Two NMU School of Art & Design students recently had the opportunity to spend the winter semester studying at the University of Art & Design Cluj-Napoca through the ERASMUS+ Partnership between NMU and UAD. Located in the historic city, Cluj-Napoca, in Transylvania, Romania the University offers students exceptional opportunities for artistic expression in a city with a vibrant arts culture.
Niikah Hatfield, a Ceramics major, and Hannah Donohue, a Painting major in the School of Art & Design spent the Winter 2018 semester in Romania at UAD. They were able to work in a variety of media alongside the Romanian students and participated in cultural exchange activities along with European travel opportunities.
Speaking about her experience, Niikah writes:
I am overflowing with the experience of studying for the semester in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. It was a life-changing experience that I have emerged from with a new sense of self and fulfillment. Living in another country and culture for over four months provided the space to see both my artwork and presence as a person in a whole new light.
The Erasmus+ Programme gave me the support and flexibility to create projects that explored my own areas of interest across many different mediums. Working in glass and jewelry for the first time taught me skills that I could use in ceramics, painting, and photography. The freedom also fostered a stronger sense of self-direction and motivation, and at the same time, one-on-one feedback from the professors brought me to a heightened understanding of concepts and techniques.
Cluj is a city that embraces art, and between talking with students and attending the countless exhibitions that happened while we were there, I gained a lot of insight on the vast similarities and differences within art across the nations. As a whole, a greater sense of unity emerged from seeing that artistic passion on a world-wide scale.
Erasmus is largely focused on widening perspectives, and the encouragement to travel and try new things had a huge impact on my experience abroad. I learned just as much traveling across parts of Europe and attending local events as I did within the university. I had the chance to push my limits and travel solo to Paris, Italy, and Croatia, and while in Cluj I joined a contemporary dance company that was equally mind-blowing and challenging.
The most learning and growth, however, happened on a personal level. Stripped of everything normal and familiar, studying abroad gave me the time and place to discover who I am outside of everything I thought I knew. As I began to understand my own purpose within art and life a bit more, I have been able to set a different set of priorities for my path forward that is less dependent on space and more focused on my own passion.
Living in a city was a big change in comparison to the rural U.P., and coming back has proved to be just as much of a change as leaving. The whole trip gave me a deep appreciation for the beauty and serenity of the U.P., and I’m incredibly excited to take what I have learned abroad back into NMU and our whole community.
Speaking about her experience, Hannah writes:
My semester abroad in Cluj-Napoca, Romania defied all expectations I had of what a “study abroad” experience means and changes in someone. I expected to be confused by the language and misunderstood frequently. I expected to have trouble knowing how much Romanian Lei typical items should cost, and I expected to have a hard time getting around in such a large city when compared to Marquette. While all of these things were very true, the things and moments that are most memorable were the ones I didn’t expect. I have vivid memories of frantically trying to find the handle on an airport toilet in Germany, where it didn’t exist. I soon learned that European toilets have buttons rather than handles, often times not connected to the toilet at all but on the wall. Other highlights of these memorable moments include the first time seeing a very large (but typical) beer bottle, the unspoken rule that you’re unable to split a bill while dining out, and the custom of drinking in the evenings at local bars and clubs with professors. All of these moments are what led me to meet the people that changed me, and led me to form the idea that studying abroad really conditions you to find consistency and comfort in yourself rather than your environment. You can’t control any of the things that you come across when you’re in a completely new place, thousands of miles from home, including the way you previously understood how to flush a toilet. Because of this, the things that become consistent in your daily life are the characteristics you learn are constant in yourself. This result is invaluable.
I’m so grateful to have gained something that I believe most students that study abroad don’t have the opportunity to. In Romania, I was able to see the difference in the practice of art and design between what I was taught and knew, and what the students in Cluj were familiar with. I quickly noticed that students in Cluj have a strong sense of place in the art world. Every student I met and connected with had a strongly developed style, coupled with a very strong work ethic. I believe that these things were possible because of the students’ intrinsic motivation to create. This may come from their early exposure to art education, or maybe the value their entire community places on art. I was highly impressed by this and it was the primary factor that inspired me while I was there, and continues to now. The students that I was surrounded by were inspired to coordinate their own private exhibitions frequently, which were events I was able to find nearly three times a week. I appreciated the level of respect that artists were given in their community, evident in how many community members and fellow students attended the exhibitions and additionally, found joy in talking about the art surrounding them. This is something that I’m inspired to bring back to Marquette and every place I make a home in afterward.
I left Romania with a stronger and surer concept of who I am, both as a human being and as an artist. I now possess numerous additional lenses to view art from, and I have the inspiration to share my work with as many people as possible. I will always be grateful for the experiences that led me to these things and I hope to share the will to travel and knowledge of such a beautiful place with my Marquette community.