Letter from Abroad: Studying in the Festival City

in Other

By Michaela Zikmundová

“You can study that?” is usually the first question I get whenever I mention my current postgraduate programme to anybody. “Of course you can,” I reply. “And what city is better to study festival management than Edinburgh, right?”

Location Location Location

Photo 30-10-2016, 12 06 47
Copyright Zuzana Kovácsová

If you are not familiar with Edinburgh’s reputation, start by googling Edinburgh Fringe, Edinburgh International Festival or simply Edinburgh festival city. You will learn that there are basically festivals of everything – science, literature, music, film, storytelling, and the list goes on. It therefore only made sense for me to make Edinburgh my new home and Queen Margaret University offers just the right programme to help me on my journey – MA in Arts, Festival and Cultural Management.

The history of Queen Margaret dates back to 1875 but today’s brand new sustainable university campus was opened in 2007 in Musselburgh, only 6 minutes from the Edinburgh Waverley train station. Musselburgh is a cute little seaside town. This primarily means that when you need to clear your head and get away from the books or hyper undergrads, you can take a 15 to 20-minute walk to the Fisherrow Harbour and stare at the waves for a while. In case you need to see more sand and more dogs running around, you can walk a little further to the beautiful Portobello seaside, where the view is even nicer and promenade longer.


Campus Life

The campus itself offers all the basics for your student life – you can even find Starbucks in the academic building. Moreover, we have a Student Union with Maggie’s, our own café slash bar, and there are also great sports facilities with a hall and a gym. Some of the brave frost-resistant souls living in the halls make use of the trim track which goes around the whole campus, and an outdoor gym. For a bit of peace and quiet outside right on campus, you can hang out at or visit a nice little area with a duck pond. To be perfectly honest, I personally do not go near the pond unless I absolutely have to, since the swans who live there look vaguely threatening and are not afraid to get close to you.

If you dream about having an entire library to yourself, including numerous study rooms, you can simply grab a blanket and head there in the middle of the night.

Living on campus may sometimes feel like you are secluded from the world. But consider the following:  Edinburgh city centre is just a short train, bus or bike ride away. In addition, it is fairly cheap to stay in the halls and you have your own bathroom. The Residence Life team also makes sure you do not get bored, from movie and pizza nights to various trips to surrounding towns, there is something for everyone.

Most importantly, and this is frankly my favourite part, you live just a few steps away from the Learning Resource Centre that is open 24/7. If you dream about having an entire library to yourself, including numerous study rooms, you can simply grab a blanket and head there in the middle of the night. It is almost a spiritual experience and security won’t judge you for being in your pyjamas!


Student Life Logistics

Having touched upon the topic of staff, another point needs to be made about the attitude I had rarely encountered in the past. First days can be exciting, a little scary but almost always stressful, which in my case is mostly due to bureaucracy. Carrying a bunch of paperwork neatly organised in labelled folders and having memorised my student number, I thought I was ready for anything (even if I was shaking). But I sure was not prepared to meet with very helpful, calm and accommodating staff. Everything I needed I had sorted out in less than five minutes and for the first time in my (more or less) adult life, I was calmer when I left an office than when I entered it.

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Copyright Zuzana Kovácsová

Another way the university can help to make you feel more relaxed and confident is by assigning you a personal academic tutor (PAT). They essentially provide guidance and give you advice regarding your academic progress. They will not, however, tell you what should the topic of your next essay be, that is still up to you.

The last thing that most definitely needs to be pointed out is the recording of attendance. Before each class, students are required to swipe in with their student card. There is only a 30-minute window to do it, which starts 15 minutes before and ends 15 minutes after the start of the class. Apparently, the students themselves asked for the monitoring, or so we were told. Whether or not the students really wanted this system, it is actually a perfect way to motivate us to show up and do our work, which is why we are all here after all.


Postgrad Studies

Attending a postgraduate programme that only lasts a year may seem like a marvellous idea until you are met with the reality of doing the same amount of work of a 2-year degree within two terms. Luckily, at least the final project is reserved for the three months after you are done with your classes. For example, in my programme, the final project can either be a research project, a business plan, a feasibility study, or an action research project (i.e. a reflection on the delivery of a small scale cultural project).

The wonderful part of the programme is that we work together, not against each other.

We are constantly encouraged by the programme leader David Stevenson to learn by practice, to go and see things and then reflect. We do learn a lot of theory but we are asked to fulfil some practical tasks as well. For instance, we have to create a budget for the Finance module, and we keep a year-long portfolio of reflections on observational visits to cultural institutions and events, work experience, and volunteering for the Arts management in practice module.

It is all very overwhelming even for a person who has studied at a postgraduate level before. Some of us are part-time students who have been working in the arts sector for many years, others are more familiar with the strict and straightforward world of academia and are only just starting out. The wonderful part of the programme is, however, that we work together, not against each other. Once again, the emphasis should be on the fact that we are all here to learn.


Remembering My Roots

For those of you who are not familiar with me and my previous academic focus – I was mainly interested in the languages, varieties and accents of Scotland. Even though I practically abandoned my linguistics studies at DEAS, I still find myself fascinated by the local and international varieties I encounter on a daily basis. To be honest, however, even after years of studying the subject theoretically, it is often a struggle to understand the mumbling bus driver or the elderly ladies who want to discuss what a “braw day” we are having.

Copyright Zuzana Kovácsová

Michaela Zikmundová

Michaela got her BA degree at DEAS in 2015, her BA thesis was titled The Language of Trainspotting. She continued to study linguistics on a Master’s level at the same department but decided after a while to pursue studies in a different field and a different country. She is currently studying MA Arts, Festival and Cultural Management at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. She is tired but she is trying her best. She is a simple lass who likes live music and dogs.