I have had the incredible opportunity to be living, working, and learning in Graz, Austria, for the past four weeks. When I arrived, I had no Idea what kind of experience this would turn out to be.
My time has been split between working at the mayor’s office and interning at the Center for Inter-American Studies at the University of Graz. At both of these organizations, I have been surprised at how much I have learned simply through everyday conversation over lunch, ‘at the watercooler’, or sitting at a desk. And I haven’t just been learning about Austria, but have conersed with people hailing from India to Cuba to Slovenia about everything from people’s day to day lives, to differing academic cultures, to political and cultural similarities and differences.
Through my internship, I have had the chance to participate in a variety of activities, with my time during the work day being used primarily to either attend lectures, shadow city employees, or help my host organizations’ with work.
The lectures and conferences I have attended have focused on the transnational movements of people and ideas, and how these movements have shaped cultural identities. For example, I had the opportunity to attend a conference on Jewish migrants after the Second World War, where students presented preliminary research on how Jewish communities dealt with their cultural identity after many of them were displaced into new countries such as America or Russia. Through the Center for Inter-American Studies, I have also had the opportunity to attend lectures on the cultural identities of Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago, and how these identities are shaped by and reacted to the United States.
During my time at the Mayor’s office, I spent part of my time shadowing city employees. Working in the office of international relations, I learned about how the employees of this office wish to present the city of Graz to outsiders and various employees’ roles in shaping the international image of Graz. Additionally, I spent a few days at two organizations associated with the office for international relations: the Bureau of Tourism and Club International, an organization that draws expats to Austria and helps them adjust to life abroad. Through the Bureau of Tourism, I got an insight into the ‘traditional’ Graz culture as I saw how the city portrayed itself to tourists and especially how their geographical vicinity to Italy mixed with their Austrian-ness to create culture that is a hybrid between Italian and Viennese cultures. Through Club International, I saw the more ‘modern’ culture of Graz as the organization worked to draw residents to Graz for their industrial and economic prosperity as well as the modernity of the city.
For the work I have been helping with, much of it has utilized my German skills as a native English speaker. I have often been working on translating documents, or reading translations made by native German speakers and correcting those translations to sound more ‘natural’ in English. While this kind of work didn’t come as a surprise, I wasn’t expecting to learn as much as I have through it. Working for the city, I translated documents on Graz’s partner cities, and through this learned a lot about the history of Graz, as well as Austria in general, which is reflected through their connections with cities in England, Italy, and even New Jersey, among other places. Each partner city has a rich story behind it which is often connected to larger historical narratives. While not as ‘flashy’ as the partner cities, at Club International I have worked on documents explaining everyday tasks, such as opening a bank account, to foreigners. Even these documents reveal underlying cultural differences that exist in Austria. Finally, part of my work at the Center for Inter American Studies has dealt with reading student papers on American culture. Through this, I have not only learned about the different academic culture in Austria, but also have seen how Austrian students view the US.
All in all, it has been an amazing few weeks with a multitude of opportunities to learn about many different cultures, as well as to learn a lot about a place and people I have previously only known academically.