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Studying friendships of international students in Copenhagen

Austrian student Marie Czuray's dissertation is inspired by, and based on, her experience as an exchange student in Copenhagen

It was her experiences as an Erasmus exchange student which inspired Marie Czuray, University of Vienna, to more than two years of research into a complex social phenomenon: ‘Friendships’.

In her Master’s dissertation friendships are investigated based on questionnaires and interviews with international students in Copenhagen and in Prague, Czech Republic.

The University Post got Marie Czuray to respond to our questions by e-mail.

Social network sites’ ‘friends’, or friends

How did this idea come to you?
It started with the idea to do an empirical study about ‘the Erasmus experience’, which has hardly been explored by the means of qualitative methods. Through reflecting my own experiences of being an Erasmus student, friendship emerged as a central theme of the social phenomenon.

Why is the subject of ‘friendship’ important – and now?
»Many theories assert that alienation, isolation and a decrease of the significance of family and love relations is in our culture. Life is reputed to have become more individualised and people more selfish (this repeated denunciation is probably itself a characteristic of the present age).«

»At the same time the topic of friendship is very popular in the media: Soap operas, advertisements, magazines, books, movies etc. show a hype of the portrayal. And last but not least, the web 2.0 redefines the meaning of ‘friend’. I am refering here to facebook, couchsurfing and co. The term ‘Friends’ is used in social network sites to indicate a consensual connection between two users, [but] not all connections represent a relationship that sociologists would recognize as friendship«.

Read about another student’s dissertation on Erasmus exchange students in Copenhagen here

That Erasmus feeling

How did you manage to accomplish your empirical investigation without compromising yourself – I mean you were friends with (some) of these people, or?
»My relation to the exchange students would have been too artificial. In a qualitative study you need to build a connection to the people you are researching. It should not be too close, so I didn’t interview close friends of mine, but people should be able to trust you. I learned to switch between my roles as a committed participant and a distant observer and I reflected myself in order to step back from my subjectivity. But objectivism is simply not (and should not be!) possible when you dedicate yourself to your field of research.«

»I don’t find it very interesting to let people fill a questionnaire in order to let your own assumptions be proven. I wanted to generate hypothesis directly from the field and describe a phenomenon. I had a lot of knowledge about the context and a good access to informants, because I was once an Erasmus student myself and I entered my research field as a guest student. So I shared the experience of my informants«.

What purpose – in a single sentence – did you personally have behind this investigation?
»The Erasmus programme is the star among the educational projects of the European Union. Moreover, it has become a cultural phenomenon. I know the Erasmus-feeling myself, which should connect all those who take/took part in an institutionalised exchange: People use the same vocabulary and share similar experiences, regardless in which country
they lived. Reflecting this process one crucial aspect crystallizes: ‘Friendship’«.

Don’t cut everything down

What purpose did your respondents have for even participating?
»A semester or year of study abroad is an exceptional social context for friendships and most people like to talk about themselves, their experiences and opinions. And another reason for the participants of my study might be an interest in the topic and the willingness to support its investigation. Or simply people took part in my study to do me a favour. I am deeply grateful for the support of so many students. Without them my thesis simply would have been impossible!«

So a final question – in one sentence, if you can: what did you find out – professionally and/or personally?
»From the point of a researcher I must say it is really awkward: I spend literally years on my research and in the end people want one single sentence as a result. But how can it be so easy?!«

»I studied a ‘social’ phenomenon, so people like you and their life. Would you like it if I cut everything down, cut down who you are, to one single sentence?!«

No single answer

»Life is complex – and so is research. This answer is as inconvenient as its question, but if I have to reduce it to one single sentence, this it what I found out – both professionally and personally. And if you try to ignore this complexity you will not explore anything and just get an empty phrase.«

»So it’s maybe an advice for life: ask questions and be ready that there won’t be only one single answer«.

Read also: Exchange student ‘party’ is serious stuff
Close encounters at the student café
Hard work finding Danish friends
New friends in 48 hours? Not here in Denmark
Top 10 tips to meet Danes
Is Facebook destroying spontaneity?

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