More than 200 students from 20 U.S. institutions converged on Innsbruck this summer, marking the 41st UNO-Innsbruck International Summer School in Innsbruck, Austria.
This year, 219 university students availed themselves of some of the more than 30 courses offered during the five week program, July 2-Aug. 6. Class topics ranged from Alpine Geology to Sociological Perspectives of Genocide and the Holocaust, as well as basics like Cultural Anthropology, Principles of Marketing and Basic German.
Innsbruck’s central location in Europe gives students easy access to other destinations, as well as to the spectacular setting of the Alps. Business students took field trips to the BMW factory in Munich. Anthropology students visited the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Bolzano, Italy, famous for housing the Iceman, the well-preserved frozen Neolithic mummy found in 1991. Music students explored Mozart’s home town of Salzburg. And history and sociology students were among the more than 200 Innsbruck students who walked through the unforgettable Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site and viewed Hitler’s infamous Eagle’s Nest, also called The Kehlsteinhaus.
“While many of these excursions are a required part of a course, some are voluntary, and students embrace these opportunities with great interest and an appetite for learning,” said Irene Ziegler, program director for the UNO-Innsbruck International Summer School.
Rita Prigmore, a Holocaust survivor, served as a guest speaker, sharing her story to a lecture hall packed with students.
In addition to getting an intimate look at the history of the Holocaust, World War II and its impact on postwar Europe, students also got a first-hand glimpse of the impact of the recent migration of refugees across Europe over the past year due to people fleeing conflict and violence in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other war-torn regions.
Students attended a panel discussion on the European migration, during which panelists shed light on this topic from a legal perspective and more practical implications. But they also reached out to some of the refugees themselves, holding a student-initiated candy drive to help children in one refugee home celebrate breaking the fast at the end of Ramadan.
“The children were clearly delighted by all the candy,” said Robert Dupont, UNO-Innsbruck academic director, “yet I was impressed with their restraint and politeness.”
Following their visit to the home, Dupont initiated a fundraiser to help the home purchase much needed baby supplies. Some of the students then delivered the funds and met with several of the school-aged refugees for a little English conversation, a language most of them are studying in addition to learning German.
Ohoyo Taylor, a UNO accounting major attending the summer program on the new Carl and Cathy Wagner Award, said she was moved by the encounter and struck by the similarities between the UNO-Innsbruck students and the children in the home. The kids said they liked candy, sports, sleep, Justin Bieber and ice cream—all interests that Taylor and her classmates could relate to. “They are just like us striving to learn, see the world, and be happy and free on earth,” Taylor said.
Summer school students also met with local politicians and representatives of the city of Innsbruck, the official partner city to New Orleans, gathering in the Old Town Hall of Innsbruck.
Kayla Demma, a senior in UNO’s Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration program and recipient of the Mayor of Innsbruck Scholarship to attend the UNO-Innsbruck program, said she enjoyed talking with the local leaders about the refugee crisis, education, budgets, tourism and more.
“They didn’t hold back from anything we asked,” Demma said, “and we were all so intrigued by how their government differs from ours back home in the States.”
Students participating in the five-week UNO-Innsbruck program gained six credit hours to apply toward their degrees. But, most importantly, said Ziegler are the more intangible benefits that come from experiencing world travel.
“The desire of the program administrators, teachers, and many supporters is that the students will have also gained a better knowledge of the world and others,” Ziegler said. “Maybe some of the students will not only have gotten out of their comfort zone for a few weeks, but maybe they will have succeeded in expanding their comfort zones for the rest of their lives."