PhD Postcard from Romania

Timisoara, Romania

Opera house in Timisoara, Romania

By Sara Pilgreen, Social Welfare PhD candidate

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting my current research at the well-respected EMES European Network of Scholars conference in Timisoara Romania from June 29 through July 2, 2014. There were 35 doctoral students from 19 countries and 17 faculty scholars representing 12 countries. This conference, focusing specifically on Social Entrepreneurship, Solidarity Economy, and the Social Economy, was an ideal platform for me to learn about the European perspective of such issues that pertain specifically to my own research, which focuses on the role of social entrepreneurship within high-poverty, high-minority neighborhoods of South Los Angeles.

I arrived to Timisoara, Romania at 6am from an overnight bus coming from Salzburg, Austria. The journey, which took 16 hours, departed from Salzburg at 3:15pm on Saturday, June 29 and included border crossings of Slovakia, Hungary, then on to Romania. Although exhausted, I thankfully had plenty of time to rest at the prearranged accommodations in the University of Timisoara dormitories before starting the conference activities. The dorms were quite small but functional – each room had two twin beds, one small TV, a toilet and shower, along with a mini refrigerator and hot plate. The part of the city where the campus is located is very much a college town. A few streets lined with cafes, bars, fast food, and money exchange shops (in Romania they use the Leu (singular) about 3 Lei (plural) to $1; in another perspective 1 beer = $1).

Timisoara, a city of around 311,000 (Romania has just over 21 million people, the capital is Bucharest) has an interesting recent history. An uprising in December 1989 against the communist regime sparked the Romanian Revolution that resulted in over 1,000 deaths and the end of communism for the state one week later. The first shots were fired from the opera house (pictured above) and most of the deaths happened at the doors of the Romania’s tallest cathedral (pictured below), located a few blocks from the opera house. Both sites are located less than a mile from the campus and I was thankful to be able to learn about the rich history of the area while I was getting to know my new colleagues.

Pilgreen and colleagues in front of Romania's tallest cathedral.

Pilgreen and colleagues in front of Romania’s tallest cathedral.

On Sunday July 30, the conference began with a group lunch followed by an opening plenary session where all in attendance introduced themselves and their particular areas of research. That night we had a group dinner at a local restaurant and retired early in anticipation of the next day’s events. The following three days were jam packed with faculty presentations to small group breakout sessions. Each day began with breakfast at 8:30am and concluded with dinner around 9pm. The small groups were pre-selected and comprised of five doctoral students and two to three faculty members from around the world, all of whom are part of the EMES network of scholars. Our group’s research projects focused on social entrepreneurship within marginalized/minority populations using qualitative methods. In my group, the other four students were from Canada, Germany, Spain, and Mexico. The three faculty professors (from Finland, Italy, and Romania) helped to facilitate the group discussion as well as provide personalized feedback during each of our 75-minute presentations of our individual research projects.


Pilgreen with colleagues from Canada, Germany, Spain and Mexico with professors from Finland, Italy and Romania.

Throughout the 4-day conference, I participated in numerous intellectually stimulating conversations about the meaning and role of social entrepreneurship from a European perspective. Further, because we had group breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, along with some cultural activities built in, I was able to build relationships, create professional contacts, and expand networking opportunities from peers and scholars within the EMES network. All in all those doctoral students who have an interest in any of the SE Pillars (Social Entrepreneurship, Solidarity Economy, Social Economy) should definitely join the EMES network and perhaps come with me to next year’s conference in Helsinki, Finland! Time to continue my travels as I head to the islands of Croatia before heading home to Los Angeles, California.

*A special thanks to Luskin’s Dean Gilliam and the Department of Social Welfare for their financial support enabling me to attend this conference.

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