday, in the sense that being here is enjoyable, but it isn’t homely. Perhaps that is a sense of belonging, which was also something I always lacked as a teenager in Oxford, where I had never truly felt like I fit in, which was why arriving in Maastricht for the first time felt like coming home. In this sense I have come to think of ‘home’ not so much in geographical terms, but more as a feeling. ‘Home is where the heart is’ is a corny moniker, but broadly true.

            But I have also come to realise that I can call more than one place home. I spent my last few years in the UK counting down the months until I could leave the country and never look back, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t help but look back, because it where I lived out nearly 19 years of joys and heartbreaks, successes and catastrophes, from first steps to first kisses, friendships good and bad; where I learnt who I was and who I wasn’t and who I wished I was but never could be, what I love and what I can’t abide and in that sense it will always be a part of me. This, I now realise, makes it a sort of home, hence the terms ‘hometown’ and ‘home country’, even thought it might not be the home I would have chosen. And it’s still where my family and oldest friends are, and no matter what new places I might fall in love with, coming back to them will always be a homecoming. This type of home is not defined by geography- my loved ones could move around the world to somewhere I have no history and running into each other’s arms after months apart will always feel like coming home. ‘Home is where the heart is’ which is exactly why the concept of home is so complicated. Because there are people I love in England, in the US, in Maastricht and now in Spain, and every one of them makes these places their own kind of home.

Rose Cooper

How Will We Understand Each Other?

Most of us would generally think of Maastricht as a “bubble”, almost hinting at a parallel universe tailored specifically for the student community that inhabits the city. Students come from the most varied backgrounds, ranging from third culture kids with cross-cultural upbringing, to those who have spent their whole lives in their small village and may be either very curious about diversity or diffident towards the sudden lack of certainty this confrontation entails. This heterogeneous cocktail of multiculturality travels on the streams of sounds. Whenever we immerse ourselves in the social texture of this city, we constantly come across strangers who sometimes prove to be not complete strangers after all. The bridges language creates are manifold, and so are the borders that can rise when different languages are involved.

The profoundly international constitution of the public space creates an illusion of a land of everyone and no one at the same time, which transcends the national character of the landscape and puts everyone on the same level of equal unfamiliarity. This unfamiliarity acquires different shades as it is translated into the sounds that sometimes stand out from the background noise of a crowded room. Sitting in a rowdy cafe in front of your laptop, you suddenly distinguish clear and distinct words echoing your idea of home. To hear the familiar sound of your native language in a foreign city means to be brought back to a safe, intimate space where communication is not necessarily an artificial construction sparked by the contingencies of the environment. However, language can sometimes become an unsurmountable obstacle when we have to deal with a code which is utterly alien to us: it can easily dissociate groups or individuals who are inevitably faced with the limits of translation, a process in which meaning can be slightly or significantly transformed, or even lost for good. Language surely is a challenge each of us has probably encountered at least once during our temporary passage in the Maastricht bubble. With its perks and downsides, it remains an essential component of our cherished internationality.

Sometimes, as I navigate my way through the crowded city in the centre, I can hear foreigners telling the most incredible stories in their native language, and I let my fantasy travel along those imaginary scenarios. I catch a word, but as I hold onto it the rest fades, until it is irreparably lost. And so, I find myself daydreaming about the whole universe shrunk in a code that carries familiarity, but travels on tracks that are alien to me. Then, in a fraction of a second, I make eye-contact with an old man walking by. He smiles at me before he turns his gaze away. And, as we walk past each other, I realise that, no matter how parted our different heritage requires us to be, that little, imperceptible hint comes from a language we both share, a language whose universality becomes undeniable within the fragmentation that pervades our inescapable diversity.

Altea Tonon

Facebook’s Choice: The Moral Responsibility Social Platforms Ignore (Part 1)

With the company’s credibility on its last legs and in the midst of an internal crisis created by the most recent leaks provided by Frances Haugen, Facebook seems to be in the worst shape of its existence. The company has recently announced that the “Facebook company” would be rebranding as “Meta”, a online platform that aims to integrate VR to Social Media. While all this sounds amazing, Facebook continues to neglect the real issues that plague its site, these being misinformation and lack of content moderation. This article will focus on addressing these issues through the observations of Maria Ressa, Filipino journalist and democracy activist who is featured in episode 9 of the “Your Undivided Attention” podcast – The Dictator’s Playbook – the hosted, Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin. In her interview she shared her first-hand experience of how dangerous Facebook’s shortcomings can be if not properly dealt with. This article is the first part of a two-part series that will deal with the moral responsibility social media companies have in running their operations and the consequences of their lack of oversight.

During this interview Ressa, who has an extensive background in covering and participating the democratisation of Southeast Asia, explains how social media instead of fostering some much-needed constructive dialogue – as she thought it would – has been highjacked by the populist far-right in order to spread dangerous misinformation. In her view this has derailed the democratic process in a growing number of developing nations, such as hers.

One of the main takeaways from this interview (which I highly recommend listening to) was that the dissemination of information has moved from traditional media to social media platforms, such as Facebook. She explains that the main issue plaguing this new information format lies in its lack of oversight and accountability. While traditional journalists, for the most part, vet their sources and are directly accountable to the public about what they write, these rules do not apply to “news” on social media. The embarrassing the lack of moderation on the behalf of Facebook, as well as other socials, and the culture of monetisation of user attention has led to the flourishing of a fake news economy which stands to jeopardise those very democratic ideals that the West is built upon. According to Ressa, this issue is so pervasive that when Oxford University conducted a study on its proliferation, it showed that as many as 70 countries have seen a push back in democracy where misinformation, spread by armies of bots and fake accounts, has been allowed to fester. This has consequentially resulted in the instalment of authoritarian style leaders, such as President Duterte.

In an ironic twist, Facebook seems to be somewhat aware of these issues and has in the past pledged to invest more capital in tackling these issues. Yet, change has yet to be felt and things are starting to turn sour. The rising Anti-Vax movement and the January 6 attack on the Capitol are an indication of this. But then: What should Facebook do? Tristan Harris proposes to turn off custom audiences for political ads, thus avoiding that vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, are bombarded with misleading political propaganda. Whilst Aza Raskin proposes to increase the friction to share, meaning that that in order to share a post, users would be obliged to confirm twice, giving them a second chance to rethink their action. These are just some examples of how we can bring moral responsibility into these digital spaces and maybe curb one of the most dangerous crises the modern world faces.

F. Alexander Bijoux