On the 30th of August 2014 more than 150 representatives from 24 nations worldwide gathered in Istanbul, Turkey to attend the 8th SWYAA Global Assembly hosted by SWYAA Turkey and IYEO (International youth exchange organisation of Japan). The week offered great opportunities for networking, reviving old friendships, experiencing historical sights and discovering todays vibrant modern Turkey.
Aye, Istanbul – the capital of the world! Once it was indeed, and the historic legacy of the city really followed us through the days spent in this assumingly 20-million cultural melting pot. Many alumnis had taken the chance to get together even before the program started – and arrive early to sample some tea, kebap and balaklava and roam the narrow paths of the spice market or the night activities around Taksim square.
Day 1: Historic start and Bosphorus cruise night
Gül, Seda, Didem, Busra, Hassan and Recep welcomed us on the first day of the official program, before swiftly ushering the crowd onto our buses, which would accompany us through the streets and bridges of Istanbul the coming week. First official stop was a courtesy lunch and visit to the Fatih Municipality of Istanbul where we had the great honor to be greated by the mayor Mustafa Demir. A short talk and brief historic account of Istanbuls past and the city walls made up the educational part of the occation. No one could suspect that our group of SWY:ers would turn the lunch reception into a dancing party when the music started – and we hadn’t even passed noon.
The must-see-spots and Opening ceremony onboard
The afternoon was spend strolling through Sultanahmed Square, and visiting some of the cities most prominent landmarks and cultural historical sight – such as the Hagia Sophia Mosque and arceological museum, The Blue Mosque and the Yerebatan Cistern among others. The evening was dedicated to the official Opening ceremony – very appropriately hosted onboard a cruise ship on the Bosphorus river.
An abundant selection of fine Turkish cuisine and music set a great atmosphere. Our hosts and representatives of the Cabinet Office of Japan managed to capture a lot of the global SWY spirit and emotion in only a few spoken words, a poem, a song and a short silence to commemorate our absent friends and those in our community who have left us much to early. As we mingled on the top deck the glistening sights of the city slowly passed by in the crisp evening air of the Istanbul night. And so, only three days remained.
Day 2: Heybeliada and Büyükada islands – Istanbul from the water
The second day of the programme was island-hopping-day with study visits and turkish cuisine sampling. The boat ride out to the Prince islands – Heybeliada and Büyükada islands – offered plenty of time to catch up on the socialising, singing and (for those in need) taking a nap on the waves. After a gruelling uphill walk for half an hour, we reached the summit and goal of our first destination – the Theological School of Halki – situated in the old orthodox Ayatriada monastary with breathtaking views over the hills and islands of Istanbul.
Island time, jellyfish and Turkish ”pizza”
Back down by the wharf, after strolling down the pictouresque streets of Halki island, we were treated to an elaborate lunch including fantastic hot and cold meze followed by grilled fish and dessers. No one left hungry – as the group divided into two teams of either village-cafe-shoppers of seaside-sunbathing-swimmers. I would like to report that the dive into that clear, fresh water was exquisite – but not all nationalities agreed on the fact that the water held – what a scandinavian would call – optimal swimming temperature. Still we all enjoyed a very pleasant and relaxing afternoon.
The day was finished off with more traditional Turkish cuisine as we all made our way back to the mainland and a kebab restaurant in Karaköy who served us faboulous cheese and meat pies that could probably be described as Turkish pizza. We had to top off with a nice strong cup of Turkish tea to accompany the excrushiatingly sweet pistaccio balaklava.
Day 3: Summing up worldwide activities
By the third day it was time for the Conference on Post-Program Activities, which was held at the Conference facilities of a state-of-the-art modern Medical Centre. As always, the schedule of presenters was very tight, as many countries had activities to report and presentations prepared. As always, it is striking how the SWY-community prospers and grows in different directions and what a broad range of activities are initiated through the network and energy sparked by the SWY-programme.
We also got official updates on the state of the continuation of the exchange programme from Cabinet Office representatives present. Even though the programme might change it’s name a few times – ”Global Leaders Development programme” or ”Global Youth Leaders” – the entire SWY community keeps supporting, encouraging and hoping that the Japanese Government will choose to continue it’s efforts to support global understanding, develop future leaders and foster cultural exchange in this unique way.
However, the closing act of the conference brought out many laughs, and a few tears – as the representatives from the SWY 2 programme got up on stage and presented the decades of memories, new couples and families and SWY-babies that had become the result of their participation in the programme back in 1990.
Museum stops and Farewell-party with a view and surprise
The afternoon offered a few more chances for cultural enlightenment – with visits to the Panoramic Museum and the Miniaturk park – before heading back to the hotel for evening preparations. The official Farewell party was set on a spectacular river-side rooftop restaurant at the campus area and offered everything from fantastic food, to live entertainment and a number of heartfelt thank-you-speeches and a of course praise to the organising team from the Turkish SWYAA.
The main announcement of the evening is always the disclosure of next years Global assembly venue. As Tamae Saito finally announced it to be Fiji, the roof almost liftet from the cheers and applause. A Pacific GA has been on a many a SWYer’s lips for some time and in 2015 we will all say Bula!
Day 4: Institutional visits and heart-breaking farewells
The last day of the official programme was made up of institutional visits and free time in, as some participants were heading home, while others prepared for leaving for the Optional tour to Cappadocia. Seven different institutions received study visits this day – everything from an environmental management plant and a state television station, to ageing society centre and an organisation working with disabled children.
My group visited the very impressive Yesam Turkish Art and Cultural Centre – which had four floors dedicated to different crafts – jewellery, textile arts, paintings exhibition and our main stop – the curlinary research on Turkish cuisine. The interesting thing about the centre that it has a commercial side, selling the unique products and items produced in traditional manner – but presented in a very high-end exclusive environment allowing for ongoing development and research within each area.
All we didn’t know about Turkish food
For instance, our very enlightening lecture on the history and development of Turkish cuisine, taught us that most of todays food is influenced by the palace kitchen of the Sultans. The fish and seafood wasn’t introduced until after the Ottoman period and the conquering of Istanbul in 1453, and that the arrival of the tomato (called the French apple) in the 18th century pratically changed every dish in the Turkish kitchen to include this red delicacy. By the way – if you thought you knew what ”kebab” meant – think again. Turns out it is the word for a cooking technique – not an actual dish. ”Kebab” is more or less the equivalend of the american word ”barbeque” or argentinian ”asado” – to prepare food over hot charcoal to give it that fantastic flavour.
By this point, numerous adventures continued all over the city, mixed with good-byes and tears as some participants headed back to home, work or other commitments. In the evening the large bulk of the SWY-group gathered in the lobby of the Dedeman Istanbul Hotel before getting on the buses for the upcoming adventure of the optional tour.
But that – is a whole other story…
Written by: Carolina Hawranek