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VIU's multicultural platform in alluringly beautiful setting
by Elizabeth Willoughby

A campus with students from various countries working towards various degrees isn't unique, but it is if the campus is shared by universities from around the world providing students with programs that cross disciplines.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Venice International University (VIU) functions as a satellite campus for 13 leading universities worldwide, including US-based Duke University, Beijing's Tsinghua University, Tel Aviv University, and LMU, the only participating university from Germany. Each regularly sends students and faculty for course work that is multidisciplinary in focus and intercultural in approach.

Choosing one semester of any year, students come together on the Venetian island of San Servolo to discuss in English language such things as sustainable development, climate change, urban growth, global ethics, cultural heritage, migration and other challenges of today.

"VIU's principal premise," says LMU Professor Dr. Günter Zöller, "is that higher education should reflect the global nature of knowledge both in its generation and dissemination."

A frequent teacher at VIU, he says it's the international setting that keeps him coming back: "Teaching at VIU is like teaching in several different countries at once, by having students from so many cultures gathering in one classroom at the same time."

It's about perspectives

With a desire to know what students of other disciplines were thinking, and to build on her first two years of studies at LMU, geography and sociology student Julia Schneider decided to attend the environmental courses being offered at VIU during her 5th semester.

"In the sustainability and city development course," says Julia, "issues were discussed by geographers, urban planners and architects, but also by environmental engineers and students of sociology, politics and history. I would love to have had even more time for those really intense discussions."

What also impressed her was the VIU network – in cooperation with so many institutions, there is a great supply of internship opportunities for students. Julia received word at the end of May that she was accepted for an internship to work on city development and the climate adaptation of Venice. Looking forward to her return to Venice Laguna, it seems the atmosphere is universally enchanting.

"Living there is the best," say Julia. "You find small restaurants, wander the narrow streets, see the Palazzo Ducale every day at different times. There is nothing like standing in the middle of Piazza San Marco at 2 a.m. completely alone. This side of Venice, with empty streets along the canals, quiet and foggy on a Sunday morning, it's an amazing thing to experience."

First steps

Only a five-minute boat ride from Piazza San Marco, Sarah Hechler says, "VIU is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world to study."

Taking comparative literature at LMU, Sarah started at VIU in September for similar reasons to Julia's.

"Since problems can't be resolved anymore on a national or one-dimensional basis," she says, "fostering international and interdisciplinary approaches becomes crucial in facing the problems of today's globalized world."

Sarah found the university and the city compelling from the start. Despite challenges such as room sharing (space is limited in Venice) with an Italian (she wanted to learn the language better), she found the atmosphere at VIU friendly and welcoming, and the cultural diversity enriching. She also enjoys the camaraderie.

"Everyone here is new," she says, "and gathering in the evenings around live music, or sitting outside on the canal makes it easy to get to know people."

VIU is an opportunity both recommend. Julia's advice to students of partner universities: "Go to the homepage of VIU and check out the upcoming courses. If you see something that interests you, don't hesitate to apply. It's a powerful experience. You will never regret it."

Originally published at insightLMU, October 2015

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