Matthew is a on a foundation year of our BSc (Hons) Digital Media Development degree. Earlier on this year, together with other students from the University of Westminster, he took part in the hackathon organised by the Graz University of Technology to design and develop a game. Find out more about his experience in Graz!
Why did you decide to take up this opportunity abroad?
My foundation year has been great in preparing me for the course ahead, but, at times, I felt unsure of the direction that my career path will take me in. The suggestion from my personal tutor was to participate in the Graz Hackathon, that this would give me a taste of things to come in the course. This was probably one of the best suggestions every given to me! I felt like I found my tribe, that I could be creative in putting forward ideas for the game and that I had never experienced collaboration at this level before. Part of my reason in agreeing with my personal tutor to undertake the trip was for the collaboration. I think that this experience was undeniably extraordinary. I learnt how to share documents online in a collaborate environment and work simultaneous with my peers in new software such as Slack. It was made obvious from the outset that the collaboration would happen in Graz and this was also key for me. I have been learning some German and it gave me an opportunity to practice in the cities (Graz and Vienna).
Is there a specific reason why you chose this particular opportunity?
The University of Westminster has a long standing programme of collaboration with the University of Technology in Graz. It’s because of this long-standing history and the success of previous years’ hackhathons that I was convinced to participate in the collaboration.
I do have some Germanic family history. One day, on the streets of Graz, I stopped and listened to some students playing some pop music with classical instruments. When I looked up I noticed that I was at the corner of Faber and Hof street. Faber is my mother’s maiden name – her family migrated to the UK in the 1600s. The moment had a special significance, it seemed synchronistic and magical.
I will also look to other opportunities with the University of Westminster to travel to other German speaking countries as I would like to open up my future career to the prospects of working with collaborative groups in those regions. This comes from my belief that my career will be stronger if I can work in the UK and Germany – the two powerhouses of Europe.
In terms of the local culture of Austria, I didn’t know before going to Graz how they defined themselves as a separate culture with close links to German culture. The most interesting experience of Austrian culture was this radical concept of ball queuing. Essentially not linear with the idea that at some point in the future you will reach the front of the queue.
What did you find the most enjoyable and what the most challenging during your experience abroad?
The most challenging I think for most of the group from Westminster was how safe Graz was. All the university buildings were completely open to the public. It meant we could leave our equipment in a location and be sure that no one would attempt to steal it. No one did either and the Austrians were very friendly and direct: it was difficult, easy and new all wrapped up in one.
The final presentation was a very challenging experience. We had to develop a joint succinct presentation and deliver it to a hall of students – it did take some nerve! But we did it, together; I never thought I could feel so proud of my team as I did in that moment.
The first morning was confusing, as I had arrived very late the night before, and, as such, I knew nothing of the transport links. I discovered quickly that although London’s transport network is linked to Google maps, Graz’s is most definitely not. I got lost and was 10 minutes late (luckily not more) for the first induction lecture. It meant stepping out of my comfort zone and speaking some German to figure out where I was and how to get where I needed to be.
Please reflect on any graduate attributes and transferable skills you have gained.
The whole effort felt a bit like what I have always imagined a think tank to be like. Together in collaboration, ideas got developed and formulated very quickly through dialogue and expression of those creative ideas. It’s an exciting prospect to think that this is something that I will be able to do more of.
I can now see myself being a manager or leader of a team at some point in the future – I have learnt how to bring the team together and bring out ideas. There were also tools we used that I had never used before such as Slack and Google docs. If we wanted to have a strong concept design for our game and still get to experience some of the other activities in Graz, we needed to manage our time. This is a very key transferable skill that I have learnt that not only I will use in my future career, but also throughout my degree program. In exploring Austrian culture, I know I need to learn more German to become more culturally aware. In addition, the long-term benefit is a bilingual ability that could put me ahead of my peers.
What top tip would you give other students considering a similar opportunity?
My advice would be ‘dive in’ – all that initial fear is not real and it’s just the excitement of knowing deep within that you are about to have an experience that your will never forget, both personally and professionally. To students coming to London, I would say yes London is the biggest city in the world, it’s dirty can be dangerous but we have some amazing diversity. Different cultures from across the globe have come here to live and explore arts, culture and what it means to be a Londoner. As students of Westminster allow us to show you our spark, our creativity or passion for what we study and our city.
What message would you like to pass on to students who are considering taking part in international opportunities?
It’s a great addition to your CV and it shows real initiative on your behalf. In an interview, it is a great talking point as there plenty of opportunities during a collaboration like this to explore ideas and become challenged by the creativity of the project. A potential employer would not only see transferrable skills but your willingness to go above and beyond and the passion for your field.