October 2015

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It is often said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Organizing this 22-day transcontinental European trip was no easy task. The University of Graz International Summer School 2015 held in Seggau, Austria was the main destination in a series of international symposia attended by the Trinidad and Tobago team. It took an experienced navigator and a coordinated team for Seggau to become a reality.

The University of Graz International Summer School celebrated its 10th anniversary in July 2015. The summer school attracts interdisciplinary students from universities across the globe. This year’s programme ran from June 28 to July 11, attracting 82 students from 31 countries. Our team of nine was the second largest; the USA had 12 participants.

The UWI European Academic tour led by Dr. Christian Cwik, sought to forge academic partnerships between European universities and The UWI. At the close of the International Symposium in Germany in July, UWI Pro Vice-Chancellor and Campus Principal, Professor Clement Sankat visited the University of Cologne to initiate negotiations on an agreement between the two universities. Similarly, a MOU with the University of Graz is in progress and in June 2015, the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education, Dr. Heather Cateau signed a MOU with the Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

This year marks a milestone for institutions and events as we joined the University of Graz on its anniversary; celebrated with the University of Vienna on its 650th anniversary and paid tribute to the fallen heroes on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of World War II with the University of Cologne in Germany.

Looking back at World War II which lasted from 1939 to 1945, we focused on the impositions and consequential activities for the Caribbean islands as the parallel search for meaning continues. This historical discourse may be described at face value as callous and unwarranted but there is still room for the reassessment of what it meant, and what it cost the Caribbean – for the legacy of this war is not completely understood.

History is not the past nor dwells in the past. The historical links between Europe and the Caribbean cannot be fully explored from one location or cultural context. To appreciate where the veins of our history lie, there must be a collaboration of resources and the exchange of knowledge.

The International Symposium in Cologne kicked off the first leg of the academic tour. Austrian-born, Dr. Christian Cwik, introduced the topic “German and Austrian Refugees in French and Dutch Colonies during the period 1933 to 1955.”

We appreciated the riveting presentation by Dr. Michael Toussaint in his noted Trini homily style. His discourse on “Nationalism and the Nationalist Movement in Trinidad and Tobago,” initiated a renewed passion for Caribbean history for persons who were into other disciplines.

The two-day symposium in Cologne culminated with presentations from UWI students. Allyce Woodhouse presented on “The growth and expansion of the Trinidad and Tobago Cadet Force,” My presentation was on “Persecution under martial law in the British Caribbean during World War II,” and Renee Nelson concluded with “The Gibraltar Camp at Mona, Jamaica: the biggest internment camp in the Caribbean.” Genette-Amlak Pascall, President of the History Society, moderated day two of the symposium.

After Cologne, the team visited the University of Vienna to deliver more lectures in European and Caribbean History. In attendance were students who had previously visited UWI and participated in history courses and regional expeditions. The Vienna series concluded on the eve of our return to Trinidad on July 11 with a presentation by Dr. Toussaint on “Black Power in Europe, 1920-1950.” He traced the evolution of the movement and highlighted the consequences of their actions and contribution to university life as we know it today.

Nestled in the lush Styria country region, Seggau Castle is the home of the Graz International Summer School, which is primarily sponsored by the Karl-Franzens-Universitat Graz, University of Graz with support from the Center for Inter-American Studies and other corporate and government sponsors. The academic programme was an intensive two weeks module with morning lectures and afternoon seminars. It included a science slam competition, poster presentations and sightseeing tours. Students had the opportunity to present their countries in a five-minute time slot, and were also invited to participate in karaoke/talent night. The Trinidad and Tobago team made a good impression when Tyronne Ali captured the Best Country Presentation Ever, delivering a stimulating comical display with “Island Kokomo” which became the ‘Capital’ of Seggau and whose theme song became its ‘national anthem.’ Renee’s Jamaica presentation resulted in cheers of “Big-up Bob Marley.”

Drs. Cwik and Toussaint presented on “Shifting Perspective – Europe and the Americas,” challenging the colloquial ideology of everyone present.

Some of us left Trinidad as young ladies and returned as empowered women. Some of us thought we could hide in our introverted shells but ended up befriending many. Some who were afraid to lead, led the way. We made some poor decisions; underestimated the required readings; and even grew weary of the intensity of the academic programme. Nevertheless, we stuck it out; we stood together; we made friends; we had a good time, and yes, we came back home edified, rejuvenated, and broke. But the joys of shopping, the vibrations of the music on graduation night and the sites of romantic Vienna, have etched a monumental experience which our certificates of achievement cannot fully express. To all the sponsors, organizers, administrators, we thank you.

Netty-Ann Gordon was one of the students participating in the tour.