Imagine a summer spent leading global change, interning in a European palace set at lake's edge,
a shimmery beaut' that prominently reflects the surrounding snow-capped Alps mountain range in its calm ripples. Imagine bouncing between borders, jetting off to a new country nearly every other weekend, leaving your mark in London, Venice, Budapest. Can you picture yourself discussing worldwide social solutions, living with people from all over the globe, breaking barriers between your differences, and challenging preconceived notions?
If you're not sold already, you will be after reading this. Recent University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduate Candace Dane spent last summer living out the above, as a participant of the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria.
Candace takes us into her world, introduces us to an opportunity many of us have probably never before heard of, and gives us a snapshot of what the dreamy but meaningful Salzburg experience looks like.
If you've ever pondered working or interning for SGS or in Europe in general, this is a must read. Don't miss a word below!
PBU: How did you find out about this organization and what made you pursue the internship?
CD: I found out about the organization back in 2012 when I was looking for a summer internship with an international focus. A friend told me about Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS) and I applied to their development office, which is actually based in Washington, D.C. During my time there I found out about the programatic internship that they offered in Salzburg and instantly knew it was an opportunity I wanted to explore. Though its technically unpaid, the program is structured in such a way that makes it very feasible, and as someone who wants to see as much as the world as possible, it seemed like an ideal situation. I kept in touch with my supervisor over the next couple years and she put me in contact with the right people in Austria when the time came to apply. I owe a lot to her; she's taught me quite a bit professionally, as well as personally by illustrating the importance and power of reaching back.
How much time did you spend in Europe?
In total I spent 3 months in Europe. I left just 5 days after graduation, so it was a whirlwind summer from the very beginning.
The organization aims to "challenge present and future leaders to solve issues of global concern;" which issues in particular are you most passionate about working on?
Throughout my senior year at UNC-Chapel Hill I interned at A Ban Against Neglect, an organization that works to empower young mothers in Ghana. At the same time I also took a women's studies classes that gave me some context and clarity on the issues surrounding women's rights, public perception and treatment in general. Those two experiences in tandem illustrated to me just how long-standing, wide-spread and deep-seeded the oppression of women really is. So moving forward I'd love to work with another organization that is passionate about improving the quality of life for women around the world.
What did a typical day on the internship look like for you?
SGS operates in such a unique way that there really was no "typical day on the job" during my internship. As the organization's name suggests, they put on seminars on various global issues; so my role oscillated between preparation, facilitation and participation. When there was no session going on, I would be doing prep work for the future. That entailed researching possible participants and sponsors for 2015 programs and putting together materials for impending 2014 sessions.
During session, my role was constantly in flux; I would do any and everything that needed to be done in order to make sure all the participants were accommodated and things went off without a hitch. So I would provide technical assistance during lectures, carry out various administrative tasks and act as a guide around the extensive grounds. My days would often run from 9AM - 9PM, having to be present for all lectures, meals, and sometimes group work. This level of involvement allowed me to glean an immense amount of knowledge from the participants who were experts hailing from all around the world. Some of the most memorable days on the job were off-site trips; I was able to visit two Nazi concentration camps, as well as some breathtakingly scenic parts of Austria.
So there was consistently a nice balance between education and celebration, which I think is what makes the SGS model so powerful.
What was your favorite part about your internship/your summer? Was there a least favorite?
My favorite part about the internship was the amount of smart & passionate individuals that I was able engage with. I met people from literally all over the world that were experts and fledgling leaders in their respective disciplines. It was a privilege to interact with them and witness how they interact with each other. At the crux of SGS is an appreciation for the power and utility of open discussion, so it was awesome to see people from worlds apart come together to work towards building a better global community. For example as the head intern of the session titled "Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention" I was privy to many powerful exchanges between people that seemingly hail from completely different, and sometimes even opposing, realities.
I saw Rwandans, Cambodians, Jews and Palestinians share their stories of survival and strategies for how to teach others about both victims and perpetrators. It was certainly a difficult subject to broach, but it was incredibly encouraging to see people using equal amounts compassion and reason to navigate such a complex topic. Outside of scheduled sessions, I had abundant opportunities to speak directly to the participants over dinner or a glass of wine or simply walking throughout the grounds. On the whole my questions, session-related or otherwise, were welcomed and met with honest answers.
These conversations were some of the most insightful moments of my summer abroad and I certainly met some people that I will never forget.
Salzburg looks breathtaking! What was life in Austria like?
Living in Salzburg was incredibly surreal. I was fortunate enough to stay on the property where portions of the Sound of Music were filmed. So if you familiar with the setting of the film, you'll have an fairly accurate picture of my daily surroundings. I would wake up every morning to the sight of the Alps in the distance, on hot days I would walk down to the street for a dip in the crystal clear (and FREEZING) canals that were filled with genuine alpine water, most anywhere I wanted to go I could access by bike though there were certainly some tough hills. Life was easy.
I of course was in a uniquely insulated situation, but the locals I met seemed to share my sentiments. Crime is incredibly low, the environment is picturesque, the people I encountered were helpful and friendly and even the summer weather was pretty ideal, with averages in the high 70s. As Austria's fourth biggest city, there is a fairly bustling down town. There would be various events, like the historic Salzburg Music Festival, and markets throughout the summer, my personal favorite being the wine market.
The nightlife was surprisingly lively, full of places to go and some with GREAT music to my surprise. I'll never forget the night the DJ dropped a Jagged Edge track lol. But despite a diverse selection of music, the population is severely lacking in diversity. The vast majority of people I saw were white and sometimes I would go weeks without seeing a brown face in town. But I'm pleased to say that even though I certainly encountered moments of sheer ignorance, I never felt attack or offended by someone's comments or actions. And fortunately the huge variety of cultures and ethnicities that I would encounter at Salzburg Global Seminar counterbalanced the absence of cultural variety in the city at-large.
Do you feel as though your responsibilities at Salzburg Global made a difference? What were your biggest takeaways and benefits from this overall, start-to-finish, experience?
I certainly feel that my responsibilities at SGS made a difference. The mission of the organization is to bring together minds from all parts of the world and walks of life to discuss issues and hopefully yield innovative solutions and strategies. So my unique perspective in and of itself added to the synergy of the situation. I was the only African-American intern and one of only two working in the Salzburg offices. So it's not to say that I was a "representative" of my demographic, but I definitely presented a voice that was underrepresented. And even outside of academic settings, I like to think that my presence alone served as a tool to open the minds of some of the participants I came into contact with.
In some instances I was the only black person they had ever dealt with in a personal setting, so I was able to breakdown some stereotypes and misconceptions about blacks as well as Americans, which can also run deep.
I am overcome with wanderlust, literally swooning at your vibrant pictures from all over Europe. What are all the cities/countries you got to see?
In addition to Salzburg, I visited Venice, London, Budapest, Prague, Berlin and Vienna.
Were these weekend trips? Was there a city that stuck out to you a little more than the others? (If so, which one & why?)
My top three favorite places were London, Budapest and Venice. In London I was lucky enough to have a native tour guide, thanks to my roommate who I traveled with. We were able to see London alongside a local artist, Rohan Newton, which took the trip beyond the typical surface-level tourist experience and invited us to really see the culture and spirit of the city. I genuinely fell in love and hope to one day return for grad school.
Budapest was a sleeper hit for me. I wasn't even interested in visiting Hungary until some of my European coworkers told me that the city was a must-see. It's incredibly vibrant and diverse with lots to see and do both during the day and at night. And it can all be done for relatively cheap since the US dollar goes a long way there. So if you're looking to visit a fun destination in Europe that wont break the bank, I would definitely recommend Budapest.
Venice on the other hand was incredibly expensive and much slower. During the day the main island, San Marco, is PACKED with tourists but by 10PM the streets are almost completely bare. So there is virtually no nightlife, but for me that just added to the city's charm. It feels as if Venice is fixed in time with its classic architecture, canals complete with gondolas, intra-city transportation via water taxi only, and the generally simple lifestyles of the native Venetians.
Outside of San Marco there are few smaller fishermen's and craftsmen's islands that I had the chance to explore and I absolutely loved getting lost in the streets with just my Nikon and a good book (White Teeth by Zadie Smith, great read!). I was initially nervous about taking the city on entirely by myself, but it ended up being the best possible way for me to end my time in Europe. The time alone give me the space to really put my experience in perspective and it truly brought me some clarity, serenity and peace.
What was the craziest thing you saw this summer? (Or craziest thing you did/craziest thing that happened to you)
There were many memorable nights throughout my summer but I wont go into too much detail, considering that they are almost all NSFW, haha. However I will say that they usually happened on Tuesday nights. Every Tuesday in Salzburg there was a salsa night at one bar and reggae night at another. So this brought out a diverse crowd that was generally absent from the party scene during the weekend. At first, my Dominican roommate danced circles around me, but by the end of the summer, thanks to the help of some of the locals, my salsa was meannnn :)
Finally, what advice would you give someone who wants to work abroad but may be nervous about living so far away for 3+ months?
I would advise them to just maintain an open mind! I was thrown into a situation where I lived and worked in close quarters with complete strangers in a foreign land. My fellow interns/ flatmates were South Korean, Lebanese, British, and Dominican (by way of Brooklyn). We all came from very different cultures and backgrounds, and yet we got along amazingly. We became close incredibly fast and parting was hard; we all shed a few tears. Even though on paper we seemed like we wouldn't be fast friends, our optimism, adventurous spirits and respect for values and ideas that weren't necessarily commiserate with our own, allowed us to come together. And I've generally found that most avid travelers share these traits and that's what makes for a fulfilling experience abroad.