ISTANBUL – In February 2022, Youth Journalism International had a crazy idea – a global conference in Türkiye.
Students were simply told the dates and location of this conference over a Zoom call. It appeared a distant dream.
Sure, we students had all seen each other over various Zoom meetings and followed each other on social media, but meeting up in the real world seemed unattainable.
But YJI did it.
Uniting two continents, Istanbul symbolized the perfect location for the global conference. It was also helpful to have numerous Turkish students residing in Istanbul as they truly know all parts of this famous city.
We travelers packed our bags with goodies from our home countries to share with our friends and Turkish students prepared for our arrival, shopping for snacks and supplies we’d all need.
We were all ready for this conference to begin and finally meet these wonderful students.
Now all that was left was the moment of arrival.
Witnessing students from across the world finally meet each other was a glorious sight. Though each student spoke their own language, the big hugs we greeted each other with told their own story.
Our group included students aged 15-24 from Cyprus, the United States, Scotland, Wales, Pakistan, Ukraine, Colombia, Mexico, Switzerland, Iran and Türkiye. We were together from June 20 to 28.
While those are the simple facts of the conference, there are so many more details such as friendships and memories ignited, thanks to this opportunity.
Everywhere the visitors looked, they saw nothing familiar. And the Turkish students saw and appreciated their city anew through their friends’ eyes.
Letting go of what you’re used to is all part of the travel experience. Each student realized that in order to enjoy what Istanbul had to offer, they had to learn new culture norms.
We all had to go outside our comfort zones and learn to open ourselves up to a new culture.
Every day of the Istanbul adventure brought new encounters both big and small.
When the group ventured to Hagia Sophia and all the girls had to cover their hair with scarves to enter, some of the foreigners looked more Turkish than the locals did.
For Turkish students, walking miles through the city nearly every day was a bit of a shock.
One day after lunch at Sultanahmet Koftecisi, the group walked all the way to Dolmabahçe Palace before taking the historic tram to the Galata Tower.
Another day, the group celebrated all the students who had summer birthdays with fancy cakes and flower crowns.
We played charades, too, and laughed a lot.
Months after this conference occurred, many students still reminisce on their adventures together on Turkish soil.
Although most of the conference students did not speak Turkish, everyone spoke English, and the language of friendship was apparent to everyone.
Through human interaction, once the visitors understood how İstanbul communicates with its people, they could experience all the city had to offer.
That’s how our senses could thoroughly enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of İstanbul, Türkiye, together.
Norah Springborn is a Correspondent with Youth Journalism International from the United States.
Lina Köksal is a Correspondent with Youth Journalism International from Türkiye.
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