I can still remember the excitement when I saw my name, Eki Listya Rini, at the first on candidate list of EUDIME (Erasmus Mundus Doctorate in Membrane Engineering) of Category A. It was about a year ago, perhaps, on March 2012. I was one of the five lucky people who succeeded in competing the available fellowship with the other (more or less) sixty people from around the world. What I would like to achieve, my dream, seemed closer. I would be able to study from the experts in Membrane Engineering in Europe, and another benefit, I would be able to travel to those popular places on earth like France, Italy, and Prague, which some people are dreaming of. Wondering those places made me more excited, a kind of feeling I believe that I shared with the other Erasmus Mundus awardees. Unfortunate for me, the excitement did not last long, even it turned up into a huge disappointment. This story will tell you why… (if you are interested on this story, kindly read thoroughly to the end)
As soon as I had received the fellowship offering from the program coordinator, Professor D., I confirmed my acceptance. The program itself could be started anywhere from November 2012. Since I was pregnant and delivered my baby on October 2012, I decided to take a maternity leave and to start the program a little bit later on March 2013.
As you may familiar with, any Erasmus Mundus programs involve a mobility requirement at least to two different universities in the program consortium. In the EUDIME program, I was assigned to University of Paul Sabatier (UPS) Toulouse, France, as my home university; while the other hosting universities would be chosen later. Started some where from August 2012, I had been in contact with the host professor in UPS, Professor B., regarding the program, research, and anything else.
Time went very fast after my baby had born, and it was finally the time to kick off the program. Based on some considerations, me and my husband decided to move a week earlier from the starting date in order to make the moving and transition smooth.
Here we go the chronology…
February, 22 2013
In the early morning, me and my family flied from Amsterdam to Toulouse, and we arrived on the same day.
My husband came along with me just to help the moving. As he was still studying for his PhD in Delft, the Netherlands, he had planned to return to Delft on March, 17 2013.
February, 26 2013
I met Professor B. and a staff from international office in UPS to discuss some administrative matters like employment contract and housing. After the meeting, Professor B. showed me the lab where I would be working at, its name was Laboratory De Genie Chimique.
March, 1 2013
I officially started the program. Before starting to work, Professor B. discussed again the administrative matters and a laboratory rule. As I am wearing a veil (it’s not a kind of burqa, I am not covering my face), Professor B. informed me that I was not permitted to wear a veil in the laboratory, however, I could still cover my hair but my ears and neck should still be open. It made me VERY surprised, I never heard such a rule in my life or I had been informed about that previously. In any kind of situation, the veil is very important for me, and I can not accept to modify my veil in this situation. Therefore, in the afternoon, I discussed about the possibility to keep my veil while working in the lab with Professor B. He could understand my argument, I guess, but he could not decide anything as it was not on his authority. He promised me that he would discuss my situation with the lab director and informed me later on. However, I had to wait until the other week as he already had planned for a holiday the next week. At that time, I remember saying that I would like to move if it was not possible to wear the veil; or, if it was not possible to move then, I would resign from the program.
While waiting the news from Professor B., I kept working in the office. Honestly, I felt quite optimistic that I would be allowed to work in the lab with the veil I am wearing; because I had heard from a student in Indonesian Student Association (Perhimpunan Pelajar Indonesia (PPI) Toulouse) that another Indonesian lady had a same experience and it ended up just fine. So, I was quite relax, but not long until the news came…
March, 13 2013
The news came. Professor B. informed me that after discussion with the lab director, I could not wear a veil to work in the lab. He mentioned that the rule was referring to the law about Secularism and Neutrality*, furthermore he also explained the consequence if I did not comply with the rule. The rule was actually understandable, but again that was not the way I would expect. Therefore, I informed him that I could not continue working in his lab and asked the possibility to move to another university in the program consortium. Due to my request, he told me that he would contact and would deliver my issue to the local coordinator, Professor A.
At that time, my financial situation did not allow me to stay longer in Toulouse, and in the same time, my husband would fly back to Amsterdam soon, and in coincidence, I had a return ticket to Amsterdam as well (I had bought a return ticket because it was cheaper than a one-way ticket, laugh). Considering those things in mind, I discussed with Professor B. that I preferred to return back to Delft with my husband while waiting the news from him. He said that it would be okay, and he said that he would take care the issue and would inform me as soon as he got the news, so I did not need to contact the coordinator neither the international office regarding the issue. After heard that, I felt a bit relieved.
March, 17 2013
I arrived safely and sound at Delft with my family.
March, 21 2013
It had been a week since I met Professor B. for the last time, but I did not hear anything from him, so I wrote to him an email in which I asked my status in the program; whether I could move to another university or not. As a courtesy, I was waiting his email for a week, yet I still did not hear anything from him.
March, 27 2013
As I did not get news from Professor B., I wrote an email to the program coordinator, Professor D., regarding my status again.
Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 9:24 AM
To: Professor D.
Cc: Professor B.; Professor A.
Dear Professor D.,
I hope that this email finds you in the best of health.
I am writing to you regarding my status in EUDIME program.
You might be already informed by Professor B. or Professor A. that I can not continue to work and study in their laboratory (Lab. De Genie Chimique, University Paul Sabatier, my host university) due to a particular rule, regarding the veil, that I can not comply with.
I would like to ask, when can I be informed about the decision, whether it is possible for me to move to another university to continue the program or not?
For your information, I am staying in the Netherlands and only legal to stay here until the end of April. So, it is very important for me to know my status earlier in order to plan for the next step.
I hope that you understand my situation.
I am looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Eki Listya Rini
March, 28 2013
I got a reply from Professor D.
Thu, Mar 28, 2013 at 3:34 AM
Cc: Professor A.
Dear Ms.Eki Listya Rini
I have been informed on the situation days ago and we where trying to solve the problem by asking you on the possibility to have a
different home University.But I have been also informed that you left the country for going back with no other information.I am now very surprise with your message.I will check the situation and I will let you know.
NO OTHER INFORMATION. What it meant? I was VERY surprised as well. All of a sudden, I felt something went wrong.
April, 2 2013
I received an email from Professor D.
Tue, Apr 2, 2013 at 11:23 AM
Cc: All the professors in the program consortium
Dear Eki Listya Rini
I have to inform you on the situation.
When you left the University of Toulouse, we understood you were going back to your Country and you were not more interested on the EUDIME Doctorate grant. The deadline for not loosing the grant was March 31 st
We informed immediately of the situation the EACEA supervisor in Brussels and decided to try to have one of your colleagues in the pending list covering the left position.
We had to do all this action very fast and we have been able to cover the position left just in time before March 31 st.
I am very sorry for the situation. If, as I hope, you are still interested in the EUDIME Doctorate, you can apply again at the next call. We will be aware of the past experience and I, all my colleagues with your collaboration, will take care to identify the best University for carrying on your Doctorate.
I am sure you will understand the situation.
All my best regards.
I was VERY surprised. What was going on?
The email made me teared up. I was confused. Sad. Disappointed. Did I do anything wrong? I needed an explanation.
April, 3 2013
The news was shocking for me. I really did not understand the situation. I was dismissed without any notification neither a clarification, how come? So, I wrote this email.
Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 8:00 AM
To: Professor D.
Cc: All professors in the program consortium
Dear Professor D.,
This is a very surprising and disappointing news for me.
I would like to deliver some concerns and to clarify this issue as I think that there is miss-information and this is an unjust resolution:
- I have never intended to resign, neither orally norin written, from EUDIME Program. Otherwise, I would not have written an email to you and asked my status in the program.
- It is not true that I left the University of Paul Sabatier without any information. I left the university after I had discussed my situation to the host professor. He mentioned that the issue would be delivered to the consortium, and I did not need to contact you directly. Later, I would be informed for the resolution. However, I did not hear anything from him even after I wrote to him again, therefore I wrote an email to you last week.
- I returned to the Netherlands because that was the best resolution based on my financial situation (my husband is living in Netherlands until 28 April 2013) while waiting for the resolution from the consortium about the possibility of moving to another university.
- Shouldn’t it be any clarification regarding this issue from my side prior to handing over the grant or, at least informing me that I exempted from the program by email?
- This issue, however, has caused financial loss on my side as for the moving, and time loss and psychological effect as well. Therefore, I would like to know whowill cover my moving cost (transportation and accommodation in Toulouse) because this is not my fault.
I believe that you understand my concerns above.
I am looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Eki Listya Rini
April, 5 2013
After sending a gentle reminder to Professor D., finally, I got a reply email from him.
Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 12:47 PM
Dear Ms Eki Listya Rini
Referring to your messages of April 3rd and of March 27th, I have to inform you that for this
third (it is supposed to be second actually) EUDIME call your name has been removed from the candidate list afteryour departure from Toulouse. We analysed with great attention the situation, but it has been impossibleto have an alternative mobility solution for you.With March 31 st, 2013, all the candidates must have signed their contract agreement with the host University.
I wish to suggest you to consider the possibility to apply again to the next EUDIME call which will beopen in few months.
I am very sorry for the situation, however I have to remind you that is the responsibility of the candidates to consider all the aspects of the EUDIME call and of the European and National employment rules to be respected
during the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate programme.
With my best regards.
April, 8 2013
The reply email above was not satisfying for me. None of Professor D.’s reply addressed my concerns. Driven by spirit of justice (ahem!), after had discussed this issue with EACEA officer in Jakarta, I wrote an email to EACEA supervisor for EUDIME Program in Brussels.
April, 23 2013
I got an email from EACEA supervisor. The EACEA supervisor’s email was basically the same as email from Professor D, none of my concerns was resolved. Regarding the reimbursement of the moving cost I spent (I did need the reimbursement since it was quite a big amount), I wrote again to Professor D. as below.
Wed, Apr 24, 2013 at 6:49 AM
To: Professor D.
Cc: Professor A., EACEA supervisor
Dear Professor D.,
I enrolled in the EUDIME Program with a great expectation as it is organized by the EMS and distinguished professors in Membrane area in EU.
At this point, however, I wish to express my dissatisfaction as I was dismissed from the program without any notification nor confirmation from my side prior to the dismissal. Based on all the correspondence with you and EACEA, with all due respect, there are some facts you have not considered on resolving this case.
I understand that the situation is complicated, at the same time, I wish that you also understand that the dismissal has caused psychological effect and financial loss on my side.
- I request the reimbursement of the moving cost that I had spent, which was around 2100 Euros (for visa, accommodation and transportation).
- I recommend that you and the team consider to publish the restriction of expression of belief/religion in your site in order to make any particular applicant aware of the rule/law.
I hope that you will grant my request and take care my recommendation as it is important to maintain the reputation of the Erasmus Mundus program, particularly the EUDIME program.
This thing made me exhausted, emotionally and mentally. If my email above was not answered, I would give on. Perhaps, this was the end of my Erasmus Mundus journey. There is no possible way I could pursue the program again, someone has filled the grant. About the reimbursement, my husband had actually gave up the money (yes, he is such a generous), although I would not (what a stubborn!). So, I just kept praying.
Then, I received this email.
Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 1:07 PM
Cc: Professor A., EACEA supervisor
Dear Eki Listya Rini
I read the various messages. I had long conversation also with Professor A. I cannot add more to what I wrote already few days ago and to what has been written to you from the EACEA. However considering the facts and the circumstances we decided to try to reimburse you the travelling and living expenses related to your journey to Toulouse for starting the EUDIME program. Assuming the positive and good wills of all the parties involved, the possibility of a misunderstanding has been considered in this decision. I will appreciate if you will send to Prof. A and to myself copies of the travelling documents necessary and the Bank coordinates for the reimbursement.As I wrote you I hope your interest to the EUDIME doctorate school is still valid and my personal suggestion is to apply again at the next call.
My best regards and wishes
Thanks, God! At least, I got one good news, even though the big questions are still not answered. Why I did not receive any notification and/or clarification before the dismissal and what was the missing link will be mystery for me. Forever.
This is hard. I was confused, sad, and disappointed at the same time. Tough time for me, indeed. Yet this experience has many massages for me.
I could not judge that this issue came up because of unprofessional action. However, I do learn that in any kind of problem, do check or clarify to get a right information. Aren’t those things we have been so familiar with and we do in school or some part of a research? Information can be missed, misunderstood, and even corrupted. Checking or clarifying can eliminate simple to fatal errors, so it should also be applied in real life for resolving any kind of problem, isn’t it?
I was so naive (and out-dated, sigh) as I did not know about the restriction of expression of belief or religion in France*. Was I wrong because I did not know about that? In my opinion, it is not appropriate to expect others should know about everything. Definitely not.
I stayed in the Netherlands for more than a year and worked for a research for three months; so far everything was fine with me, I had no bad experience at all because of the veil I am wearing. Adding to that experience, as far as I know, Erasmus Mundus program also promotes equality and against any form of discrimination. With that information in mind, I never expected to experience something bad with Erasmus Mundus.
That’s why I wrote this story and recommended to the program coordinator and EACEA supervisor to publish the law (restriction of veil or the likes) in their sites in order to make any (particular) future candidates aware of it. I remember one thing from my master school in Saudi Arabia. Before I came to the country, the international office (I guess) handed us a guide book about the culture, law, and dress. It was so helpful because we had knew in advance what we should expect when we came to the country. Referring to my case, a guide about European law or etc will be so much useful in any case. **
For my Muslim brothers and sisters who want to study in Europe, kindly get informed (the right information), not only about the academic things but also the environment and others. I saw, heard, and experienced that in Delft and nearby, praying in the office, class, park or even gas station will still be possible (although those are very rare), but what I heard from my friends that in Toulouse praying should be only done in a specific place such as mosque or your room, so praying in the office is a big no – no. Yes, some things could be very different from one country to another!
To sum up, this story is not meant to discourage people from applying for the Erasmus Mundus program (not at all! in fact, it is still a nice option) or to discredit the people I mentioned in this story. I was motivated to share this story because I believe it has lessons-learnt. If you think that this story is worthwhile to be shared because of the messages, feel free to share it!
After experience this thing, I just keep remembering my self of what a friend of mine saying after she heard my story; everything. happens. for. a. reason.
* Below is what Professor B. told me about the law of Secularism and Neutrality (I copied from a document he gave to me, I quote this law intentionally in France in order to avoid misinterpretation, you can check in Google Translate if you like)
Conformément à la Circulaire du Premier ministre N°5209 du 13 avril 2007 relative à la Charte de la laïcité dans les services publics, il en ressort que la liberté de conscience qui est garantie aux agents publics, trouve sa limite :
→ dans l’intérêt du service : les agents publics « bénéficient d’autorisations d’absence pour participer à une fête religieuse, sous réserve qu’elle soit compatible avec les nécessités du fonctionnement normal du service » ;
→ dans le principe de neutralité du service public. Le respect de ce principe est ainsi expressément imposé à tout agent public dans ses rapports avec autrui : « Tout agent public a un devoir de stricte neutralité. Il doit traiter également toutes les personnes et respecter leur liberté de conscience » ;
→ mais également dans les modalités d’expression même de cette liberté de conscience : « le fait, pour un agent public, quelles que soient ses fonctions, de manifester dans l’exercice de ces dernières ses croyances religieuses, notamment en portant un signe destiné à marquer son appartenance à une religion, constitue un manquement à ses obligations professionnelles et donc une faute ».
Le respect des principes de laïcité de l’Etat et de neutralité des services publics impose donc aux agents publics de ne pas extérioriser, dans le cadre de l’exercice de leurs fonctions, leurs convictions religieuses. Il appartient aux responsables des services publics de faire respecter l’application du principe de laïcité dans l’enceinte de ces services.Toute manifestation de conviction religieuse dans le cadre du service est interdite et le port de signes religieux l’est aussi. Il convient toutefois de mettre en exergue le fait que de manière générale, les signes religieux ne sont prohibés que pour autant qu’ils revêtent un caractère ostentatoire ou revendicatif.
Peuvent ainsi être portés discrètement sans qu’il soit porté atteinte aux principes de laïcité et de neutralité des services publics, des médailles, des croix catholiques ou huguenotes, croissants, mains de fatma ou encore étoiles de David.
** I just got an update from EACEA officer in Jakarta that they already recommended the EACEA Brussels to publish the restriction of veil in their website and to inform the Muslim women awardees to check this rule before the departure (What a good thing! Thanks!)