Hakan Gulerce

I am very happy to say that today a humble step was taken for a better world through a valuable youth exchange, an Erasmus+ programme project entitled “Strengthen Cross-Cultural Connections, Embrace the Differences”. It is obvious that we need these two actions more than ever if we really want to build a peaceful future in this world.

First of all, on behalf of The Istanbul Foundation for Science and Culture and the entire Local Planning Committee, I would like to thank the partner institutions of the project, National University “Ostroh Academy”, Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky State Pedagogical University (named after Gregory Skovoroda) and Universıtatea Agrara De Stat Din Moldova. My special thanks go to all participants, students and group leaders who contributed to making the project a success! I am certain that all of the individuals who participated have not only walked away with a better insight into our project theme, but have also become part of a network of colleagues from different cultures who have the intent to keep the conversation going.

In recent years, humanity has witnessed huge numbers of people forced to leave their homes due to war, conflict, poverty and destruction. We have witnessed the dislocation and displacement of individuals, families and children; the power of governments to shut borders; and people bravely making life-threatening journeys across land and sea in search of safety and hope for a better future. 2017 showed a spiraling of tensions, violence shattering cities, increased visibility of hate groups, and attacks on civilians. However, I am also hopeful, as many people are speaking out against these attacks, violence and hate. This project was a very important initiative to coungter such hate and aggression.

It is in human nature to fear the unknown. Many psychologists state that human beings are quick to judge, fear and even hate the unknown. If we do not know something, we feel afraid of it. Once we get to know something, if we encounter the good names and attributes of that thing then we can embark on the path towards loving it. The more we learn about it, the more we love it. This analogy may also work for human beings. If we do not know someone, we may simply choose to not love him/her or sometimes even hate him/her. Sometimes we know someone or something in a wrong way, which can also lead to hatred.

We can say that for peace and reconciliation in the world, we must love each other; to be able to love we must know each other; to know we must have the willingness to engage different cultures. Said Nursi, one of the most influential thinkers in Turkey, stated that “The thing most deserving of love is love, and what is most deserving of enmity is enmity. It is love and loving others that makes a person’s social life secure and leads to happiness.” I believe today all humanity is in need of these teachings.

For these reasons we decided to fulfil this project to contribute towards such solutions. Our aim is to strengthen communication between cultures and individuals, and to increase understanding and respect. We planned to implement this project with partners from Turkey, Moldova and Ukraine, countries which resemble each other in many respects. We facilitated the participation of young people from these countries in mutual workshops, conferences, visits, many activities and day trips with a view to solving the problems in our respective countries. We believe we can learn from each other as a result of our diverse national and cultural experiences. By strengthening the connection between us, we will have a better understanding of the circumstances affecting our countries. We also believe we can develop and increase the level of cross-cultural communication. Finally, by sharing our experiences on a social platform and also via a short film – people are now able to connect and respond to our project through sharing their own views and experiences. This hopefully will be a way of improving and sustaining the impact of this project.

There are some attitudes and skills to make cultural adjustments and cultural interactions that we have applied in the project. These attitudes are openness, acceptance, and trust. Practicing these attitudes will help someone build wonderful relationships in one’s new cultural venture and enrich one’s life wherever they are. These are the attitudes that we need to adopt as we interact with another culture. They get us started in the right direction and help us stay on the right track towards building positive connections with people who are different.

So, in short, I say, “Engage, Learn, Love”…

We documented the success of the project in our magazine and the short film but dearest of all in our memories. I hope this kind of projects will continue and foster greater future improvements on strengthening cross-cultural connections and embracing the differences in the countries involved in this project in particular and the globe in general.