My summer at the Sommerhochschule

by Ellen Wood


It started on a Saturday. I was nervously waiting at a bus stop in Salzburg, checking my watch every 30 seconds to make sure I wouldn’t miss the bus to Strobl. I was meeting the eyes of other fresh faces thinking, are these the people I will be spending the next four weeks with? I must have been staring for a little too long, because what then followed were strange looks of concern from random strangers. But nonetheless, I heard a familiar voice, ‘Hi, do you know if this bus goes to Strobl?’. I turned around to see a tall boy with a big backpack smiling at me. He speaks English, I thought to myself. Wait, he is Australian! We started chatting and soon were joined by other excited bodies who had overheard our conversation and were also on their way to Strobl. In the first ten minutes of arriving in Salzburg I had already met an Australian, four Chinese, two Italians, a boy from Slovakia and a girl from Ukraine. Although we had come from places all around the world, at that very moment, we had one thing in common, WE WERE GOING TO SOMMERHOSCHULE! And little did we know, we were about to begin the very best month of our lives!  

Girl on an air mattress on the lake

© Ellen Wood

Firstly, let’s talk about the campus in Strobl. The campus itself was beyond my expectations. The rooms where we stayed were perfect for what we needed. The meals were always of a high standard and the staff really did look after us so well. The campus is positioned next to Lake Wolfgang, a gloriously clear blue lake. I spent every single afternoon in the lake relaxing, playing, windsurfing and paddle boarding, or simply chilled out with friends at the boathouse. Ahhhh… the times we spent at the boathouse are memories I will really cherish. From early morning yoga sessions, to afternoon paddles into the sunset. One night, we ordered a whole bunch of pizza and ate and swam and drunk all night. Another night there was a meteor shower and we all cuddled up together on the deck and watched the shooting stars until 2am, sharing stories and talking about the universe.

Couple in elegant clothes on wooden pier with lake in the background

© Ellen Wood

The extra curricular activities were brilliant. Windsurfing classes were offered in the first two weeks where I proved to myself that I could actually windsurf (albeit very badly). Tennis classes were held in the latter half of the program. Both activities were SO MUCH FUN! Throughout the whole month volleyball and soccer games were regular afternoon activities, and a table tennis tournament was organised that showcased our competitive sides. Every weekend there was something organised to allow us to explore the beautiful area around us, including day trips to new places, and hikes up some pretty amazing spots (to give you the best view in Austria!). Something I especially loved were the dancing classes; before long I was waltzing like a pro and had the opportunity to show off my new dancing skills at the Midsummer Night’s Ball (oh what a glorious night!). We were also very fortunate to have a Chamber Concert organised for us: we all got dressed up, had a glass or two of champagne, and were happily serenaded by a string ensemble all night long.

Three Girls in front of green landscape

© Ellen Wood

In the sense of education, it was extraordinary. The courses I took were extremely relevant to current world issues and the professors were all so passionate. I was motivated to learn as much as possible and I truly gained a real interest in examining this world. Honestly, I have rarely felt so stimulated, determined and challenged in class discussions, and because you’re encouraged to consider all perspectives, having a cohort consisting of over 30 different nationalities made this learning experience such a unique one. I don’t think I’ll ever come across a place of learning where I have felt so comfortable, surrounded by great and loyal friends, where all prejudices are pushed aside and new cultures are discovered.

Most importantly, what really made this program for me were the people. The Sommerhochschule staff (the organisers, administrators and professors) are not only mentors, but friends. I have no words to explain how hard they worked and how much they invested into making this the best experience possible, only that I am extremely grateful for every little thing they did for us. My fellow students are the most beautiful people I have ever met. I formed friendships that I believe will last infinitely. I shared special moments with them; I sung and danced with them; I studied with them; I laughed and cried with them.

Group of cheering students on a wooden pier with lake and mountains in the background

© Ellen Wood

The program is so special because it attracts like-minded people from all over the world. And living together for a month learning about the world in this serene Austrian lake-spot really was a dream come true! If you’re reading this now, I hope I can convince you to apply for Sommerhochschule. Honestly, it was the best experience of my life! I feel more aware of the world I live in. I feel more informed, yet thirsty to learn more. I feel very blessed to have met such wonderful people. And I feel more aware of myself, too. This experience has helped me grow and develop into a passionate human being who cares for this world and who wants to make it better, and Sommerhochschule has shown me that this comes first from understanding, then from action. I am going to chase another experience like this but I know I’ll never come across something remotely similar. The Sommerhochschule is one of a kind!


Ellen Wood (Australia), 2015


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