Ramona: Thanks as well for talking to me. Well, right now I live in Tel Aviv and work at the university in the city of Beersheba [Ben-Gurion University]. I’m there as a lecturer for the OeAD: Their lecturers are sent to different countries as transmitters of Austrian culture, so to speak. So basically, what we do is teaching the language, German, and also teaching cultural studies. In my case, I’m at the Center for Austrian and German Studies at the university in Beersheba and we are instructed to organize academic events and workshops and so on in order to connect Austrian and Israeli culture.
AIANI: So you pursued this lectureship after graduating. Was this inspired by your semester abroad as an AIANI exchange student?
Ramona: For sure. I went there in the spring of 2019. I was actually at Beit Berl College which is a small college outside of Tel Aviv. It was a great time and it was also my first glimpse into what the country really has to offer. I was so fascinated in many different ways—politically and historically, and in terms of the people. And that’s why I decided to go back after graduating.
AIANI: Why did you choose Israel for your semester abroad when you were still a student at the University of Innsbruck?
Ramona: Well there were several options and I decided to choose Israel because especially Tel Aviv was very attractive for me from what I’ve heard; and Israel seemed to be the country with the most input for me. And I thought that I could learn so much from the country and that actually turned out to be true.
Ramona: Yes, indeed, well, my initial plan was to apply at some institution that sends people abroad—to Israel specifically. So I was lucky and honoured enough to get a job through the OeAD and be a lecturer there because I really wanted to be in Israel while having my academic career supported.
AIANI: Tell us about your current job. We heard that you held a presentation at the 28th International Congress of FILLM (International Federation for Modern Languages and Literatures) at the University of Vienna in July 2021, on “Linguistic, Literary and Cultural Diversity in a Global Perspective”. Your presentation was about the aspect of “liveness” in the contemporary theatre and literary scene in the era of Zoom and co. So why did you choose to explore this specific topic?
Ramona: I think what is amazing about my lectureship is that the OeAD makes it very clear that we are free in our individual research and academic development. As I also have connections with the cultural and literary scene, I personally thought that there are so many developments happening in the COVID era that artists, theatre directors, literature houses, etc. find themselves facing problems with, especially concerning questions of hosting actual events, how to perform, how to provide art and make them accessible to people. So people started getting creative and I got so inspired by this creativity of what people did, like this virtual participative Facebook theatre of Effi Briest that I saw. These developments and creative solutions interested me, and it’s a good thing that my lectureship allows me to be flexible enough to pursue my own research interests, which is amazing.
Ramona: Wow, that’s really an interesting question because as an Erasmus student at Beit Berl College, I had a very intense experience of knowing what an actual student campus is, because I had never experienced that perception at the same level as I did in Austria. In Innsbruck, I was not living on campus where everything seems to be concentrated in one place. At Beit Berl College, as a student, you are literally part of the university and that makes a huge community possible. Still, I have to say that Beit Berl College is very small, so it’s not like a lot of events are happening or that so much is going on just like in the movies that give a different view of college campuses. But what I find super inspiring, and taking into account Beit Berl College’s agricultural focus, is that the campus was very much like a commune. We had gardening courses where we took vegetables home and distributed them to different houses; we lived very close to each other and every morning we would have big breakfasts together. So it was like a very big family, and this familial space was inspiring for me because I loved going traveling every weekend to explore the country and every time I went back to this “family” in campus, it was very beautiful.
AIANI: So you would say that, at least for Beit Berl College, the sense of community is more essential than in Innsbruck?
Ramona: I think essentially, looking at it from a living perspective, in Innsbruck it is common to live in shared flats. So you have your student life, you have shared flats, and house parties and these kinds of stuff which characterize life in Innsbruck. But at Beit Berl, the emphasis is more on the community lifestyle somewhere in the field, which is very different in itself. But I should stress that this experience is more specific to studying in a place like Beit Berl College, and not somewhere like in Tel Aviv where the student experience might be more similar to Innsbruck.
Ramona: Yes, well I’m also still researching on that issue by the way. The German Embassy actually was working recently on a survey on how the German language is perceived in Israel; and we still have the issue that it’s perceived mainly, in categorical terms, neutral to negative. There is not much positive associations with the German language unfortunately, and this is what we are trying to change. Of course, we have the fact that historically the main factor in influencing this perception is of course the Shoah. But there is also the perception of German being harsh and hard to learn. I try in my teaching to also make them see new aspects about the language and culture.
AIANI: Besides this, are you also engaged in other research interests? Are you engaged in other ongoing projects?
Ramona: I am engaged in a project that will take place in April 2022, about theatre and diversity. And in a way, I feel instructed by my job to transmit the Austrian culture and show that we’re more than Mozart and Sisi; that we are more—more diverse, more colourful, and there are so many nationalities living in Austria and I want to show that the country has a lot to offer culturally. And this project includes an input by a famous theatre director and migration expert living in Vienna who will come to Israel to talk about diversity in theatre in general and the diversity in theatre in Austria. In a way, this project connects my interest in the diversity in the cultural scene.
Ramona: Just be open enough to the places and what they specifically can give you. Because for Innsbruck for example, the city has so much to offer. It feels like you just have to go with the flow. You come to Innsbruck and the first thing you see are the mountains. Get yourself connected with people, join Facebook groups, etc. There are so many hiking groups to join and take advantage of the opportunities of what the city provides and get to know people. But if you’re not into hiking, it doesn’t really matter because there’s so many alternatives and many things to do that can connect people. And it’s the people you meet which, in the end, make the difference.
AIANI: And to conclude, any advice for those who would like to apply for a semester abroad in Israel?
Ramona: As for Israel, there are many places to study. So I suggest deciding carefully on what you want. Because Tel Aviv would be so much different than studying in Jerusalem or in Beit Berl College. So it’s really important to understand the place, but it is also very interesting to connect with people in Israel as they are so open. So go and explore, and travel a lot. Go to a coffee shop in Tel Aviv and you’ll leave the shop with an amazing conversation. I promise that. And that’s the reason why I moved to Tel Aviv, and it is always interesting every day and that is the joy in openness.
AIANI: Ramona, thank you very much for your time and good luck!
Ramona: Thank you too!