Living is Learning
Sirna David was a pupil at the Freie Gesamtschule in Vienna from 1984 – 1992. When Lotte Kreissler, one of her teachers, interviewed her in 2012 for the thesis she was writing, Sirna wrote a summary of her own experience of education. Here are some extracts.
For the first eight years of my education I attended an experimental school in Vienna. It was an independently organized project founded by some parents and teachers together, without recognition from the school authorities. That meant that although we had a lot of freedom, at the end of each year we had to take exams in a legally recognised state school.
Unfortunately I lost my motivation in my ninth school year and so I only completed the level for what in England would have been called a secondary modern.
Then I tried, nevertheless, to get into the equivalent of a grammar school, and studied IT, Italian and playing the guitar for a whole summer . . . I stuck it for only a year. The reasons were partly my difficulty in fitting in with the state school system, and partly my age, which was around 15.
After that I wanted to do a middle- level exam, and went to an educational institution fo adults, which also offered courses for adolescents. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t stick that out either. It was all far too theoretical for me. I wanted something visible, something practical, something I could get my hands on, so I started an apprenticeship in carpentry. I completed it with distinction after three years, despite my initial low self-confidence about learning. I had less trouble with the practical side of the training.
After that I worked for a few years, travelled a lot and also lived abroad for quite some time.
Although for a long time I thought that I was not able to learn, in the conventional sense, I now have to admit that I did actually learn quite a few things: I had done a carpentry apprenticeship, I had passed the Master Apprentice Exam at adult evening classes, and also got a licence to drive heavy goods vehicles with trailers. I had worked in theatres, on film sets and at cultural festivals, and learnt a lot there, too.
English, Cambodian, Spanish, Italian, Chinese and Bosnian are only some of the languages I am working with. I have also been learning Chan Mi Qi-Gong for eight or nine years and I am soon going to take the exam to qualify as a Qi-Gong teacher.
But more than anything I am proud of my most recent success as a learner, because in June 2011, I decided, after all, to start studying once again and therefore began to attend classes in maths, chemistry, physics, and essay writing at two different adult evening colleges. I also attended three courses at the university, and I passed in six out of my seven subjects.
I am now a student at the BOKU [the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, in Vienna], taking environmental planning and landscape architecture.
However much I used to think that I had never learnt how to learn, I now believe that I had actually learnt many methods for finding out about whatever I am interested in.
Self-direction, independence, and responsibility for myself were among the things I had been learning ever since my early childhood. These skills strengthen my self-confidence and my ability to assert myself, and they help me to reach my aims.
Pressure of time is one of the things that I cannot deal with well, but my learning process is nowhere near finished yet. On the contrary, I am just beginning a new chapter.
Curiosity, zest for knowledge, suspense and excitement are among my positive feelings about being a student now. One of the things I am worried about is having to stay here for three years, or even longer. I find it difficult to stay and work at one and the same place for too long. When I have got used to the people on the underground, and when I know exactly when or where I will always have my meals or use the toilet, that is usually the beginning of the critical phase – I simply get bored. That is when I need something new, ideally a totally new culture – new people, a new climate, a new environment, and different patterns of personal interaction. These are only some of the reasons why I am attracted to foreign countries again and again. Although for years I have yearned to have a base, a proper home, and a big family, I get itchy feet. But maybe this is how it should be. In my opinion we all think on much too small a scale.