Global Conference in Istanbul, 2022 Perspective Top

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

Arooj Khalid, lower right, takes a selfie with YJI students in Istanbul.

ISTANBUL – Being born in the late 1990s brings about a fun mix of experiences. As I was growing up, I knew what floppy disks were, but never used them. I saw walkmans and CD players being tossed around, but by the time I was old enough to get my own, the world had moved on to iPod Nano.

Arooj Khalid atop Galata Tower in Istanbul. (Beth Criado-Band/YJI)

I remember using the dial-up connection and waiting for my mother to get off the phone with her sister, but I don’t really remember a time without the internet.

While my brother got his first Nokia 1100 phone working hard in his 20s, I had a handy smartphone handed down to me at 16. In most spaces, my peers and I were considered the most up-to-date, energetic, and tech-savvy people around. That is, until a new generation – “Gen Z” – rolled around.

Having been the baby sister of the OG ‘90s kids, I had my fair share of cringe toward TikTok and other notoriously Gen Z traits. 

With my birth year dangling very close to the Gen Z cut-off, and working in the education sector, my main line of work has always been with Gen Z. I believe in providing them the resources and guidance that was lacking for previous generations or needed for the challenges they will face ahead.

But most of my students have always been around the ages of three to 12. While they inspire me every day with their wide-eyed curiosity and soon-to-be fleeting innocence, I recently discovered that their older counterparts also have something great to offer. 

When Youth Journalism International held its first Global Conference in Istanbul in June, the organizers invited me to take part as an adult alum to mentor some wonderful younger students. I have been a part of YJI – or rather YJI has been a part of me – for the past 11 years.

I remember when I was a confused teenager with few platforms where I could exercise  my passion for writing. YJI editors Jackie Majerus and Steve Collins took me in and provided me with the support and mentorship I needed to polish my journalism skills.

With all of that came a sense of self-confidence that I never had before. I had a lot of things to say and the world needed to hear them.

The author, Arooj Khalid, seated, coaches YJI student İpek Eser of Istanbul on writing. (YJI photo)

I always wondered what their life was like, helping teenagers across the world find and amplify their voices. What made them continue to serve for decades and make sure the world was hearing what its youth had to say? 

I was delighted to be invited, wanting to explore more and meet the new YJI students, so I readily accepted and started preparing for travel. The students participating in the conference hailed from all around the globe. I was curious to learn about their unique perspectives and help them showcase their talent to the whole world. 

The author, Arooj Khalid, helps prepare breakfast at the YJI Global Conference. (YJI photo)

I hadn’t met these students before the conference, but I was looking forward to whatever our experience together would offer. I was also introduced to YJI Zoom meetings, weekly logs, TikToks and more things that were not common when I was a student. 

Living and traveling with 20 students – most of them teenagers – for eight days contributed a lot to the way I view the social impact sector globally and in my own country.

With a firm belief in the inclusion of youth, I have always looked up to the experienced and older professionals in my line of work.

This conference forced me to shift my focus and look at the innovation and passion younger generations bring to the table. The way these young people care about the world and their resolve to fix the problems instead of raving about them was nothing short of inspiring.

They have ideas and the discipline to work on them. They are open-minded, tolerant, and kind. While I am sure being YJI students who traveled from 10 different countries already set them up to be top-notch people, it was more than enough to make me feel like I must do more to make sure their voice is heard by the whole world.  

While I relate hard to a  lot of traits of older Gen Z, my experiences led me to discover a whole generation of young people who aren’t going to settle for less than they deserve.

This is the generation that’s inheriting a world riddled with socio-economic challenges, broken systems, and doomed to suffer colossal disasters at the hands of climate change.

The author, Arooj Khalid at right, snaps a selfie at the Black Sea with YJI student Norah Springborn of the United States. (YJI photo)

This is also the first ever generation that has grown up with social media always around. They are thick-skinned, independent and vocal.

They have a way of standing up and taking space that should already be theirs.

They surpass the limits of millennials and connect globally, ready to mobilize and drive worldwide change. 

The author, surrounded by YJI students at the conference. (YJI photo)
The author, Arooj Khalid, with some of her YJI students in Istanbul. Clockwise from upper left, Regina López of Mexico, Sreehitha Gandluri of the United States, Bilge Güven of Istanbul, the author, and Burak Sanel of Istanbul. (YJI photo)

Since June 2022, I am determined to shift my focus to advocating for their place in the world, whether it’s in the field, in the civil sector, or in policy units.

They might be young, but they are a force to be reckoned with.

Back in my country of Pakistan, climate change is one of the main problems I often address in my advocacy work.

Not long after I returned from the conference, Pakistan faced the brunt of the climate crisis, as a third of the country is underwater with floods.

Even as floods devastate my country and climate predictions threaten our planet, watching young people take the lead – locally and internationally – and refuse to ignore or be ignored has inspired my conviction that they should be consulted in all decisions that will affect the world they will be inheriting.

While the Boomers and Gen X-ers who occupy most higher-up positions in the world have reached these spots through years of experience and learning, imagine what it could mean if their skills were coupled with the can-do attitude of Gen Z.

After all this reflection, I am now gearing my efforts toward making sure I can help the next generation reach their full potential and continue being a force for good in the world. 

Arooj Khalid is an Associate Editor with Youth Journalism International from Pakistan. She wrote this essay.

Beth Criado-Band is an Associate Editor with Youth Journalism International from Scotland. She took the portrait of Arooj Khalid on Galata Tower.

Arooj Khalid on an Istanbul ferry. (YJI photo)

See YJI’s entire Istanbul Adventure by clicking on the logo below:

Parnian Shahsavary/YJI

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