Project Aladdin’s International Summer University for Intercultural Leadership is an annual program held under the auspices of UNESCO. For two weeks, students from all over the world engage in courses, workshops, and research work together, learning about and from each other. The goal of the program is to give students the opportunity to learn about key issues of today’s world, related to coexistence, diversity, and good governance from a political, sociological, historical and cultural perspective.
This year, on the 10th anniversary of this program, 66 students from 29 nationalities and 41 partner universities gathered in Istanbul, Turkey from July 17th to July 29th 2023. Through lectures and their own personal research projects, they explored the theme of “How Natural Disasters and Ecological Challenges Impact A Fractured World”.
This theme was chosen in light of the devastating earthquakes of February 2023 in Turkey and Syria, that served as a harsh reminder that environmental changes and natural disasters are not contained by state borders. Disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, or droughts require coordinated and multilateral action to provide relief for the affected people. The courses and presentations centered around the study of a cooperative and humanist approach to resolving environmental challenges. The students reached a better understanding of how social cohesion evolves in societies; how it forges ties that transcend ethnic, cultural, and even national divides, and how it contributes to mitigating the impact of natural catastrophes.
Project Aladdin awards Enver Yücel with the “Lifetime Achievement Award for Education”
On the particular occasion of the 10th anniversary of the International University for Intercultural Dialogue, Abe Radkin and Leah Pisar presented Enver Yücel, President of BAU Global, with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Education, in recognition of his major role in bridging youth around the world, facilitating constructive intercultural dialogue and promoting peace for a brighter future. The decade-long partnership between Bahçeşehir University and Project Aladdin has allowed us to grow the program and welcome students from all over the world in BAU’s Future Campus, ensuring a once in a lifetime opportunity. Project Aladdin is looking forward to the next years of successful partnership with Bahçeşehir.
A once in a lifetime learning experience
For two weeks, participants had the opportunity to learn from experts, scholars, and practitioners from different countries who provided them with a broader understanding of the uneven impact of natural disasters on different members of society and the technical knowledge on disaster recovery. They also tackled the issue of how policy-makers can better prepare for future climate change related catastrophes. The students attended lectures covering a wide variety of topics such as water accessibility, building resilient cities, aid in health and conflict situations, and the future of agriculture. They became familiar with several case studies, especially the February 2023 earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria. These lectures, discussions and reflections eventually allowed them to develop a better understanding of the challenges faced by international organizations, governments and NGOs trying to work together on recovering from disasters.
The students enjoyed lectures from renowned speakers such as Achraf Bouali, Head of the OECD in Turkey, who detailed how the OECD collaborates with local governments to support economies affected by disasters. The students also benefitted from the analysis of Louisa Vinton, Resident Representative for the UNDP in Turkey, who gave the students a concrete understanding of the work to be done in recovering from a catastrophe. The point of view of Oguz Ergen, climate activist and member of Generation17, helped shed a light on the role of young people and civil society in the fight against climate change.
As this Summer program is organized under the auspices of UNESCO, Project Aladdin also made sure to develop students’ intercultural and leadership skills. To this end, Serhan Ada, Associate Professor at Bilgi University and UNESCO Chair on Cultural Policy and Cultural Diplomacy, held two workshops on intercultural skills. The workshop’s purpose was to help students develop a ‘toolkit for intercultural dialogue’ that they would apply in their future lives and careers.
President Leah Pisar, His Excellency Secretary General Judge Mohammed Abdelsalam, Ambassador Jonathan Cohen and Executive Director Abe Radkin held a special discussion with the students on the role of young leaders in a turbulent world. Through these exchanges, the students had the opportunity to learn more about their role in today’s political climate, as they represent the young generation. Taking action in local spaces, engaging with others of different cultures, and lending a voice to minorities are all ways that these young leaders can empower themselves and others to make a change today.
In addition to the morning lectures, afternoon research workshops were organized during the course of the two-week program. The students were divided into small research groups from very different cultural and educational backgrounds. Together, they worked on a research proposal in line with this year’s theme and their own personal knowledge, interests and ambitions. By the end of the program, they presented the outline of their project, explaining their main research question and its methodological framework as well as a detailed timeline for the next months.
The students received feedback from our panel, consisting of Professor Tudor Parfitt, Chair of the Aladdin Academic Committee, and Dr. Sinem Eray, from Bahçeşehir University, specializing in foreign affairs and international relations, on the feasibility of their project and quality of their presentations. Each group will continue working on their research projects over the next months, fostering their bond and intellectual partnership, and submit their research papers by November 2023. All the submitted research projects will be evaluated by an international jury, and the most promising projects will be rewarded.
Learning about the Other, from the Other
Beyond the academic program, Project Aladdin aims to make the IUIL a truly unique and cultural experience, by going beyond the campus and discovering the city of Istanbul. As a city that has always been at the crossroads of cultures, faiths and civilizations, Istanbul is the ideal setting for our program. As part of a guided tour, the students visited, among other sites, Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia. The students could also discover the tradition of Dervish Turners.
On the 26th of July, Project Aladdin organized the “Welcome to my Culture” evening during which the students had the opportunity to present their respective cultures. Through food, clothing, dance, music, songs and quizzes, they introduced their fellow students to important aspects of their home country or region.
Building bridges between young people all over the world
On the 28th of July, after their research project presentations, all students graduated as “Youth Ambassadors for Intercultural Dialogue” joining a large network of IUIL alumni worldwide.
Over the past ten years, the International Summer University for Intercultural Leadership has been offering students from all over Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North and South America a unique two-week educational experience. Project Aladdin’s Summer school is one of the only programs bringing together Muslim and Jewish students. Thanks to Project Aladdin’s wide network of partner universities, we are able to bring together students from different educational levels and fields: from medical studies, economics, literature and political science students, studying at the Bachelor’s, Master’s, or PhD level, they all come together to share these two weeks and work together. The IUIL is not only an academic program, but rather emphasizes the human connections and friendships that are forged during the program and will last a lifetime. This year’s cohort joins a network of over 600 young leaders around the world who keep spreading the IUIL’s message of peace, tolerance and understanding between all cultures.