"Dispatches from Europe" Blog Contest

Are you planning on traveleling to the European Union this summer? Submit a post to be featured on our Across the Pond blog and win prizes!

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Blogs

The third Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class traveled to the Arctic Circle in summer 2014. Check out their blog entries from this summer!

Ringing the Bells at the Banner of Peace

Landscape Architecture Doctoral candidate Caroline Wisler reflects on her travels to Bulgaria.

Zach Grotovsky's Summer 2013: 14 Cities, 15 Weeks, One Long Adventure

University of Illinois graduate student in Germanic Literatures and Languages Zach Grotovsky documents his travels throughout Eastern Europe in the summer of 2013.

Polar Bears

The Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class spotted polar bears in Norway!

Peaceful Opposition in Izmir

MAEUS student Levi Armlovich describes his experiences with the protests in Izmir, Turkey.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

University of Illinois Study Excursion to Istanbul: It's not 'Constant'inople!

by Professor Bruce Murray and Laura Orozco Rueda

That is correct. There seems to be little constant about it. Turkey and its capital are on the move. Many may ask, "Toward the East or the West?"  Indeed, Turkey is a geographic and quite possibly political link, vacillating between the two. An enlightening study excursion to Istanbul led its nine University of Illinois, German, Austrian, and Turkish participants to conclude that this rapidly developing Middle-Eastern country is more than a physical link between continents. It very well might be a crucial piece in the puzzle of Middle-Eastern conflict and East-West relations.
Istanbul at sunset
The post-Easter excursion provided far more than a sightseeing opportunity. It was foremost a chance to become acquainted with the people and perspectives of Istanbul. Like the International Olympic Evaluation Commission that visited the city simultaneously, the group maintained high levels of enthusiasm and focus. Kepabci Mahmut, a popular Fatih restaurant, offered the starting point for getting in touch with Turkish cuisine and culture.  After an exquisite meal, the Pierre Loti Café provided a perch for viewing the skyline of Istanbul with its myriad mosques and architectural wonders. The glittering modern bridges suggested that Istanbul does more than connect two landmasses; it is a hotbed of innovation and intercultural exchange.

Ishak Alaton, Alarko Group President
A meeting with one of the more fascinating catalysts of positive change in Turkey today highlighted the first morning. Ishak Alaton, a respected entrepreneur in Istanbul, was the host. The discrimination his Jewish family faced during his youth in the 1940s motivated Alaton to succeed in business and advocate democratization, transparency, and human rights. His rationale? "To prove to them that they had made a mistake." Although not popular among some conservative Turkish elites, he fights for progressive social change, personally and with his foundations; a process he believes could accelerate with more intense Turkish EU accession negotiations.   

Dr. Savas Genc (Fatih University Professor of International Relations and guest at a dinner gathering in the home of Istanbul’s largest baklava baker) notes that Turkey’s fast-paced economic development could influence its interest in EU membership. With a booming economy, Turkey could soon join the BRICS group and strive for greater regional sovereignty. And, while most agree that EU accession could foster more progressive anti-discrimination policy, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) leader, suggest that Turkey might strive to overcome such enduring tensions more on its own.
The growth of civil society is another intriguing development in Turkey. The Journalists and Writers Foundation—an institution of the Hizmet Movement—offers a compelling example with platforms for intercultural dialogue, education, family cohesion, women's rights, and research innovation. As Fatih Ceran, Assistant Director of its Foreign Relations Department, notes, lack of knowledge and poverty contribute greatly to social problems in Turkey and elsewhere. The Foundation’s preferred solution is education. Consequently, it builds schools with an emphasis on preserving local cultures all over the world, from the U.S. to Afghanistan. Its “peace through education” approach also casts education and self education the best means to increase intercultural dialogue and acceptance. The Foundation’s ultimate goal is peaceful coexistence.

U.S. Consul-General, Scot Kilner
Employing knowledge to comprehend and mediate conflicts is exactly what the excursion’s final discussion host, U.S. Consul-General Scott Kilner, promotes. He and his staff assert that Turkish EU accession could bring much needed stability to the Middle East. By resolving the Kurdish conflict and mediating in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Turkey also could strengthen regional stability, enhancing its position as a mediator between East and West.  Secretary of State Kerry’s Istanbul visit on the heels of the Illinois excursion aptly underscored that perception.
Yes, one can see Istanbul (and Turkey) as a bridge for intercultural exchange, innovation, and understanding. It possesses a rich culture with great potential--to enhance democracy and tolerance in the Middle East and to contribute to East-West collaboration in the 21st century. That seems greatly preferable to persisting with the tensions and conflicts that plague not only the Middle East today. After all, it is not our differences, but rather our mindsets, that divide us.

Participants in the Austria-Illinois Exchange Program’s Vienna Diplomatic Program and German Language Program traveled to Istanbul with Resident Director, Professor Bruce Murray, during their Easter Break in SS 2013. Participants included the Dr. Ismayil Tokmak and Yasemin Aydin, Co-Chairs of the intercultural institute, Friede—Institut für Dialog, in Vienna, as well as Mag. Vincenz Lerch (Austrian Federal Ministry for Economy, Family, and Youth). Professor Murray and Laura Orozco (Political Science and German, 2015) co-authored this piece.

Image sources:

Istanbul at sunset: http://blog.holidaycheck.de/zehn-romantische-orte/1160148637_istanbul/
Alaton: http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/aufschwung-in-der-tuerkei-die-tuecken-des-turbo-booms-a-795281.html
Kilner: http://istanbul.usconsulate.gov/us_consul_general.html



Wednesday, May 1, 2013

UI Model EU Club Participates in Midwest Model EU in St. Louis

by Paul Christianson

For three days running from April 11, 2013 to April 13, 2013, the Model European Union club at the University of Illinois participated in the Midwest Model EU conference, this year hosted by the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The Midwest Model EU is now the second conference attended by the fledgling Registered Student Organization, which is providing its undergraduate student members with experiences only possible outside of the classroom.

The Model EU organization, as I wrote about here, provides students with an opportunity to learn about the European Union as well as develop a variety of skills. It is student run, but receives counseling and guidance from faculty sponsor Professor Kostas Kourtikakis. Costs for traveling to conferences with the club are subsidized by support from the EU Center at Illinois and SORF Funding.

Committees can often be overwhelming to new participants, because it requires them to possess confidence in their speaking ability and knowledge on a given subject. Good debate skills and an ability to compromise and build coalitions are also a must. So it follows that many students spend their first conference getting a feel for procedure and the typical flow of committee.

The second conference is usually when students feel comfortable and gain the confidence to be participants or leaders in their committee, which is the experience shared by many of the club members. Sophomore Sarah Bahn and Junior Michael Normoyle each attended both the Pittsburgh and St. Louis conferences and participated more and more the second time around. Normoyle even won an award for a strong performance in his committee, in which he represented the Austrian Environmental Minister in the Council of the European Union. Bahn, who will be the Vice President of the club next year, had this to say about the experience: “I figured that it (Model EU) would be one of those clubs that I go to the first few meetings, and then just kind of fade out quietly. However, a few weeks later I found myself in Pittsburgh and then two months later in St. Louis. Model EU has not only helped boost my public speaking skills, but it has raised my confidence in doing so, as well as in thinking on my feet.”

It is also important to note that the conferences, while competitive, are a lot of fun as well. Sophomore Pathik Patel has been a member since the beginning and has attended nearly every meeting and both conferences, saying: “The conference trips were a blast, and exploring new cities was just as exciting as attending conferences. Some clubs on campus that I've given a try definitely came off as rather boring and dry, but Model EU is definitely not one of them.”

In addition to helping students develop a speaking ability, Model EU also fosters an interest in the EU among its members. Because of the club Bahn applied for and received an EU Center travel grant to participate in an EU study tour. “The people I have met through this club are some of the most encouraging, friendly, unique, and social people I have ever met in my life,” she explained, adding that because of the club she “not only applied for a grant to go to Brussels, Belgium this summer to learn more about the EU and other European/international institutions, but was able to receive the grant.”

Lastly, this article is a little bittersweet for me as it will be the last thing I write about the organization here at Illinois. I am graduating in a few weeks and am in the process of passing on leadership of the club to Nicacio Corral and Sarah Bahn, the new President and Vice President. The club has an established group and at this point a history of success in conferences and multiple people capable of building the club for the future, and someone else may be writing these articles next year.

Paul Christianson is an undergraduate senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign majoring in Political Science and History, with a focus on international relations for both. He spent much of 2012 studying international organizations and diplomacy in Vienna before experiencing firsthand the European Union in the University of Washington’s Summer EU Studies Program. After returning the Urbana-Champaign in August, he felt the inspiration to form a Model EU organization at the University of Illinois. The organization meets weekly on Wednesdays and can be contacted through its email address at illinoismodeleu@gmail.com.

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