International Summer Program 2006

by Jennifer Clayton


If you had told me last year that I would choose to spend my summer in a classroom getting up at 7 o’clock every day and sometimes not finishing until 10:30pm, I would have informed you in no uncertain terms that you’d got the wrong person and that maybe it was time to see a doctor, for who in their right mind would do such a thing?

The answer as it turned out, was actually quite a few, 94 to be precise, coming from America, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Moldova, Bosnia, Slovakia, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Macedonia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Hungary, Austria, Italy, South Korea and even against all the odds and with a little bit of help from the College travel fund, a token Treveleyanite.

The location of this multicultural exchange was not London, Tokyo or even New York. Instead it was Strobl, a sleepy little town in the heart of ‘Sound of Music Country’, Austria. Established in 1949 the main aim of the University of Vienna’s month long ‘Sommerhochschule,’ was to restore and promote the mutual understanding and respect that existed between Austrians and Americans before the Second World War. It has an excellent academic reputation that attracts not only some of the best professors from the University of Vienna but also other leading academics and professionals.

The syllabus focuses on the Political, Economic, Legal, Social and Cultural issues surrounding ‘New Europe’, its history and its future. The month is split in half, with different courses offered in two-week sessions. The courses are assessed at the end of each of the two weeks and most grades include the marks from a written or oral exam as well as class participation.
The program also includes an excellent German course which runs for the whole month and is supplemented by ‘tutorials’ which are basically half an hour spent every day after dinner, chatting with your ‘tutor’ and four other people in your group. It’s very unlike those in Durham seeing as your tutor is one of the Austrian students who usually becomes a very good friend and the ‘chatting’ is predominately a collective effort on any German homework! Wunderbar!

Although classes did technically start at 8:30am (if you were imprudent enough to choose those courses) and the interdisciplinary seminars meant that, some days didn’t finish until 10pm, there were always two hours after lunch to be spent down on the private dock, soaking up the sunshine, swimming in the lake or learning how to windsurf with Helmut, the legendary sports instructor, who also took Tuesday evening dance classes and hiking at the weekends. This, in addition to the day trips across the lake to St Wolfgang, shopping in Salzburg and attending its annual cultural festival made for a very busy week.
Or, alternatively you could just do your own thing, especially if the sun was shining and you were rather tired after a night out at Strobl’s one and only nocturnal hotspot, “Billy’s Bar”. For, despite being a popular holiday destination for Austrian families, Strobl itself is not the liveliest of places once the sun has gone down and the spectacular scenery can no longer be seen. So, by ‘nocturnal hotspot’ I naturally mean somewhere with dimmed lights that is open after 11 o’clock, serves alcohol and has a square meter of dance floor complete with a Macedonian DJ on a laptop.

Needless to say, that my month at ‘Sommerhochschule’ was definitely an unforgettable experience and at the risk of sounding naïve I would also say that it opened my eyes to today’s world. The summer program was originally set up to help paper over the cracks of the Second World War. This year it seemed to play the same role in regards to the recent crisis in the Former Yugoslavia and Kosovo. I have to admit that it was only after studying the subject and meeting people of my own age who were Serbian or who had grown up in Kosovo, that I realized the controversy surrounding the NATO air strikes. In fact, to be perfectly honest I didn’t even know that it was NATO that had carried out those strikes and had even less of an idea of what NATO and the UN and all the other international acronyms actually meant. So, learning about the origins, functions and powers of these institutions that play such a big part on today’s international stage opened my eyes, not only to what had gone on in the last 50 years but also to what was happening now.

It is sad to admit that 60 years on from the founding session of the University of Vienna’s Sommerhochschule, the program is still concerned with the aftermath of war. It is worse still to switch on the television and see history, which we would already rather forget, unfold before you. However, at least the ‘Sommerhochschule’ and many institutions like it are doing their best to raise the awareness of today’s youth so that hopefully, eventually, this type of history will be a thing of the past.
Until then I would encourage everybody to take the opportunity to spend a month on the sunny little campus in Strobl, making friends from all over the world, perhaps learning a new language but most of all waking up and hearing the tune, to which world politics and your future will be played.


Jennifer Clayton, Great Britain, 2006