Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change

Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change

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 Salzburg Academy bring together students from different universities and helps in developing a network of  people helping  each other on multiple levels.

It’s  a breath of fresh  air, in every sense. Nestled on  a lakeside just outside the old town, the Schloss Leopoldskron in  Salzburg, is home to the Salzburg Global Seminar, which facilitates innovative  and strategic engagement on issues of education, health, environment, and peace-building on an  international level. Guarded not only by its wrought iron gates, but also  by the Untersberg Mountain and the Hohensalzburg Fortress, the 18th century palace- like hotel also hosts the annual Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change.

About the Academy

Every  summer, the Academy brings together university students from all over  the world, including  the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Lebanese American University (LAU). Around 70 to 75 students from every continent and a global body of professors gather to participate in a program that is rooted in media literacy education from a universal perspective. Various methods of teaching and learning that divert from more traditional ones are used: holding intense discussions, conducting hands-on assignments, workshops, cohesive group projects, developing case studies and unique media action plans, and learning through networking, arguing, critiquing, and debating, to name a few.

The overarching theme of the Academy changes each year, as the faculty attempts to branch out,  expand, and  explore ways to imagine, sustain, and  attain justice for present and future generations. Previously, themes have included the  environment, women’s rights,  world  views  of  marginalized communities, and many more. The Academy has also  partnered with a number of  prominent organizations including United Nations Development Programme,  Red   Cross, Red Crescent and Global Voices to shape and implement various projects.

2016 marks the 10th anniversary, and to celebrate its birthday, the Salzburg Academy will invite  a number of alumni to participate in the program again,  which this   year focuses on cross-cultural dialogue about migration. Members and collaborators will talk about how the media shapes and influences stereotypes, as well as how young activists can use their  shared public narratives to bridge social  and cultural divides.

Dr. Jad Melki, associate professor of   journalism and  media studies at LAU and visiting  faculty at the Salzburg  Academy,  said   that the 10th anniversary is primarily  valued by the faculty and alumni  because students come and go every year, but the professors and expert lecturers have been relatively constant.

“It’s  important for us to be able to look back over   ten years and ask ourselves what we’ve done, what  research   and  books  we’ve produced on the topics  discussed, and envision plans for  the next ten years. The  faculty members have become a very  close-knit group of  colleagues and friends. We have developed a strong network of  people helping  each other on  multiple levels,  both professionally and  personally. It’s  really  more like a family  than anything else,”  says Melki. The  program’s veterans look forward to seeing each other over the year at  two conferences  for   the  Salzburg Global Seminar, in addition to the summer Academy.

The sessions and activities

Students partake in sensitive and intimate discussions that allow them to realize how different they all are, but simultaneously how much they have in common. They embrace  diversity and the  myriad of  backgrounds, histories, religions,  heritages, and HOMEs from  which they stem, all  the while acknowledging how people from around the world perceive their surroundings and systems of belief.

This is done not only  by  the sequences of  plenary sessions  and  conferences led by key speakers, journalists, and representatives from international organizations and NGOs,  but also  through the many side activities promoted and executed by the faculty.

These also  change on  an  annual basis, but the ideas behind them are most deeply rooted in unity-seeking and  frameworks of  engagement. The   weekly  photo contest, the talent show, a piano concert, the Academy World Cup soccer game, film screenings, and various excursions to other parts of Austria push the Academy’s participants to persevere and break down the barriers perpetuating separation.

For instance, the Human Library took place last summer at the 2015 program, in which participants volunteered to stand as “books” with labeled titles about a stereotype they’d been subjected to, which other people could “check out” and “read”. Profound and meaningful dialogue ensued  between acquaintances, which often led to a more fundamental friendship. This practice aimed to demonstrate that each person has a story to tell  and that we  are all interconnected.

Student’s feedback

Melki echoed  some of the feedback  that  he has received from AUB and LAU students over the last decade  about what the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change has meant for them. “It’s almost become a cliché quote to say that ‘it’s a life- changing experience, a mind altering one,’ but it is.

They  always say things like ‘this experience expanded my horizons’ or ‘this made me think about digital media and technology in different ways’ or ‘this  made me realize how expansive the world around me  is and how many mindsets there actually are’ or ‘I can now put myself in someone else’s shoes and see things from a genuinely different perspective.’”

“I can now put myself in someone else’s shoes and see things from a genuinely different perspective”

“Imagine for a moment someone who has lived all their life in a small  Lebanese community, with people belonging to the same religion, the same background, the same socioeconomic status, the same education level.

When they go to university, they interact, make new friends and spend time with  people from different religions.

Now, imagine they go to this amazing, beautiful place and are debating very powerful and controversial matters with people from all over the world, interacting with someone from a completely different ethnicity; a lower income Argentinian, or anyone who had a vastly different upbringing and perspective on life and then living three weeks and having fun together. It’s not like they have a formal debate and then everyone goes home. No, they have to deal with each other every morning at breakfast, lunch and dinner, at the club, in the seminar room, in their groups,” says Melki.

The Salzburg Academy is a home away from HOME, where the connections people make within the walls of the Schloss withstand over the years and form a platform for hope.

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