Perched atop of the Frauenberg in the wooded hills of Seggauberg in southern Styria, Austria, is Schloss Seggau, a castle built in the twelfth century. From the castle, there are spectacular views of the quaint town of Leibnitz and the Sulm and Mur rivers. Every summer for the past thirteen years, this setting has hosted the Graz International Summer School, coordinated by the Center for Inter-American Studies (GUSEGG) of the University of Graz.

Last year, the school’s theme was “Radical Definitions: State – Society – Religion.” It brought together fifty-nine students and eleven lecturers, and included plenary sessions, daily lectures, four parallel seminar modules, and excursions to Graz and Maribor

This year, between July 1 and 14, the summer school will investigate “Meditating and Mediating Change: State – Society – Religion” and will include seven parallel seminar modules (more on these below). ACT’s Director, Dr. Kim Sawchuk, will facilitate ACT’s annual seminar on topics and methods within ageing studies. ACT is one of the summer school’s sponsors and has led a seminar module every summer since 2015.

The summer school is built on inclusive discussions between participants with a wide range of academic training. Undergraduate and graduate students from around the world spend full days and evenings learning, producing and sharing critical work. In the GUSEGG report from the 2017 summer school, Mark Bernheim from Miami University, Ohio, describes what it’s like to learn in such a setting:

“The Seggau School spirit is made up of openness to meet others that are not like you. I am very impressed how international the program is: there are students from countries as diverse as Trinidad & Tobago or Kosovo. The student body is very diverse, both in terms of social background and nationalities. I would describe the summer school as a being a mixture without being a melting pot. What impressed me is that participants are not trying to replicate their own country abroad. Everybody brings their experience to the program and the students are open to being challenged. Each student remains who he or she is, but together they are creating something collective in a place where most are foreign.”

ACT research assistant, Nora Lamontagne, presents her work (2017)

For two weeks, students collaborate across a range of disciplines – from economics and media studies to ageing studies and religion – while developing and sharpening a variety of academic practices and skills, including public speaking, critical academic writing, reading, interviewing, and producing media. If students elect to submit a seminar paper once the summer session has finished, they can receive credit.

The days begin early, with an optional meditation led by Dr. Michael Kuhn, who is a permanent deacon, theologian and the representative for the Commission of the Bishops Conferences of the European Community (COMECE). After the meditation, the first lecture of the day begins.

Last year, the range of lecture topics was diverse. Dr. Line Grenier’s lecture, “The working force of concepts: critical reflections on ‘memory’ and its travels,” explored how she mobilizes various conceptions of memory in her scholarly work. Dr. Roberta Maierhofer’s “Radical definitions: State – society – religion” examined the historical intersections of state, society, religion in Europe, and Dr. David Inglis’ four-part lecture series, “Europe in the Trumpo-Brexitian age; or, How to find your way out of the neo-liberal, neo-nationalist swamp,” looked at the interrelationships between Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency, while offering a historicization of cosmopolitanism across Europe and the Americas. These lectures always invite participation and discussion, giving students and other attendees the opportunity to participate in open discussions.

ACT Researcher, Dr. Line Grenier, with students during GUSEGG (2017).

Following the morning lectures, seminar modules run for three hours each afternoon and are comprised of small groups, which means plenty of engagement between students and lecturers. In 2017, the ACT seminar, called “(Re)configuring age and ageing: Critical mediations in critical times,” covered a range of topics, debates and methods in ageing studies. It was taught by Dr. Line Grenier (Université de Montréal) and Dr. David Madden (Concordia University). It considered age and ageing as key concepts whose definitions effect how, “in today’s networked societies marked by the proliferation of digitally mediated communications often deemed the purview of the young, issues that pertain to the social exclusion/inclusion of an increasingly older population and the development of ethical intergenerational relations are articulated in public discourses and policies.”

Students and instructors who participated in the ACT module (2017)

In 2017, ACT incorporated hands-on media production training into the second week of its seminar module. The themes that had been covered in the first week of the class – “Ageing in public,” “Materialities of ageing,” “Ageing as a normative category” – were explored through the production of digital media capsules. Students collaborated in groups of three to four to create the media capsules through sound recording, photography and audio-visual editing, as well as semi-structured interview techniques. On the final day of class, students presented their work and articulated how their various projects related to ageing studies.

In addition to a rigorous academic program, the school offers a lively social program during the evenings and on the weekend. In 2017, students enjoyed excursions to Graz and Maribor and a guided tour through the Seggau Castle. During breaks, students can use the recreation facilities, which include a large outdoor swimming pool, volleyball courts, and a soccer field. Students can also enjoy game nights, karaoke and long evenings of thoughtful discussions. And no visit to the Seggau Castle would be complete without a wine tasting in the castle’s 300 year old wine cellar.

Students playing volleyball at Seggau.

Summer school participants (2017)

GUSEGG is a unique opportunity for students to broaden their horizons and delve into topics they may not otherwise encounter. To learn more about the school, visit GUSEGG’s website, watch these videos, or read accounts of student experiences at GUSEGG. You can also follow the GUSEGG Facebook page.

If you’re interested in studying alongside students and professors from around the world and furthering your understanding of aging as part of ACT’s module apply to GUSEGG before the March 2, 2018 deadline.

David Madden is an artist and Postdoctoral Fellow with ACT at Concordia University. He was an instructor for the ACT module on ageing during GUSEGG’s 2017 session.