The International Summer School – a place of change
For the ninth time in a row, COMECE has helped to organise the “Graz International Summer School Seggau” (GUSEGG) in Austria. The main theme of this year’s event was ‘transformation’.
It has now become a tradition for COMECE to run, together with the University of Graz and the Diocese of Graz-Seckau, a Summer School during the first two weeks in July for young people interested in international affairs. This year, as in previous years, around a hundred students and professors from 26 different countries and 50 universities came together once more at Seggau Castle, the former Episcopal See in the midst of the beautiful Styrian countryside, to spend two weeks examining questions of European and global importance at academic level. The main emphasis of this year’s Summer School was “Transformation and Change: Europe and beyond”.
My experiences as a participant
I had the privilege of experiencing the Summer School from a participant’s perspective. As I found out later through talking to other participants, I was not the only one who felt at the beginning of the event that the aspects which (at first sight) divide us and distinguish us from each other sit at the forefront of our perception. However, we all came from different corners of not only Europe (EU and non-EU countries) but of the entire world, from countries such as South Africa, USA, Mexico and Russia. Some of these countries have waged war against each other in the past or are doing so even now. We came from differing traditions with different religious convictions and ideologies, linguistic cultures and socio-economic backgrounds.
In her speech of welcome, the Director of the Summer School, Prof. Roberta Maierhofer, had already warned us to prepare ourselves for an experience of transformation and change during the ensuing days. What followed was an intensive academic programme consisting of lectures and seminars specialising in particular areas. Through exchanging views and ideas with renowned experts, we had opportunities to learn about different ways of experiencing change: from the world of media, to migration, religious conversions and economic developments, as well as ageing and demographic change.
The political transformation processes in Europe were examined from different perspectives in a panel discussion with high-ranking guests, including the Rev. Patrick Daly, COMECE General Secretary, who spoke about European integration from the viewpoint of the Church.
One important element of the Seggau Summer School that distinguishes it from normal courses and lectures at a university is the emphasis on interactivity. After every lecture and during each seminar, there was plenty of scope for discussion and intellectual exchange of views. The students were motivated to examine stimulating topics in a creative and interdisciplinary way and share their ideas with others. The teamwork and mutual cooperation among the students, and between students and the professors, also carried on beyond the official lecture times during meals and excursions as well as during sports and other leisure activities.
In particular, the personal encounters and testimonies contributed by the participants made the Summer School a unique place to feel the pulse of change, i.e. of personal change. In addition to acquiring scientific and academic knowledge that will certainly be important for our future career paths, I – and I believe also the others attending the Summer School – experienced a change in our thinking and perception. Our horizons were broadened. What at the beginning we had regarded as being divisive eventually enriched us personally and built bridges between us. We came to the Summer School as individual people and left as a group of friends.
An important matter for the Church
For Michael Kuhn, COMECE Summer School coordinator, this is also precisely the reason why collaboration in this project is an important matter for the Church. As Bishop Egon Kapellari, Diocesan Bishop of Graz, emphasised during the opening of GUSEGG 2014, it is necessary “to offer young people extensive education and training that not only imparts technical and economic skills but, rather, also knowledge that relates to the heritage of human sciences and the humanities so as to enable young people to make a substantial contribution to a vibrant and humane society through the development of humanist values and virtues.” A call that the Seggau Summer School fully endorses.
Translated from the original text in German