Studying in a Melting Pot
It was for the seventh time when, on 1 July 2012, Prof. Dr. Neuper, Rector of the University of Graz and Bishop Dr. Kapellari officially opened the ”International Summer School Seggau (ISSS)“.
Primarily intended to foster a dialogue between young students from the old and the new Member States of the EU. The project has throughout these years become a forum where questions concerning the European Union, its policy and its impact on other parts of the world are discussed by an international group of scholars – young and old – coming from countries far beyond the European borders. This year the Summer School welcomed, amongst others. Students from Azerbaidjan, from other Central-Asian Republics, from Russia, from China and from Southern Africa – the RSA and Namibia and two lecturers from Canada.
The topic of this year’s ISSS –”Leadership and Education. The Future of Europe?“ drew the attention of the participants to the questions: to what extent could the European crisis be understood as a crisis of political leadership – a crisis that touches the heart of the system of Western democracy? How big is the impact on other parts of the world? What are possible solutions? What role has education – academic education – to play and: is education itself not under threat due to increasing ‘economicisation’ of all parts of society? What can young academics do about all this and – can religion and one’s personal faith and values play a crucial role?
Those questions were discussed extensively during the two weeks of lectures and seminars on – to give a short overview: ”Different concepts of leadership and unity in Europe“, ”European values“,”Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism and the Malaise of Modernity“,”The spiritual roots of European Leadership“ and”How Cameron went to Oxford and Obama went to Harvard – Education, social reproduction and leadership“.Following the lectures and seminars there was ample time for debate and discussion and apparently the above-mentioned questions can not be confined to Europe or the western hemisphere: they are of key-importance for the next generation globally.
In addition to the current topic of the ISSS, the Executive Committee has been busy discussing if and how the continuation of the Summer School would make sense and what kind of conditions need to be met to be able to continue. Both the university and the Diocese of Graz-Seckau stressed their intention to continue this project and to guarantee its material base for the next two years. As important as their commitment is the acceptance of the ISSS by the students.
One of this year’s students from Southern Africa – Makwena Seshoka from the Republic of South Africa – summarised her experiences during the ISSS 2012 using a metaphor from her own culture: cooking a meal in a cast iron food pot (called potjie in Afrikaans). The following lines are hers:
”…The idea of a potjiekos came to me in the opening ceremony, where the purpose of the Summer School was officially unveiled to the participants. My initial thought was, “this gathering looks and feels like a potjie”. ‘Potjiekos’ (literally meaning pot food) has been part of South Africa’s culture for many centuries.
Why Potjiekos? The Seggau Castle is like a cast iron pot, perched at the top of the hill surrounded by walls to keep activities of the castle closed out from the general public. However, from time to time, the castle allows the “steam” out to interact with the outside world (excursions), and also allow the public to interact with the inhabitants of the castle (experts, visitors, visiting lecturers). The pots are used to cook tender roasts and stews, mixed with different vegetables and minimal herbs and spices (hearty and wholesome meals). The pot also retains the steam inside instead of escaping through the lid. The two weeks of passionate lectures, intense debates, disagreements, differences, signify the ingredients that make a successful potjie. The period is also the time for young leaders to let ideas and issues simmer in a “melting pot” that is the Seggau Castle, only to be released for the world to receive what could be a potentially well prepared “meal” coming from the symbolic pot.
The history of the potjiekos and its significance in bringing people together can be likened to the history and purpose of the Summer School; “designed for internationally oriented students, who wish to deepen their understanding of current European affairs by studying and discussing different aspects of European identity and future development in the context of leadership and education”.
The success of the Summer School is dependent on different elements working together to create a spectacular learning experience for both staff and students. The following elements are considered carefully to make the experience a success. The recipe: Stimulating topics to shape current thinking and ignite debate with a view of making a difference in the respective countries. The ingredients: Recruitment and selection of active and engaging students who are able to interrogate and challenge the status quo. The pot: A great venue to stimulate mind, body and soul. The chefs: Lecturers who encourage debate and facilitate learning. Support Staff and the fire: Great team to keep it all together efficiently. In the end I came to learn, I was transformed. I expected to meet people, I made friends. I anticipated lectures, I received challenges.
It has been one of the most rewarding times of my life. One never stops learning. I’m taking away a lot of colourful memories, great friends, inspiring thoughts and skills that I will certainly use in my career as a facilitator of learning ! A thank you to everybody involved in this magnificent opportunity. May Europe rise to splendour !“
Michael Kuhn COMECE
Audrey Makwena Seshoka, Stellenbosch University, South Africa