After the first few days of my first European Forum Alpbach, I came to the conclusion that its an experience, rather than a lengthy event at a beautiful destination. I guess I cannot make a fair judgment of the entire experience based on a few days, but until I am able to do so, here are my first impressions.
If you are not part of the lucky group of people who found accommodation in Alpbach, your first day is the day when your love and hate relationship with the bus schedule starts. After you choose between arriving too early and being slightly late, you spend some quality time at the Brixlegg train station and take a very crowded bus.
But in about 25 minutes, when you get out of that bus in Alpbach, your breath is taken away by the beauty of Alpbach. And soon after you register and start making acquaintances, you realize why its an experience instead of an event: the program is packed with very interesting seminars, symposia, talks and cultural events; you are surrounded by young and smart people from all over the world; and as you try to figure out how you will remember all the events you want to attend and the names of all the people you have just met, the incredible Alpbach landscape keeps distracting you from everything else.
The Opening Ceremony leaves you with more confusion on which seminars to pick, as you find a lot more than two of them to be highly interesting. After you meet some people and overcome the awkwardness of being in a small town with hundreds of people that you dont know, and perhaps with some help from the bread and wine offered after the ceremony, you are ready for the first day of the Seminar Week.
The first days of the Seminar Week are rough. And that is not due to the fact that coffee is not served until 10.15.
From the EUs Eastern Neighbourhood policy to gender issues in complex societies, and from the relationship between religion and power to big data, an incredibly wide selection of topics are addressed with very well-organized seminars. In addition to the impressive and varied backgrounds of the seminar chairs, curious, engaged and open-minded fellow participants make the discussions informative and enjoyable at the same time. The problem is that you can only choose one seminar session in the morning, and one in the afternoon.
By now you have finalized which seminars you will be attending and you are constantly introduced to new people and ideas. You feel slightly overwhelmed but very much inspired.
You now know how to keep track of all the events that are going on, you have mastered the art of finding where and when light refreshments are served, and you have memorized the bus schedule. You no longer drift in existential thoughts for a few minutes when you catch a glimpse of Alpbach from the window during the discussions. Or at least not each time.