My name is Anastasia Karra and I am a student in the second class of Evangeliki Model High School of Smyrna. In September I took part in the first Festival University 2021, a programme organised by Johannes Kepler University, Linz, in cooperation with Ars Electronica Festival, which is an exhibition organised annually in Linz of Austria, where I stayed.
In July our school headmaster, Mr. Fanidis, sent us an invitation to apply for that programme. Therefore, I decided to apply, sending my CV and a 3-minute video in which I explained the reasons I wanted to be part of that programme. To be honest, I never really expected to be chosen, mainly because they would only accept 100 people from all over the globe. That is why I was so shocked when they informed me that I was chosen that I shed tears of joy! I started contacting the people who were responsible for the organisation of the programme in August, in order to book my flight and meet the rest of the people with whom I would be sharing this wonderful experience.
The duration of this programme was 3 weeks in total, 1 online and 2 on site. On the 30th of August we had the first meeting, where we met the facilitators, who gave us more insight into the programme and presented us the 5 teams into which we would be divided, advising us to try something new. Thus, I picked the creative robotics group, since I had no prior experience in that field. The rest of the online week went by like that, with people such as Hideaki Ogawa, Joseph Herrscher and Josef Penninger making presentations on an abundance of topics to us. The main goal of the programme was to create the university of the future and cause a chain reaction of change in the world. In the end of the second on site week, each team was called to make a presentation in whichever way they wanted.
I, along with the other girl from Athens who was chosen as well, who is also an alumna of our school, Maria Fefe, arrived in Linz on the 4th of September and the next day we met the other 80 people who were participating on site. On the first day I met people from all over the world, such as Guatemala, Spain, Mexico and many other countries. Our first morning was free so some people and I decided to explore the botanical garden. In the afternoon they gave us a tour around the campus and we had dinner together. The next days were packed, since every morning we had to take a rapid covid test and after that we had a plethora of presentations, excursions and workshops. On our first robotics workshop we discussed about what exactly a robot is, its benefits and we were assigned to answer a couple of questions the next day. The first week was also the Ars Electronica Festival week and almost every night we attended relevant events. It was undoubtedly really interesting and we got to see some pretty cool exhibits. For instance, something that not only amazed me but also triggered my interest was that they had some jars which contained soil from different countries. What was interesting, though, was that it was edible and you could taste it if you wanted to. I tried soil from a lot of different places and I noted that California’s and India’s had a quite peculiar taste. That was how the first week went by, with meeting people from all over the globe, visiting a lot of exhibitions and attending workshops.
On Sunday, the 12th of September, every team, having decided on what their final presentation would be about, made a board and went around the campus and discussed with passersby, asking them questions and gathering information about the presentation. My team chose the problem of categorisation and the fact that putting labels, which are often negative, on people is a quite commonplace phenomenon. Therefore, we asked passersby when they feel categorised and what we can do in order to stop this.
In the second week we visited the concentration camp of Mauthausen and after that we discussed our feelings about that experience. We kept working in our teams and getting ready for the final presentation. Wednesday the 15th of September was the day when we had the chance to wear our traditional dresses to meet the mayor of Linz, but unfortunately, due to the fact that the elections in Linz were just around the corner, an emergency came up and he could not meet us. The next day was our presentation deadline, therefore we worked as a team, helped each other and succeeded. We made an animation in which we put different languages and resembled individuals and their different charecteristics with disco balls, because they have a lot of tiles, which make them shine, just as our differences that make us unique. On Friday, the 17th of September, each team made their presentation and we were given our participation certificates.
During this programme we had the chance to write small notes to the other participants, the so called “sugarcubes”, and put them into the envelope with each person’s name, and we would read them when we got home. Thus, on the last day we received our envelopes full of small letters and drawings. In addition, we had the chance to write a postcard to our future selves and they would send it to us in 3 weeks. On the final day, people signed each other’s cards and I received mine a couple of days ago, which made me happy and emotional at the same time, because I remembered all the wonderful memories I had from those two weeks. On the last day we had spare time to do some shopping and on the last night we all went to a club to enjoy our last night together and say goodbye. Unfortunately our flight was the next morning and this amazing experience had come to an end.
I can definitely say that it was one of the best experiences of my life and I am extremely thankful that Mr. Fanidis gave me the opportunity to be a part of the festival. Without him, I would not even have imagined that something like that existed. I managed to make some long-lasting friendships with people from all over the world, gain a plethora of knowledge and expand my intellectual horizons. I deepened my cultural understanding and exchanged points of view with people older than me, since I was the youngest participant, who had so many things to teach me. I am very proud of myself for participating in the Festival University 2021 and succeeding as the youngest member. I can undoubtedly say that I left Austria full of memories and new knowledge.