Juliane Achleitner comes from Bad Goisern at Hallstättersee. She is the first of her family who decided to study at the university. Last year she completed her bachelor’s degree in Educational Science. She is currently studying Adult and Vocational Education and Social and Integration Pedagogy, works as a tutor and study assistant and is involved in the Maturant*innenberatung (Student Advisory Service) of the ÖH (Austrian Student Union). In this interview she tells us what moved her to tears, what experiences she would like to pass on and why her heart beats for research.
Was it clear from the beginning that you wanted to study?
In my family it is not ‘usual’ to study. That was and still is a challenge for me. Despite a really good relationship with my brothers, I do not think they really know what my course of study is or what I do at university. Before I started my studies, not even I knew for sure that I would study at all. In October, I decided to enroll in Educational Science. Before I moved to Klagenfurt, I worked as a kindergarten teacher in Upper Austria and was very interested in education. I believe that sooner or later, even if you have to take diversions, you will get to a place where you are happy. I can say for myself: it wasn’t planned, but that is even better.
You are strongly committed to supporting students next to your studies, why?
I really did a lot of things wrong at the beginning of my studies. I chose courses that I should only choose at the end of my studies, attended classes that were not creditable for a particular module and did not receive a merit-based scholarship, even though I had enough credits and good grades.
How did it come about?
I did not know that you cannot divide the performance between several studies. I learned from this painful experience, and I want others to benefit from my experience. That is why I joined the Student Advisory Service of the ÖH, why I was a student representative and why I am currently working at the Institute of Educational Science and Educational Research as tutor and study assistant. I believe that people should support each other, and I want to inform about potential obstacles.
How do you explain the contents of your studies to friends and family?
First and foremost, I am still busy explaining that I am not going to school but to university and that this is something different. But actually, it does not really matter. They are happy when I am happy and that I am so happy in this place.
The content of my studies in short: you learn to deal with pedagogical backgrounds, research and scientific thinking in relation to pedagogical topics. Reflection, critical questioning and historical as well as future-oriented aspects play a role. The bachelor’s programme offers a solid foundation of pedagogical and scientific theoretical backgrounds. There are different specialisations in the master’s programme. In general, the contents are very interesting! After this explanation, I am sure four out of five people will still look at me with a question mark over their heads and one of them mumbles: “So something about people and pedagogy”.
Do you have a favourite subject or focus?
I particularly like, some people might find that surprising (like my high school maths teacher and some other people), quantitative methods of empirical social research. That was absolutely unpredictable. A lot depends on the teachers. They have different ways of lecturing and methods, and that is what makes studying interesting. The support from the lecturers is usually very good. Questions are responded with a quick and appreciative answer. This is not the case in every degree programme, nor in every educational institution.
For the students in my degree programme it is mostly possible to choose courses according to their interests. For me, however, there has not been a single course in which I have not learned anything new. Sometimes I feel like I am soaking up content like a sponge, something always gets stuck. But you have to be present to make that possible.
Was there a special moment that you have experienced at AAU?
When I had my first graduation ceremony, my grandfather was over 90 years old and he came to attend the ceremony. I am the first in our family to graduate from university and he knows how hard life can be sometimes, apart from my work and private life. While everyone else (including us graduates) was already sitting, he entered the room and took his seat late, because he had to take his medication and needed some water for it. I cried because of the joy and affection I felt in this moment. He had driven 200 km with my mother just to experience the graduation ceremony of his granddaughter.
Has your view of the world changed through your studies?
Yes sure! Sometimes, people from my past find it hard to understand my situation. Both, my language – the choice of words and my dialect, although it still sounds Upper Austrian – as well as my priorities have changed completely. I have become much more open and even more determined than I already was. Moreover, I am more critical now, also towards myself. I reflect more and try to be aware of my own prejudices towards others. Everyone has them, they are internalised. But like me, you can learn to deal with them and try to put yourself in other people’s shoes, so you are not drawing conclusions too quickly. That works for me. Sometimes more, sometimes less but it has already “saved” two Christmas festivities with my family.
What do you particularly like about Klagenfurt?
The fact that the university is relatively small, the good staff-student ratio, which enables a good exchange between teachers, professors and students, and of course the location of the university. I am happy if I just need to step outside university to take a breath of fresh air, to go for a run or to spend a few minutes by the lake during the breaks – what other university offers this? Furthermore, the master in Adult and Vocational Education was absolutely interesting and enough reason for me to study here.
Why do you think one should study here?
The size of the university has its advantages. Not being an unknown student X is good and gives you the possibility to exchange ideas with teachers and students who know who you are.
What are you looking forward to when you arrive at the university?
The courses! Not always, of course, but almost always. And also, to meet friends and especially, to drink hazelnut coffee. More of a sugar shock than a caffeine kick, but absolutely brilliant.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? In which field do you want to work?
Hopefully still in science. I have discovered research for myself and would like to stay in it. An employment at university would be great. But if this does not work out, I will find another way. As I said: there are many ways. You often only see where they lead once you have arrived.
What would be important advice to share with AAU freshers?
Shape your studies according to your interests. You have the opportunity to do so, use it! Choose your courses because you are interested and want to learn something, not because they are easily earned credits. No one ever can take this knowledge away from you. Think future-oriented – in which field would you like to work? Which areas interest you? Ideally, the internship is your springboard to the workplace. And: keep asking! There are no stupid questions.