Archive for July, 2015

Student Spotlight: Daniel Barabasi

Posted on July 14, 2015 in Research, Students, Uncategorized
Daniel Barabasi at our EU day celebration.

Daniel Barabasi at our EU day celebration.

Daniel Barabasi (’17) received a Break Travel and Research Grant for Sophomores and Juniors for his research in Transylvania, Romania.  Daniel is currently an honors student working on a degree in neuroscience and behavior in the College of Science.  What does neuroscience and behavior have to do with Europe?  Quite a bit.  It involves the study of human behavior and how it can be applied to other fields such as medicine, law, or education.  Daniel, who reviewed literature on poverty and development, also interviewed leaders and government entities working on child welfare and child protection services.  We hope to see more College of Science students take this kind of initiative!  Read on to learn about his experience:

            My initial contact at the Sapientia University of Miercurea Ciuc, Dean István Kósa, referred me to the leading village policy researcher and professor at the institution, Andrea Sólyom. Dr. Sólyom took it upon herself to not only guide my search for literature on poverty and development in Transylvania, she also arranged meeting with the leading organizations and government entities in the area.

            Though I had specified early on that I was interested in the broader picture, my previous experience with the Dévai Szent Ferenc Alapítvány led Dr. Sólyom to focus the meetings on child protection and development services, which turned out to be very rewarding in hindsight. Due to this slight miscommunication, the research I was able to accomplish spread itself into two parts: first, actual literature in the first leg of the trip, which was sent to me by Dr. Sólyom as background information and second, interviews with various members of the aforementioned organizations.

            I was provided with various articles, both scholarly and general audience, on the topics of child protection services and employment, as well as various surveys on the issues deemed to be important for families living in the region. Strong progress had been made in these areas after Romania joined the European Union in 2007, however this bolstering effect seems to have declined since 2012, when the last of the optimistic general audience articles that I examined was written. In the past years, Harghita County, the capital of which is Miercurea Ciuc, has seen declining wages, despite rising costs of living. Nevertheless, the surveys show more families concerned with the future of the “Szekler Land” and the Transylvanian Hungarians than the economic stability of the country. Nevertheless, in a question focused on family life, it becomes clear that the greatest concern seems to be for the welfare of one’s children, with the income of the family coming second.

            In the interview portion of my research, I was continually reminded of the regional interest in the upbringing of progeny. My first meeting was with Zoltan Elekes, who was the head of the county branch for child protection, and gave deep insight in the development of current systems set in place. Coming out of the Soviet Union, Romania had large governmental orphanages with anywhere from tens to hundreds of children at a time. When Romania petitioned to join the European Union, among many other accommodations, it had to update its child protection services. The teeming homes were dismantled, being replaced by “adoptive families,” who took in one or a few children at a time to their own homes in exchange for modest stipends and payment. This was especially important for children under the age of three, who could legally not be in larger homes, where a guardian would be responsible full-time for eight to ten orphans. Recent efforts have been focused on making the adoption process more fluid and offering stronger incentives for guardians.

            Zoltan Elekes and Dr. Sólyom also connected me with representatives from two NGOs involved with child protection in the area. The first, The Csibész Foundation, provides an alumni network for adults leaving the governmental child protection services. Houses run by The Csibész Foundation develop the independence and work ethic of these adults, giving them marketable skills and job opportunities, if possible. The Dévai Szent Ferenc Foundation, mentioned previously, works with underprivileged children, providing them with food, shelter, and a community focused on their wellbeing and education. Parents and guardians still have custody over their children, and most children are returned to them during breaks from school. One of the greatest struggles for this foundation is accrediting their homes, as Romania recently erased the dated standards of accreditation, but never when through the trouble of establishing new ones.

            The interviews, with the background of literature I was provided with, provided me a clearer understanding of the ongoing poverty levels and frustrations in a supposedly developed country. Hearing about the hurdles present for both government-run and civil organizations in developing futures for underprivileged and orphaned children has pushed me to shed light on the inefficiency of the Romanian government in addressing these measures, while at the same time developing measures by which Notre Dame students or Americans in general can volunteer or assist in the progress that Transylvania needs. The Nanovic Institute for European Studies has provided me with a strong framework for following through with the promises I have made to myself and the individuals and groups I met while abroad, and I hope to work side-by-side with the Institute in addressing the issues I encountered throughout the course of this project.

Student Spotlight: Madelynn Green

Posted on July 7, 2015 in Students

Green, Madelynn 14-15Madelynn Green (’15) recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a major in Political Science. She has spent years researching graffiti and street art across Europe, funded in part by Nanovic grants. The last Nanovic grant that she received before graduation was a Senior Travel and Research Grant; she traveled to Berlin to study the connections between street art and urban development. What is the result of all of this research? Madelynn has a first-author publication in the Cornell International Affairs Review. She completed her senior thesis. And she was selected to be a Fellow in the New York City Urban Fellows Program, where she will continue working on urban policy and development. Where will your Nanovic grant take you?

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Street art in Kreuzberg

With the help of a Senior Travel and Research Grant, I traveled to Berlin, Germany to complete fieldwork for my senior thesis project titled “From Decay to Cool: Street Art and Urban Renewal in the East End of London and Kreuzberg, Berlin”. This travel grant was extremely valuable for my senior thesis research and I enjoyed experiencing the culture and language of Germany. In my project, I analyzed if there is a relationship between illegal street art and urban development. I examined this relationship in Berlin by surveying individual street blocks for neighborhood conditions and street art concentration. My fieldwork was well-complemented by educational visits to the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum (FHXB) in Kreuzberg, which offered impressive exhibits on the history of the historically impoverished neighborhood. At FHXB, I spoke with museum staff and saw highly detailed exhibits on Kreuzberg’s history. For example, the museum had a miniature version of the neighborhood with points of interest and historical events highlighted in the background. Overall, the most helpful exhibit was one where a map of Kreuzberg was painted onto the floor of a huge room. There were numbers on points on the map and each number-point (there were over 120) contained a personal anecdote from a resident of Kreuzberg. The tour was self-guided and the audio files were on an iPod. I think this exhibit really gave me a true sense of the neighborhood’s character, identity, and history. This valuable qualitative resource assisted me immensely as I wrote my thesis. Another helpful aspect of the museum was its special exhibit on Gorlitzer Park, a large park centrally located in Kreuzberg that has been plagued by violence and drug activity. This focused exhibit taught me how the park was conceived, developed and what its future holds. I visited the FHXB multiple times because of its wealth of information and friendly staff. One historian even took me out to lunch. Visiting the FHXB definitely filled gaps in my knowledge about Kreuzberg and was crucial to writing a well-rounded thesis and forming a sound comparison to the East End.

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Street art in Kreuzberg

I completed and turned in my thesis on April 1st. This research trip was invaluable to the in-depth analysis I was able to do in my paper. Thanks to my museum visits and observations, I was able to describe how Kreuzberg was established in the late 18th century for French immigrants and rapidly grew into a hub for industry in Berlin. Consequently, it was home to many poor immigrant families. During WWII, Kreuzberg was extremely damaged by bombing campaigns and spiraled further into destitution. Rebuilding from the war began in the 1950s and the construction of the Berlin Wall plunged the district into another dark period. During this period, Berlin was a peripheral and unattractive district of Berlin closed in on three sides by the Berlin Wall. As a result, its cheap rents and abundance of old factories made the area attractive to artists, students, punks, Turkish immigrants and countercultural groups in need of affordable housing. The traditional countercultural and immigrant character of the neighborhood endures today, but with real estate developers’ efforts to redevelop the neighborhood, rents are rapidly increasing and traditional residents are being pushed out. The future of Kreuzberg is uncertain, but for now immigrants and new, wealthier residents coexist. I was also able to visit the obligatory sights of Berlin, including the East Side Gallery, the TV tower and Checkpoint Charlie. However, my most memorable experiences were when I did neighborhood observations. Learning the history of Kreuzberg made walking down its streets much more meaningful.

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The TV Tower in Berlin Alexanderplatz

I will continue to focus on urban studies in the future. I was recently selected to be a Fellow in the New York City Urban Fellows Program, where I will work on urban policy issues in the City of New York government for nine months. After this, I hope to begin graduate studies in England, France or Germany, as I am currently learning German and French. I am incredibly thankful to the Nanovic Institute for supporting this project and helping me to unearth Kreuzberg’s transition from to decay to cool. Finally, I deeply appreciate the Institute’s generous commitment to my project since I began it my sophomore year. These experiences have changed my life and made me a better scholar and person.