Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

Connecting Ideas, Widening Perspectives: Kochel am See Graduate Retreat 2015

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“Welcome to the first annual graduate retreat! [Although] . . . it’s not confirmed as an annual event yet . . .”

The humorous welcoming words of Sonja Weinbuch, coordinator of the Environmental Studies Certificate Program, set the tone for our weekend: an atmosphere of open creativity, productive discussion, and social engagement. Two dozen master’s students crowding under the information board at Munich Central Station was a less than usual sight on a snowy and stormy Friday morning during the exam period, but nevertheless the enthusiasm of the students and staff of the program led us to Kochel to spend two days brainstorming final projects and widening perspectives, from watching documentary films to visiting the Franz Marc Museum.

Environmental Studies Certificate Program students presenting their work to each other

Environmental Studies Certificate Program students present their work. Photograph: ES Program students.

Discussions were led by Rob Emmett (Director of Academic Programs), with the participation of RCC members including director Christof Mauch and Carson Fellow Emily O’Gorman. We had expected the weekend to be enjoyable—no doubt about that—but had little appreciation of how valuable this time could be. The scheduling and form of the seminars and faculty presentations was well beyond our expectations. New perspectives on final project ideas introduced by the participants led “Aha!” moments to strike the project writers as well as those contemplating similar (or even totally different) topics and presentation styles. Creative arrangements helped us to stay focused; most activity on the retreat was conversational, and the multidimensional structure of the plenaries, group breakout sessions, and presentations fit the interdisciplinary approach of the RCC.

In place of the general group discussions typical of university workshops, we enthusiastically engaged with our own topics and questions in depth—from features of successful activism to possible means of reaching outside the “academic bubble.” Even the documentary films we watched in the evening were well connected to the general topic of the retreat; from scenes of coal mining to the pollution of rivers, they showed the complex dependency between human life and the environment. Amidst the intense workload we enjoyed fruitful conversations, and those planning to work with visual tools in their final projects gained valuable insights on different techniques.

Students enjoy the nature surrounding Kochel am See

Students enjoy the nature surrounding Kochel am See. Photograph: ES Program students.

Even the location itself was far from usual for an academic seminar. The beautiful view from the Georg-von-Vollmar-Akademie to the Kochelsee, wonderful rooms, and white snow-covered landscapes around us contributed to the unforgettable experience. Furthermore, with eyes set on a prize of a bottle of wine, everyone was eager to participate in the retreat writing competition; the resulting short, punchy, and varied presentations on water (in a maximum of 50 words!) formed a mix between poetry slam and stand-up comedy. Let us cite the winning piece for you:

Rob ist wahrlich ein großer Prasser

Kauft Wein für uns an der Supermarktkassa

Er ist halt einfach ein Tausendsassa

Spät abends trinken wir Wein wie Wasser

Da werd ich glatt zum Schnitzelhasser

Der Abend, der wird immer krasser

und huch, die Hose immer nasser

Ups, ich bin ein Wasserlasser.

Environmental Studies Certificate Program students socializing on the Kochel annual retreat

Students socialize on the retreat. Photograph: ES Program students.

To reassure the readership of the high academic level of the seminar besides such lighthearted competition, here is what you can expect from the final projects to be presented in summer 2015. Topics reach from the human-animal relationship between disabled people and guide dogs, through to dumpster diving, foodsharing, and invasive species in the south of Munich to open landscapes in Detroit; all are to be presented in diverse forms, including short films, essays, paintings, and picture books.

Just as the Environmental Studies Certificate Program is a far from typical graduate program, the retreat was an extraordinary academic seminar. Between advancing professional skills and focusing on our projects we had time to develop bonds within the group and fully appreciate each other’s company. Considering this year’s success, we are confident that the retreat will become an annual tradition.

The authors, Janna Jung-Irrgang, Orsi Földesi, and Dorothea Hutterer were students of the RCC Environmental Studies Certificate Program 2015.

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