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A unique spirit

Four students tell about their impressions of the European Forum Alpbach 2017.

Murtaza Tahiri had to travel 4400 kilometres to be here. However, his destination wasn’t Alpbach, but Europe. The Afghan arrived in Austria two and a half years ago after fleeing his home and embarking on the long journey here. “Being in Alpbach is one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had,” says Murtaza.

Murtaza Tahir, 24. Credit: Maria Noisternig.

He received his scholarship from the Austrian Integration Fund. The 24-year-old lives in Vienna and has been in Alpbach for six days. “There aren’t second- and third-class people in Alpbach. You can go up to anyone. Nationality doesn’t come into play,” he says.

The scholarship-holders are struck by the open and friendly mood of the first few days. They don’t just want to learn from the seminar facilitators but also from each other.

Tuo Yu, 25. Credit: Maria Noisternig.

“I’ve learnt a lot about the different cultures,” says Tuo Yu, a law student from Beijing. “Students in China don’t have all these parties. We don’t socialise that much.” One of the two seminars that she has been taking is called “The new Silk Road in a global context”. But she hasn’t just learnt about trade routes, she has also improved her social skills. One colleague, for instance, showed her how to choose the right moment to approach professors, says Yu with a smile.

Lukas Schabus, 27. Credit: Maria Noisternig.

Lukas Schabus from Austria has been attending the seminar “Why is it called a Play?” facilitated by actor Nona Shepphard. “The students in the seminar are so friendly and warm-hearted. It feels like we’ve known each other a lot longer than just a few days,” says the 27-year-old, who is studying agricultural and food economy in Vienna. Lukas’ second seminar is “Are we alone in the universe?” with Lisa Kaltenegger. “There is so much speculation around this subject. I wanted to take the opportunity to hear more about it from a renowned astrophysicist.”

Nancy Sobhy, 26. Credit: Maria Noisternig.

Nancy Sobhy works as a health manager in a large hospital in Cairo. The Egyptian has already completed her medical degree. After coming to Alpbach last summer, she decided to return as a scholarship-holder and seminar assistant. She is supporting Lisa Kaltenegger. “The seminars with Lisa are inspiring me. She comes from a small town and has made it to the best universities in the US. For me, she’s a role model.”