Hannah Traussnigg celebrates her graduation from USC Annenberg — at her family home in Austria.
Photo Courtesy Hannah Traussnigg

Global communication alumna strives to redefine migrant representation

Even though USC Annenberg alumna Hannah Traussnigg lives and works only a two-and-a-half-hour drive away from her hometown in Austria, she’s on the international adventure of a lifetime.

Serving as a public information intern at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Vienna, she works to dismantle negative stereotypes associated with refugees and migrants through social media strategies and awareness campaigns. 

“I am working in my home country, but I’m still working in a very international setting,” Traussnigg said. “I’m working on things that matter with people from other countries and from other cultures who speak other languages, and that’s something that’s always been important to me.”

Traussnigg’s curiosity about new cultures was piqued through her trips around Europe with her family during the holidays and school breaks, inspiring her to spend three months after graduating high school in Barcelona studying Spanish.

“That was the first time I really did something on my own,” she said. “My parents were nervous, of course, but they kind of saw it coming.”

Traussnigg went on to study media and communication for her undergraduate degree at the University of Klagenfurt in Austria — which she admits never fully satisfied her inclination for a global education.

During her time there, she had the opportunity to study abroad in the United States at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she built relationships that inspired her to further her education outside of her home country.

“All my friends in Austria moved to the next big city from where we’re from, and I knew that’s not what I wanted to do, I needed more,” Traussnigg said.

After researching various communication graduate schools, Traussnigg found that USC Annenberg’s dual master’s program in global communication with the London School of Economics was the perfect fit. It offered her not only the opportunity to learn more about something she was interested in, but to do so in two of the world’s major media hubs: London and Los Angeles.

“Ever since I finished high school, I’ve been interested in how globalization affects our society, and there was absolutely no other program that could have given me a better education on just that,” Traussnigg said.

Attending LSE for the program’s first year showed her the path that she wanted to take through an intense curriculum and rigorous studies, allowing her to delve into the topic of migration.

“As we learned about representations of refugees in the media, we had to conduct a long interview with a refugee,” Traussnigg said. “When the refugee from Syria told us his story, something changed in my head. Ever since then, I knew I had a great passion for this topic.”

As with many students, her in-person instruction was cut short in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving back home to Austria to remotely complete the LSE program and then begin her virtual studies at USC Annenberg, Traussnigg worked as a research assistant for Patricia Riley, associate professor of communication and director of the global communication program.

“Even though I was living in my childhood bedroom, I knew I was still committed to learning as much as possible,” she said. 

Traussnigg planned on coming to L.A. in January 2021 for the second semester of her time at Annenberg, but when the time came, international students were still not allowed to come to the U.S. She calls that Spring semester her most stressful time in the program: On top of her classes, research and required thesis, she had moved to Vienna and began interning at the International Centre for Migration Policy Development.

She graduated from USC in May 2021 — a milestone she celebrated with a party at her family home. Although she admits she would have liked to have experienced USC Annenberg in person, Traussnigg has no regrets.

“Had I gone to L.A., I might have never realized how passionate I am about the topic of migration, its related issues, policies and challenges,” she said. “In the end, even though I spent 1.5 years of my two-year double-degree program in Austria, instead of abroad, I am very happy about where it led me.”

Last month, Traussnigg began interning at UNHCR, where she focuses on creating unexpected stories about refugees and migrants in the news. In an effort to break down misrepresentations of migrants in the media, she comes up with press monitoring solutions to counter the negative coverage and invoke empathy from more people.

“People tend to be a bit afraid to concern themselves with refugees because they’re from somewhere else,” Traussnigg said. “It’s awful that people tend to shy away from anything that is different from themselves, but we’re trying to bring those people closer to one another so they can understand.” 

Although being back in Austria was an adjustment for Traussnigg, what she has learned from her time in the dual degree program has prepared her for anything to come, she said. 

“Coming from a rather small country and having done my undergrad at a not-very-well-known school, going to LSE and USC has taught me how to dream big and really take advantage of every opportunity,” Traussnigg said. “It taught me to dare to try, and that I have to be able to adjust to unforeseen circumstances, to be flexible and to not hold on too tight to original plans.”