Between the 16th July and the 5th August, I’ve had a once in a lifetime experience at the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. This year’s Academy focused on the issues of Populism and Extremism in which 83 participants from over 25 different nations came together to tackle the problems. The 3-week programme consisted of engaging lectures and workshops from leading academics and industry professionals alongside a challenging group project and so much more. My stay at the Schloss Leopoldskron was an unforgettable experience.
During the first week, everyone was thrown into the deep end as we began to understand the uncertainty of populism throughout the world. One crucial element of the academy was its ability to facilitate such open and expressive conversations from people across the world including America, Mexico, Hong Kong, Lebanon and many more. It felt like anything could be spoken about with strong bonds being formed almost instantly. One example that defined this was the Human Library which allowed participants to become books which could then be checked out by readers. Leading to the most open dialogue I had ever engaged in as anything could be said with nothing being taboo.
The first week consisted of lectures and workshops from Paul Mihaildis on Civic Media Literacies, Media, Extremism & Images by Susan Moeller and Beyond Victim Hood workshop from Bournemouth University’s very own Roman Gerodimos.
It was starting to become clear what was wrong and right with populism and what tips populist leaders towards extremism. With this knowledge in hand, we were split into six groups with the aim to develop a set of plays/projects aimed at educating college students on populism and extremism. The first week of group work consisted of research to find and outline specific problems that need to be tackled on a global level. The 3 areas of research that my group focused on were; Definitions of populism and extremism in different languages, the history of populism and extremism and finally understanding why populism has become so relevant today.
To round off the first week we were taken to the beautiful Gosausee Lakes. The day led to my first ever hike which was a physically demanding challenge that took an hour and thirty minutes to complete but was worth for the amazing views. After taking the cable car back down the mountain, I cooled off in the freezing lake which was a refreshing end to the excursion.
With the weekends being ‘down time’ for participants it didn’t stop my need to explore as I set out on a day trip to Munich, Germany with several friends to get a brief feel of the city. However, when it came to Sunday, I decided it was best to rest up and re-energise for another action-packed week ahead.
The second week began with a surprise visit from Justice Anthony Kennedy who gave a brief talk before a Q&A session. It was during this week when the group work got fully into the swing of things as after lunch every day we would have 3 hours to work on our projects. With the research already completed from the first week, we had a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve. Our main two aims were to Inform and inspire college students to be more active in their communities and understand the right and wrongs of populism before it’s too late.
In the end, we decided on creating a mock political campaign that involved all 14 group members instead of doing several different and smaller plays. We divided up the workload a split into three groups which focused on writing, video production and image creation.
Once again to end the week the Academy travelled to Mauthausen Memorial Concentration camp. On a personal level, the trip was moving and overwhelming. It left me stunned and empty as I couldn’t comprehend how someone could do this to other humans. Overall, the trip was necessary to understand the cycle of extremism and genocide that needs to be broken.
When it came to the weekend this time around I ventured on the train to Vienna for the entire weekend. The two days of exploring weren’t enough time to see everything as I felt like I had only scratched the surface of what the city holds.
In the final week of the Academy, the work intensified with the need to complete our interactive story adventure of populism in 2027. Sometimes working into the early hours of the morning the team pulled together to film and edit videos, write scenarios, options and consequences for the story, create graphics, posters, gifs and infographics. The final step was to ensure every intricate detail was connected to form the overarching story. All the hard work, effort and dedication paid off as we completed the project before the deadline.
To round off the group work, everyone had to present their project to the Academy. It was amazing to see everyone’s ideas and visions come to life in such a short space of time with every piece of work being outstanding and inspiring. Being in Group 6 meant my group was the last to present, however, we did something unique in bringing our project to life. We did this by getting the audience to envision the world in 2027 with dark cinematic teaser trailers of a world in chaos combined with the characters from our news broadcast video which came onto present. Overall it led to an engaging and stand out presentation that had personality.
The final evening of the Academy was a grand banquet with all participants and faculty members in which everyone graduated from the 3-week programme. After eating a glorious 3-course meal with friends that I feel like I’ve known for a lifetime the party really started in the bierstuber. The bierstuber was the chillout area of the academy where you could have a beer and play table tennis or foosball whilst blaring out some tunes. The party, drinks and conversations carried on into the morning until it was time for everyone to head back home.
This is only a brief summary of my time at the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. It’s hard to put into words just how special this opportunity was. If you ever get the chance to apply for this or something like it, all I can say is DO IT! This Academy has been one of the best experiences of my life so far and I have no regrets.
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