Director, Die Wiener Volkshochschulen
“When the world is spinning faster than you are, you need help to keep moving forward – so you don’t go off course.”
The German word Quereinsteiger is tough to translate into English. Literally, it’s “someone who comes in from the side.” It’s used to describe people who enter a profession in an unconventional way, from a different career, or maybe just late in the game.
Herbert Schweiger, 60, is all of these. It’s easy to understand why he likes his job. A high school dropout, Schweiger came back to education through the Wiener Volkshochschulen (VHS), Vienna’s 131-year-old continuing education system.
Since 2016, he’s been the director of the whole operation – 18 branches offering over 20,000 courses and events throughout Vienna to some 130,000 Viennese every year.
“It was here that I realized that learning could actually be fun,” Schweiger said grinning, in a deep, resonant voice and charming Viennese accent.
Although there are career-related courses among the wide selection offered by the VHS, which is primarily funded by the city of Vienna, Schweiger thinks the more unconventional courses – everything from Beginning Bulgarian to Street Photography, from astronomy to yoga – are the ones that can really contribute to someone’s well-being.
“It’s not just about gaining professional qualifications, it’s about leading a healthy, happy life.”
Although Schweiger’s duties afford him little time to attend courses himself – a typical day involves six to seven meetings between administrative tasks – he’s recently started a course in Qi Gong.
“I need to find a little peace and relaxation, but I don’t really like sitting or lying down – so Qi Gong is perfect!”
With that, he let out a loud, hearty, infectious laugh. It seems to be working.