One rainy weekend in October, more than 200 Mundusians from all over the globe gathered together at a conference center in Amsterdam for the first ever Mundus class reunion.
The reunion marked 10 years of the Erasmus Mundus Master’s in Journalism programme. Every graduating class was represented, from the less than a dozen “original” Mundusians who completed their studies in 2006, to more than 40 current students set to graduate in 2016.
The day consisted of a series of keynote speeches by administrators about the programme itself, panel discussions and presentations about journalism as an industry and a career, and free-for-all networking sessions over coffee and pastries.
Hans-Henrik Holm, charismatic professor of the Reporting Global Change class, announced that he would be stepping down as chairman of the programme and that professor Henrik Bodker would be taking his place. The announcement was bittersweet, as students would miss “Triple-H” as he was known but knew Henrik would step up to the challenge. Hans-Henrik and Bettina shared a hug afterwards, and Hans-Henrik read a goofy poem of his own devising about the Mundus program.
The weekend’s programme kicked off Thursday night with a welcome “borrel” at a popular, edgy art gallery in a historic canal house. While other alumni trickled into the city at all hours of night and morning, some early arrivals and Amsterdam residents were already well on their way getting tipsy with – er, networking with – other members of the Mundus family.
The next morning, the halls of Pakhuis de Zwijger bustled with activity. Laughter and squeals pierced the air as Mundusians were reunited with their friends, classmates, and professors. Bleary-eyed borrel attendees sipped coffee in the morning, trying to counteract the alcohol and lack of sleep. Current and former students laughed as they hugged their classmates. Whether it had been five months or five years since they’d last seen each other, everyone seemed happy to be reunited with the people they’d shared their Mundus experience with.
Class of 2005 alum Audrey Sykes organized the reunion, spending more than three months on the planning process to make it possible. She even put together a detailed websitedetailed website that included not just the programme schedule, but also tips and tricks to eating out, lodging, and getting around in the city she’d written for another publication.
One of the more entertaining events of the day was the Blue Book Confessions, in which Mundusians could anonymously share their deepest secrets from their Erasmus years. Stories abounded of alcohol abuse in Denmark, smoking weed in Amsterdam, and of not reading the academic texts. Some confessions were funny, like students admitting they’d never even heard of the countries some of their classmates came from (the Gambia and Bahrain were usually featured on this list). Some were sweet, like confessing to have found love within the programme (a not unusual experience among Erasmus students, as it were.) And some were downright scary – like the student claiming to have written their master’s thesis the night before.
The panel discussions and presentations had a strong focus on new media and the changing journalism industry – something the academic programme itself lacked. Sessions were geared to analyzing industry trends, considering alternatives to the “traditional” newsroom job, and how to succeed in the niches represented by the various programme specialisms – politics, business, conflict, and international reporting.
The final session was a combination panel discussion and question/answer/suggestion session about the strengths and weaknesses of the programme. The discussion revealed how much the programme had changed during its ten years: the Amsterdam specialism was introduced, the number of participants exploded each year, and the students and professors gained confidence and helped shape the programme’s identity. Now, hundreds of students apply to the program each year while fewer than 100 are selected. Alumni mentor current students and sometimes provide them with internships or even job connections. The courses are well thought-out and complement each other. And there are four specialisms with classes in six cities.
After the final session, several rounds of group photos were taken. The Mundusians hung around for another hour, getting in final words with their classmates or newfound connections and snapping up several plates of delicious Dutch croques before slowly trickling out into the dark Amsterdam night.
While some participants had to return home early the next morning, scattered activities and semifinal plans were provided for those who stuck around. Some participated in a downtown walking tour to get an idea of the city’s highlights, and later, groups of current students and alumni met up at a windmill brewery to continue “networking” with their favorite fermented social lubricant. After a weekend of eating in ethnic restaurants, sitting in Amsterdam’s famous coffeeshops, tasting local brews and seeing the sights, normal life resumed on Monday and the magic was over. The memories remained, however, as well as the sense of belonging that came with being part of the Mundus group – our imagined community, if you will, of international journalists around the world and all connected by this shared Mundus experience which makes us part of a family.