Christoph Maisch is a PhD student from the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. He has studied for extended periods in Poland, the USA, and Norway, and conducted scholarly research in the field of European studies and political science. Today he is deep into studying is history of the philosophy of science in particular the history of education. It is these scholarly interests that led the German doctoral candidate to the Ukrainian Catholic University as part of the international Erasmus + program, in order to continue his scholarly research in archives. And so Christoph Maisch explain his research and shared his views on Ukrainian education and his impressions from his internship at UCU.
I was first in Ukraine 10 years ago. Now the impressions are more positive.
“In Germany I worked with German, Polish, Czech and Belarusian nongovernmental organization in context of an international student NGO called GFPS,which is now trying to establish a first step programme in Ukraine as well,” explains German PhD student Christoph Maisch. Thus it was by luck that I met the Erasmus plus programme. “Eventually the coordinator of the Erasmus + KA107 program for Ukraine and Georgia, at the European University Viadrina told us about the scholarship program and the opportunity to research the archives in Lviv.”
Up to that time, Christoph did not know about the existence of such a program, but he fairly easily made the decision to travel to Lviv, especially as it did not require long and complex bureaucratic steps. Finally, it turned out that preparing for the internship was much easier than writing a separate application to the Erasmus + program.
“To be fair, I have been once before in Ukraine, in Lviv. But that was nearly ten years ago. I did have a different impression about Ukraine and especially about Lviv at that time. But then I understood that I wanted to go anyway,”notes Christoph. “Now the impressions are much more positive and I was able to see many positive changes.”
“I need a coffee” – my first thought in Lviv.”
With interesting prospects for his internship, Christoph’s first thought after a practically sleepless trip on a night train was “I need a coffee… And then later sitting in a taxi in Lviv, I thought: “it’s a nice, warm autumn day [2 October 2016], about 22 degrees Celsius.” It seemed it was going to be a really, really nice autumn,” Christoph recounts. “Next day it changed and it was very cold and rainy, but so far, I decided: good decision.”
Lviv is interesting for its multiculturalism.
“I wanted to see and research other layers of the history that is very interesting for me, mixing up Jewish, German, Austro-Hungarian, Polish, and, of course, Ukrainian Lviv,” notes Christoph. “Then I tried to get used to the cultural life of the city, concerts, music, and all the rest that is going on – from the opera to concerts of symphonic music, and other concerts.”
The history of countries should be studied comparatively.
“Considering that European history and the history of Ukraine are always entangled, there is not a single history of Ukraine and there is not a single history of Poland or Germany or Russia. It is all entangled with each other,” says Christoph. “But it is always interesting to look at history from the perspective of a certain country. For example, it is interesting for me to research the perspectives of Ukrainian scholars on historical connections and to compare them with the perspectives of Polish or Russian researchers, which are significantly different. This spectrum itself has, to date, not been sufficiently researched, and so it is very interesting for me.”
“The main problem which I found in Lviv was complicated access to archives…”
“Actually, I never managed to totally ‘overcome’ the complicated archive system and fully take advantage of archival documents,” emphasizes Christoph. “On the other hand, I did establish a good connection with Professor Volodymyr Sklokin [PhD in History, Acting Head of the Department of Modern and Contemporary History of Ukraine at the Humanities Faculty]. He helped me to really quickly prepare all the necessary documents and get access to the archives. The professor also introduced me to several office colleagues who had not actually heard of my research but were interested inasmuch as the people whose activities I am researching are from around here. As a result, this acquaintance helped me more than the archival access at first: I managed to connect in a more detailed way with some questions regarding Ukraine and to get acquainted with Ukrainian articles, which at least opened up some of the resources for me.”
The topic of Christoph’s research is the aesthetic perspective on the philosophy of science in the interwar period in Poland. [Ph. D. Thesis: “Poland’s critical theorist? Intersections of knowledge and aesthetics in the works of the Polish interwar avant-garde and the early Frankfurt School”] This means especially research on the works of two scholars from Lviv. “One is Ludwik Fleck and the other is Leon Chwistek, who is another Polish philosopher of logic and an artist and a constructor of the axiomatic ideas of science. So this research is about in general what is science and how do we deal with that,” says Christoph.
Christoph gave a lecture on Ludwik Fleck, and he was surprised that in Ukraine he seems to be forgotten. “For Studies in the history and philosophy of science in Germany , Ludwik Fleck has become nearly as important as Thomas Kuhn, a major figure in the history of the philosophy of science, a scholar who researched paradigms, different ways and styles of thinking in science,” explains Christoph. “He is very famous in Poland and in Germany now because he has broader and more diverse framework , so to say, which can be used in other fields of study.”
Plans to do research in the center in Jena
Throughout 2017 Christoph plans to finish his PhD thesis and work at the research center in Jena (Germany). The activities of this center focus on German-Polish studies, but might expand in the long run to entangled Ukraine and Russia. “So it is interesting for me to research mutual contacts of Polish and Ukrainian history. And in that sense the relationship to UCU is a very good thing because an exchange program exists, involving research and study, in the framework of the Erasmus+ program,” explains Christoph.
“UCU is a university not so much in the European as in the American style”
Before this visit to the country, Christoph was practically unacquainted with the educational system in Ukraine. He knew only about the existence of a few new educational centers, in particular UCU, as a university of a new type. “For me, UCU is a university not so much in the European as in the American style. That is, the educational system is more influenced by the US study system from my perspective,” Christoph is convinced. “For example, the bachelor’s and master’s structure is a little different from how it is established in Germany. It is rather comparable to the US system, which has some flaws and some pretty good things.”
About an uncomplicated bureaucratic system, simple access to instructional courses and open discussions with teachers
According to Christoph, the pluses of the educational system are two: “First of all, the whole bureaucratic system is very direct and non-complex. And second, if you have a problem relating to the educational process, you can solve it very directly and without much troubles. If classes are offered, they are very easily accessible, so even if you are not fluent in Ukrainian, there are some English classes. (There could be more… that is one more thing that could be a little bit nicer),” says Christoph. “In general, language study is organized very well.”
“I liked it very much that students and teachers have open discussion. So, if you do disagree with them, you can discuss it with them and that’s fine. For the educational process, such openness is unambiguously an argument in favor,” admits Christoph. “Also, individual classes for two or three students were organized for us. This is very unusual for European institutions where, as a rule, there are 20 people per class.”
Christoph was also surprised by the fact that students in Ukraine, including at UCU, are generally younger than in Germany, though this is as well slightly changing. As a rule, Ukrainian students are receiving a bachelor’s or master’s degree when German students used to only beginning their studies after a gap year or military or voluntary services and 13 years of school.
“Students need to have the opportunity to ‘swim’ on their own”
“Sometimes I feel that professors fear to give students more responsibilities, to ask a little bit more of them from time to time and have more trust in them, because they can do a lot if they want to,” Christoph is convinced. “Really, students can independently struggle with the majority of assignments, so it is not worthwhile ‘protecting’ them too much. On the contrary, let them ‘swim’ on their own. Throw them into the cold water and see what happens.” Christoph smiles.
“This is probably more an American system to protect you beforehand and to help you afterwards,” adds Christoph. “But I think that sometimes to learn on your own and to have more of your own responsibilities would be nicer. And that would be my recommendation.”
Text: Oksana Levantovych
Photos: Oleksandr Laskin