Mass demonstrations, brutal clashes between the police and citizens as well as the obstinate governmental control were reasons for the lately occurred presence of Turkey in the worldwide media. Particularly Istanbul, as main venue for protests, captured a lot of attention and became an illustration for the strength of solidarity to change our environment through common goals. Therefore, Istanbul represented the perfect place to realize the first Summer Academy on sustainability from an intercultural perspective, a result of the cooperation between Karlshochschule International University and Istanbul Kültür University.
It all began on the 22nd of August at 10 in the morning when 38 students, from all over the world, gathered at Istanbul Kültür University to participate in the first Summer Academy of its kind. During the opening ceremony, we were introduced to the professors, trainers and volunteers who were supposed to teach and help us in the coming week. The time schedule was subdivided in two sections, the theoretical lectures about energy related measures in the morning and the intercultural workshops in the afternoon. Our first lecturers were Prof. Dr. Cordula Braedel-Kühner from Karlshochschule about environmental ethics and philosophy as well as Ass. Prof. Cagla Gül Yesevi from Istanbul Kültür University teaching about Regional energy politics in a comparative perspective. Mrs. Braedel-Kühner introduced us in the current problem of decision making towards a more sustainable future which is strongly dependent on philosophical approaches like the utilitarianism, natural laws or the deontological ethics. The lectures made it possible to discuss these issues in small groups of international students which emphasized our different cultural backgrounds. In between the lectures and workshops, lunch was served in the canteen of Kültür University. Moreover, a garden behind the University, frequently used, offered the opportunity to recover and exchange some stories under palms. In addition, the intercultural workshops in the afternoon were focused on general intercultural competences like cultural models on communication or teamwork. Besides theoretical input, energizers and group games, sometimes mysterious games like the magic carpet, played a key role to strengthen the intercultural experience as well as shoulder muscles.
The second lecture, hold by Mrs. Yesevi, took a closer look to the international energy markets and their interaction as well as the dependencies on fossil resources all over the world. She outlined that not only with resources blessed superpowers like Russia and Saudi Arabia play a fundamental role, but also transit countries like Turkey are crucial for the European energy market. Pipelines through Turkey, as interface between Asia and Europe, are fundamental to diversify gas imports to European high consumption areas. This might be the only way to be more independent from coming Russian monopolies and price regulations. Not only the lectures and workshops were part of our first week, but also evening programs were organized to give us a deeper insight in the Turkish culture and their current issues.
Thus, we went to the Gezi-Park area to learn more about the protests and clashes we all have heard about. We had the chance to talk with Turkish people about their wishes, experiences and fears concerning the ongoing protests. They told us everything about their own fights against the police, the increasing outrage in Turkey, their dissatisfaction with the government and also about their hope in the continuing resistance. To hear that was such a deeply impressive experience for us, directly sitting in the heart of the Gezi area where the protests had happened just a few weeks ago. This was the perfect opportunity to replenish our theoretical knowledge, we have learned about in the lectures and workshops, with practical and current issues in a changing environment like Istanbul. This forum impressively showed that sustainability is not only about economy and nature. We are the people in charge, we have the possibility to change and we are living in societies that have to be able to sustain themselves. Otherwise, we are going to pay more attention to societal or economic issues, completely ignoring our natural framework, which has been the status quo for the last decades.
On Thursday, we had the great chance to visit a traditional Sema-Night, a spiritual ceremony in which the “semazens” (whirling dervish) circled the chamber three times. The first cycle tells e.g. of God creating the sun, the moon and the stars accompanied by a traditional music ensemble.
After having a great weekend with sightseeing, beaches and many culinary delicacies, the second week again began with a welcome and orientation session. New lecturers, new trainers and consequently new issues were planned for this week. The main emphasis shifted onto finding solutions to the problems we have learned about in the first week. Prof. Dr. Nurten Avci introduced us to the benefits and problems of renewable energies in Europe. Her lecture showed the current problems in implementing renewable energies like sun-, wind- or biomass power plants into the conventional energy supply system illustrating how important it is, to find alternatives for a more sustainable future. We also talked about the smart development of Brown- as well as Greenfield cities and their impact on our environment. After that, Dr. Özge Zihnioglu showed us the basics of partnerships between public-, private- and NGO institutions in energy politics. The main focus on CSR-Strategies and their aims provided a good basis for intercultural discussions within the groups. It was interesting to hear about strategies from different countries and companies, aiming either for real social benefit or just green washing and financial benefit. Our theoretical input was then again widened by the intercultural workshops, this time focused on political and entrepreneurial decisions. We made own investigations to find out how energy is produced, saved or wasted in the local area in which the university is located. An experimental game about the decision making in the European Union rounded off the week. It was a role play in which every student held a position, representing a country or company to influence the commission, council or parliament in preparing an energy directive for 2020.
All in all, the Summer Academy on Sustainability from an intercultural perspective was a great experience to discover one of the most important issues we are faced to. The rethinking and recreation of conventional structures offers huge possibilities and space to change for the better. We are living in a globalized world which means that also this task is going to be intercultural and only solvable with the help of others.
We met as a crowd of students and left as a team of friends with another perspective on natural issues. This clearly shows that there are a lot more benefits of sustainable cooperation than just economic profit.