Graduate students Giovanni Bruna ’12 and Claudia Balzan ’12 participated in the International Summer University for Intercultural Leadership at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, Turkey, this month.
The duo spent two weeks at the university alongside 54 college students from 17 countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America. They attended lectures and workshops and participated in a variety of social and cultural events. They also worked in groups to develop research projects based on an assigned theme, which they will continue to work on and present at next year’s program initiation.
The International Summer University for Intercultural Leadership was created to cultivate the values of peace, mutual respect and intercultural dialogue. FIU is one of 12 partner universities in the summer university program, including George Washington University, New York University, Sciences Po Paris (France), Tel Aviv University (Israel), Dakar University (Senegal), Freie Universität Berlin (Germany), University of London and Graduate Institute of Geneva, among others.
This was the first trip to the Eurasian country for Bruna, a second-year student in the Master of Arts in Global Governance (MAGG) program. Bruna and his group were assigned the theme of “Human Dignity.” The students’ project addresses gaps of inequality in the German constitution by examining the education and housing attainments by the German-Gypsy population.
“Going to Turkey was an amazing trip. Istanbul is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city. It’s a very progressive country and its position between east and west makes it even more geostratically important,” Bruna said. “I was able to bond with students from so many different backgrounds and network with professionals who will one day be my colleagues.”
Bruna, who earned a bachelor’s in international relations, plans on taking the Foreign Service Officer exam after graduation next year. He wants to pursue a career with the U.S. Department of State at an embassy in a European or Latin American country.
This was the second trip to Turkey for Balzan, also a second-year student in the MAGG program, who had traveled there with her family eight years ago. She was placed in a group made up of students from Egypt, Israel and the United States. Their project’s theme is “Ethnic minorities,” and the students will look into the Kurdish diaspora’s role in conflict resolution in Turkey.
“We often think we have more differences than similarities with other people, but I learned first-hand that’s not the case,” Balzan said. “I found the other students in the program and I had similar tastes in music, art and pop culture. But I also learned we often had the same views on how to resolve conflict, how international affairs should be handled, and how the future should be. Programs like this teach people to break barriers and get past the ‘us and them’ mentality.”
Balzan, who also earned a bachelor’s in international relations, will take the Foreign Service Officer exam after graduation in the spring. She wants to pursue a career in the government sector.
Both Bruna and Balzan’s groups continue to work on their projects by collaborating via email, social media and Skype.
Launched by the Aladdin Project in 2013, the international summer university program is funded by the European Parliament and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). FIU Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies Tudor Parfitt was part of the international committee who designed the summer program.