It’s sometimes hard/conflicting to live in exile...
Peter Barrer: Give the Students a Voice
PETER BARRER has been teaching at the Department of British and American Studies at Comenius University, Bratislava, since September 2009. He holds a Ph.D. in Slavic studies and is currently examining the state's potential role in promoting Slovak popular culture as a part of the CESIUK team. He comes from New Zealand and speaks Slovak fluently.
Who is your all-time favorite singer/performer?
I quite like Slovak music, so I listen to a lot of Slovak punk music - particularly Horkýže Slíže at the moment. That would probably be my favorite ‘cos they are funny and I like funny things. There is also a great group from New Zealand called the Flight of the Conchords, who have a show on HBO. So, I like music with humor. But when I was growing up, it was more mainstream rock bands like Guns’n’Roses, Nirvana and U2.
What book(s) are you reading now?
At the moment I am reading a book by Bill Bryson, who is a well-known travel writer. But he has written on other things too, like the English language. He is particularly good at pointing out the differences between different English-speaking cultures. He has written on America, Great Britain and how peculiar the people of those countries are. I am reading through his book on Australia and it is incredibly funny. It’s called In a Sunburnt Country.
What one word comes to your mind when I say…?
Ice- Actually, the first thing that comes to mind when you say ‘ice’ (although this is nothing about me personally) is methamphetamine (pervitín) because in my last job I was a customs officer. ‘Ice’ is a slang term for methamphetamine, but I never found any.
Student community- I associate that with my previous university more than this one. Campus really, but we don’t have much of a campus here and all these sorts of clubs, protests, leaders, various student leaders… generally quite a positive thing.
Future- Uncertain, but probably here in Bratislava.
Translating- Difficult. A lot harder than it looks at first sight.
If you knew that tomorrow you were going to be left to live alone on a deserted island, what three things would you take with you?
Well, I’d need something to read. Yeah, it doesn’t need to be a big book, but quite an interesting book. Maybe some sort of a big history of the world in the 20th century? I’d need a big book like that to pass the time. What else…probably a keg of beer, but I think that on a deserted island it would get a bit hot, so the beer would spoil and it wouldn’t be any fun. Maybe if I wanted to get off the island earlier, I would take a mirror so that I could attract airplanes flying by. I would make signals by using the sun’s light and shout, “Help! Help!”
If your fairy godmother gave you three wishes to change three things at our university, what would your wishes be?
Firstly, we would need to give the students more freedom in what they study so that you’re not stuck with very limited options of subjects.
Secondly, there should be perhaps fewer subjects taught, but they need to be taught in more detail, so that students do more in-depth research rather than having fifteen or so subjects for two credits, which, to my mind, is quite ridiculous.
And the third thing would be to see the students have some sort of a voice, whereby they state quite vocally their pleasure or displeasure with certain aspects of the university’s administration, because it seems to me that the things here are done a little bit like “o vás bez vás”, without your involvement, so a bit more of student involvement in how things are run.
It would be a student association where the students can negotiate with the university’s administration or even with the Ministry of Education. Obviously there are many complaints. I would also change student life, not all of which is the fault necessarily of the department of the university, but I think that students definitely need a voice. So that these concerns, the students’ concerns, are not just left as individual complaints by individual students, which are quickly forgotten. It would be a sort of a voice by an association which has members, which has some parliament or some legitimate representation: “We are the student body and we want some changes to the credit system or changes to which subjects we have to take and we don’t have to take.” It could be anything. And also obviously money, we need money; we need lots of money to run the faculty, to run the department, ’cos I don’t see any money around here.
Can you tell us a joke or your favorite quotation?
Let me tell you a quotation because most of the jokes that come to mind are a bit rude or they end up offending Australians or some other nationality. That’s not really appropriate humor, I’m afraid. (laughs) My favorite quotation: the first one that comes to mind is probably the title of the autobiography of Alexander Dubček Hope Dies Last (in English) - Nádej zomiera posledná in Slovak. I think it is a pretty good outlook on life and Dubček, for instance, had to wait quite a long time before he experienced freedom again, but he did, and I think it is always better to look on things optimistically rather than pessimistically. That’s my sort of outlook on life, though I have actually heard that pessimists are apparently just as happy as optimists. I like the idea that hope dies last though. You can be watching your football team lose 2:0 with only five minutes to play, but you still know that the tables can turn, ‘cos once in a while they do, and you end up with a draw or even win.
Interview and photo: Katarína Koreňová