Forming strong friendships was the best part of YJI’s Global Conference

YJI’s Istanbul Adventure is a collection of news stories, travel writing, illustrations, personal commentary and lots of photos that document Youth Journalism International’s first Global Conference, held in Istanbul, Türkiye, in June 2022.

Tanya Tkachenko talks with fellow YJI students about the war in Ukraine. (Mary Majerus-Collins/YJI)

ISTANBUL – Before any of the eager young students had even set foot in Istanbul, the Youth Journalism International conference in Türkiye was already an incredible feat of planning, months in the making, and the realization of a vision that spanned decades.

With the help of committed donors, fundraising events, and relentless determination, 20 students from across the globe were taking trains, planes, and all manner of transportation to come together and meet for the very first time in person

YJI alum Arooj Khalid, an Associate Editor at YJI and a group leader in Istanbul, spoke with students about growing up as a girl in Pakistan. (Mary Majerus-Collins/YJI)

The coronavirus pandemic was a major event for everyone, but for teenagers who should have been spending their time socializing and exploring the world, it was incredibly restrictive.

After all, they were connected through the lockdowns and isolations online, working on collaborative global writing projects like Covid Mood, which examined the pandemic’s impact on youth mental healthand No One is Safe, a look at the worldwide scourge of sexual assault.

For these students heading to Türkiye, though, the pandemic laid groundwork for incredible bonds to be formed.

The students bonded through their collaborations on these projects and created introspective and in-depth articles.

But in Istanbul, they had the chance to see one another beyond a webcam and crackling mic, with no poor internet connection to cut their conversations short. And what better setting than Europe’s biggest city, one that serves as a bridge between continents?

Istanbul was an apt choice.

As the days went by, the initial nervousness of meeting one another subsided, and there was rarely a moment of silence. Instead, five or six simultaneous conversations on any number of topics took place, as well as the inevitable chorus of laughter every other minute.

With the joviality of the group and the matching t-shirts designed by the conference’s own attendee, Senior Illustrator Parnian Shahsavary of Tehran, the students were more akin to a high school class who had been in each other’s company for four years as opposed to four days.

After the days spent in Istanbul, the conference headed out onto the water, taking a ferry to the nicknamed YJI Villa in Büyükada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands just off the coast. 

This was the time for online collaborative writing to become in-person collaborative writing, and the students enjoyed a slower pace on the idyllic island after the hustle and bustle of the city.

That didn’t mean there was any less exploring, however. Students went to the beach, discovered an ancient Greek orphanage, and even climbed a small mountain to see the monastery that adorned the top of it.

There, with panoramic views of the Sea of Marmara, YJI alum Arooj Khalid gave a deeply personal and motivational lecture on her mission of bringing quality education to all girls, especially in Pakistan, her own country. Her moving speech even attracted passers-by, who stayed to hear what Khalid had to say.

Ukrainian student Tanya Tkachenko, and Iranian student Parnian Shahsavary also gave testimony to their experiences and struggles.

Parnian Shahsavary told her fellow students about life in Iran.

The students, who had become best friends by this point, listened with empathetic ears and open hearts.

The notebooks which each student held quickly filled up with messages of love and thankfulness to one another, so they could bring home a part of their friends even as the conference drew to a close.

As YJI Correspondent Lina Köksal of Istanbul said, “We all were so glad to see that all the friends we spend so much time with were more than a zoom cube on our screen. We all hope to meet again because one week was definitely not enough for us.”

Every single one of her peers shared that sentiment.

This brief overview seeks to give you a taste of the Youth Journalism International Global Conference in Istanbul and what the time spent there achieved, but for the full experience and better story, you must read the other students’ articles written for this project.

They wrote from their hearts and the strong bonds they formed are reflected in their writing.

I implore you to read on.

Owen Ferguson is an Associate Editor with Youth Journalism International.

Watch a recording of our public forum about the conference, featuring many of the students who attended:

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Walking carefully on slippery, ancient steps

YJI’s conference in Türkiye inspired me to work with youth

A remarkable, shared adventure