Wow, having been selected for the summer school was very exciting! My destination: Austria. Even though I have been to Austria before this was in a completely different area. The University of Graz hosted the summer school and we were going to be staying outside the town Leibnitz in a castle.
In the first few weeks after selection there was still tremendous amount of admin. We had to fill out more forms and re-apply for more specific seminar groups at the summer school.
Sorting out the tuition fee was also quite challenging, my advice would definitely be to not leave that too late, as international bank transfers take some time. Also not all summer schools require a tuition payment but mine did, however the bursary we received could be used to cover the expense.
Due to the weakening of the rand, looking for affordable flights was also challenging, but in the end all the admin and stress did pay off. We found some affordable flights by Air Berlin via München.
Lisa Lotter and I decided to travel together before and after the summer school. Thus the flights via München were perfect as it allowed us to plan our trip via the train network. Our plan was to spend three days getting to Graz and after the summer school spending some time in Vienna.
The extra planning, booking of accommodation and transport did in the end mean we had to sort out more admin, but the opportunity to see more of a country was worth it!
Luckily, I didn’t need to worry about a visa! So after having sorted out the summer school admin and traveling extras, all that was left to do was the actual packing.
I decided to get myself a travel cash card from Absa, which worked well, but also needed to be done in advance.
The rest of the packing and preparation was really relaxed; I decided to travel really lightly with a large and smaller backpack. This made transportation on trains and buses much easier in Europe ass I could quickly move up and down stairs and escalators without worrying about my luggage.
The venue was amazing! A true refurnished castle! The hotel provided great meals three times a day, and I stayed in a double room with a lovely Austrian student. What was really great fun was exploring the surrounding scenery, going for early runs, swimming in the afternoon or just enjoying the true castle experience and seeing a bit of the historical rooms, chapels, galleries…
Just to quickly say how a day worked, every morning from 9:00-12:30 there was a general seminar for all 100 students. These general seminars covered various topics all related to collective identities and the discussion period allowed fro questions and comments. In the afternoon 3-6 we had our more subject specific seminars (mine was Economics and Power), generally I think the afternoon sessions were the most beneficial as they were smaller groups of 10 or so students.
In the evenings we usually had some form of an evening program, which could either be social (Karaoke, Braai, free time) or sometimes also program focused (such as seminars about the EU and international relations).
Coming from Stellenbosch, where I feel we with the international office and leadership institute have many great principles on fostering conversations and discussion, this extremely full, rigid, rigorous academic program wasn’t that effective for me. I found that it was very “school-like”. I think that instead of having so many academic lectures, we could have gained a lot from different activities that used the resource of 35 represented countries in different forms of activities, rather than a lecture approach.
Regarding the content of the academic programmer, I was selected for the economics and power seminar. In this respect, I was quite lucky. I really enjoyed the afternoon seminar groups sessions as the discussion were relevant to what I study and the international perspective gained from hearing students from other countries share their stories was great! For our Economics and Power seminar the extra preparation work or “homework” we had to complete was minimal, thus the workload was manageable. We spent a lot of time discussing the European Financial crisis and the integration between the European countries and the European Single Market. We also spent a week on development issues such as inequality, poverty and education; this section was extremely interesting as every student in the class contributed some perspective form their own countries (Russia, Nigeria, Croatia, USA, Mexico etc.).
There were so many interesting people present at the summer school and I found it particularly interesting to hear about other actual cultures, habits and behaviors. The representatives of all the Balkan nations were extremely interesting as I haven’t had the opportunity to previously spend so much time with people from such countries and that was great!
Once the two weeks were over, we spent another four days in Vienna before heading home to SA. This time in Vienna was extremely nice as I felt that after the two weeks I had a better understanding for the various cultures and people we encountered.
We even happened to run into other students from the summer school and spent some interesting time together.
Something else that struck me during our departure and on our return was that as far as countries go, ours is definitely a beautiful one! We were also told by many people that all the South Africans they had met in the past were so fun loving and full of life! This was nice to hear as the impressions of others about SA isn’t negative, rather so many people see great potential in SA and all would love to come visit and experience it for themselves.
Of course once back in SA a drastic difference that I noticed and missed was the Public Transport system, and the ease of hopping on and off to reach your destination. Food wise though I was glad to be back as we ate a lot of bread and potatoes…I just felt like some fresh fruit and veggies! Something else that I did was take along a few snacks like breakfast bars, fruit, nuts…which helped save some money the while we were travelling.
Something else I learned was that I could adapt quite easily to the other cultures and enjoyed earning about them a lot. This makes me feel more assured, as my upcoming plans are to go on a longer exchange for a year to study my Masters in England. Many of the other Summer School Students also spent time on exchange programs and studied a semester at a different university.
After the two weeks of summer school, I can definitely say there are some friendships I made that I will treasure. I am planning on visiting 2 or 3 of my summer school classmates in the upcoming year.