I just sent in a report of my summary of and highlights from the Forum, so here they are for you all as well 🙂
From December 10-13, 2011, I was invited to attend the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations 4th Annual Doha Forum in Doha, Qatar. Before the Forum even began, however, I was a co-moderator on the UN AoC Youth Community website and moderated an online discussion about the three themes of the conference. Reading the responses from young people all over the world to the question, “Can development goals succeed without taking cultural diversity into account? Yes or no?” inspired me to take the Forum very seriously. I was especially looking forward to the youth preparatory event, which occurred on the 10th and would showcase the results of the online discussion as well as initiate similar conversation. The purpose of that day was to encourage the 400 youth attending the Doha Forum to be very active in the panels and discussions. I was very impressed by my co-moderator’s summaries of the online discussion forum. Afterwards, each co-moderator and additional moderator from Penn State University was given around 10 youth participants. We then had three separate hour-long meetings to discuss the three themes of the conference.
The Youth Event was truly the highlight of the Forum for me. I was so privileged to be able to have these in-depth conversations with people from all over the world from different classes and niches within their societies, and I feel that I am a better facilitator because of the experience.
During the actual Forum, I greatly enjoyed some of the Break-out Sessions and Lab Groups. Since I study Linguistic Anthropology, the Lab on Multi-lingualism was very interesting and encouraging to me. I learned about some political and educational strategies to encourage citizens and students to learn new languages. Personally, I was inspired to learn Arabic at the Forum, simply because it was all around me and because I wanted to understand what my new friends were saying. From my experiences from every other language that I have learned, however, I know that I will also come to understand the culture of those speakers on a more intuitive and intimate level. I also enjoyed the Break-out Session on Internationalizing Academia. I have always believed that a global education should be mandatory for all students, but I know that local interests and policies can be obstacles. At that session, I learned about the results of a long-term research project on the alumni of a secondary-school exchange program, and it is very clear that the benefits of intercultural education are wide-ranging. Moreover, these benefits do not change over time. As a Youth for Understanding-Ecuador alumni, I felt proud to realize that my interests and actions today came from this experience with an intercultural education in high school. If we want to create a more peaceful global society filled with understanding, and not intolerance, then international education will be necessary in raising a new generation of global citizens.
Overall, I am very grateful to have attended this Forum. As someone who has to explain to many people why I choose to study languages and cultures even though I would like to work in international affairs and politics, this Forum reaffirmed my belief that the only way development can be sustainable, effective, and inclusive is if it is a result of intercultural dialogue and understanding. I had very illuminating conversations, met people from countries that I have never been to, and feel that much more encouraged to continue with my studies and with my extracurricular interests. I also feel much more confident about my public speaking and moderating abilities. Thank you for this opportunity, and I know that this will not be the last time that I collaborate with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, the International Youth Council, nor the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation.