Once upon a Hill...or the Roots of the Student Conference on Inter-American Studies
What to do in summer? Where to go and what to see? How to adjust to ‘normal’ life again after spending a term in the wonderland of Lisbon? Some would say one should go to the mountains, enjoy one’s free time, and do nothing but rest. Well, attractive, but not my cup of tea.
Searching on the Internet took ages, but it resulted in a great find: the International Summer School on the Americas organized by the University of Graz and held in the wonderful Seggau Castle, a well-known conference centre situated on a hill overlooking the city of Leibnitz, amidst the vineyards of Southern Styria, Austria. After a term spent in the Portuguese-speaking world, I found it a great opportunity to get in touch with the English-speaking one, gain new knowledge about the Western Hemisphere and find a link between the countries whose languages and cultures are at the centre of my studies.
The International Summer School on the Americas is an annual event for which any student interested in Inter-American Studies can apply. The application requires two letters of recommendation, a motivation letter and a transcript of records. The summer school takes two weeks and each student chooses one seminar in which he/she will actively participate. In order to maximize efficiency, each participant receives the reading materials for his/her seminar before the start of the summer school and is asked to read them in advance. It is necessary for all the participants to be able to take a stand on the discussed topic, and reading the materials beforehand is, therefore, compulsory. For example, students in the Identity Seminar are expected to familiarize themselves with terms such as colonial discourse, dislocation or hybridity, because already on the very first day they will analyze a theory formulated by Gloria Anzaldùa in La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness.
The programme of the summer school offers plenty of thematic seminars and plenary sessions that focus on the interdisciplinary analysis of new conceptual approaches to a redefinition of the Americas in times of globalization. In the course of the summer school, the Americas are explored from the perspective of literature, film and society, identity and culture, economics and politics. What is particularly enriching about the summer school is that it allows students to connect their fields of study with others which are essential for understanding the Western Hemisphere.
The programme surpasses even the highest expectations. Morning plenary sessions broaden your horizons and you also realize that, for instance, economics has its human face or that the identity problem on the Mexico-US border has a wider background than just purely cultural. Thanks to afternoon seminars, you gain a deep insight into the chosen topic and the multicultural composition of classes provides you with fresh perspectives.
Another plus of the summer school is that it lets you meet people from all over the world. In addition to being from different parts of the world, participants are from different fields of study and of different age groups, which makes the experience even more enriching. As the days in the Seggau Castle usually finish with a glass of wine, you get a chance to continue your classroom conversations with fellow students and instructors in a more informal atmosphere or simply chat about life in different countries, cultures and on different continents.
Of course, the summer school is not all work. You can take advantage of a swimming pool on the castle grounds, do sports or enjoy a karaoke night. It is where you are likely to collect the most unforgettable memories that will make you laugh even months later.
For me, the summer school, or its effect, lasted well beyond the two weeks of instruction. It continues, for example, in my thesis on the topic of Cultural Translation: The Importance of Culture in Translation that I formulated with my lecturer during the Identity and Culture Seminar. It also motivated me to organize a student conference on Inter-American Studies here in Bratislava. It helped me understand how important links between the countries of the Americas are and that they cannot be addressed as separate units. Dealing with the countries of the Americas and relations among them from different perspectives was the main aim of the Summer School and has become the main goal of our conference. As Waldo Frank said, “We go forth all to seek America. And in the seeking we create her. In the quality of our search shall be the nature of the America that we created.”
Photos: Janka Hulová
Morning plenary sessions
Students' engagements during the sessions
Socializing and having fun