Our first day in Vienna was rather busy, and also very rewarding. We rode to the House of the European Union and were welcomed by Mr Richard Kuehnel, the Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Vienna and one of the first supporters of Ride for your Rights! After the initial greetings, and with the presence of national media, Mr Kuehnel signed the Bike of Honour and joined the group for a spin, before inviting us all inside.
Once we took care of the formal opening remarks, we began to explain the goals of our project and our opinions about the obstacles hindering student mobility. What was supposed to be a short conversation developed into a lively exchange of ideas that lasted for more than an hour. From each person's personal experience, to the actual role and powers of the European Commission, we had a fruitful discussion and a valuable opportunity to transmit our concerns to the European bodies.
After a short break, we moved on to a workshop on Non-Violent Action, led by Mr Harold Otto, originally from the USA, now working with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in Vienna. We learned about the intelectual principles behind the concept, heard inspiring thoughts from Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and other leaders of non-violent activism. We ended the workshop with some roleplaying, where Tiago incarnated an "evil" border guard (being the most experienced as of late), Niki as his assistant, Sasha as a clueless German tourist and Tanja as an annoying traveller behind schedule. Then we took the time to put ourselves in the other person's shoes, to better understand both sides of a strife.
After yet another short break, we met Prof. Neda Forghani-Arani, originally from Iran, now teaching at the University of Vienna. She led the second workshop of the day, dedicated to the subject of Global Education. We tried to analyze the way we identify ourselves, in terms of nationality and otherwise, and tried to deconstruct that same identity label. We then split into groups in order to figure out what it takes to be an agent of change. It appears that everyone agrees on the essential aspects (knowledge, values and tools) and that all the riders are quite prepared and motivated to bring about the change they seek.
Julian gave some closing remarks and we went out to lunch at a Pakistani restaurant. According to Sasha, when they say hot, they mean hot.
The afternoon was free for most people, but there's a small group that is always busy. A visit to Ciclopia was in order, where Julian had his bike serviced, Sasha felt like a kid in a candy store and Tiago managed to place the capacity of Boris at seven and a half bikes, plus luggage.
In the evening we had dinner with Mr Gottfried Bacher, from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research, who had joined us for the morning meeting and wanted to talk to us in a less formal atmosphere. Very familiar with the Bologna Process, he is the person to talk to when it comes to recognition issues, and we're very glad he showed so much interest in our project.
We went on to check out the Vienna night life, after one of our fullest days so far. Intercultural exchange at its best. And the Ride never stops.