ISFiT. More than just a student festival

Representatives of more than 100 countries gathered together for 10 days at the international student festival, which took place in Trondheim, Norway. During the International Student Festival in Trondheim (ISFiT) about 500 students worldwide discussed the topic of discrimination from different perspectives.

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Screenshot from the Google maps.

Historical background:

Since the beginning of the festival in 1990, the international student festival biennially gathered youth from all over the world to promote peace, trust, and unity across the borders. In 1997 the project called “Dialogue groups” was launched. It gathers participants to meet on neutral territory with the only purpose to promote dialogue through fertile interactions. This year the citizens of Russia, Ghana, Uganda and Norway discussed the issues of LGBT people discrimination.

In 1998 the organizers came up with an idea to establish Student Peace Prize and recognize those who raise grassroots awareness, facilitate a dialogue, promote peace and fight for human rights. This year Hajer Sharief, the co-founder of Maan Nabniha (Together We Build It) in Libya and the member in the advisory committee for the progress study on youth peace and security mandated by the Security Council resolution 2250, became the recipient of the Student Peace Prize.

To start, we all one way or another have witnessed and experienced discrimination – be it gender, age or political activity. Discrimination is expressed in two forms: direct and indirect. If the former comprises different treatment due to race, religion or gender etc., the latter deals with practice, policy or rule design that are not equally applied to everyone. At the festival students from the Faroe Islands to Malaysia explored discrimination, which is here, big, but with efforts to be put can be lessened by each participant in their respective countries.

It took 6 hours 14 minutes to arrive at the destination point of Trondheim from Oslo by train. Upon arrival, all participants were welcomed in the red building called Studentersamfundet (or simply Samfundet). Driven by the statement that “Samfundet will be the natural meeting place for students in Trondheim” it has its own executive organ with the Finance Board and the Council, which ensure operations of all activities (i.e. thematic meetings, cultural events, bars, and cafes).

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Photo credit: foto.samfundet.no

In foyer of the Samfundet participants could meet their host families. As a side note host families didn’t know whom they provide a place to stay for 10 days and students didn’t know where they would live. For example, I was appointed to a local resident, a 25-year-old nurse. It turned out that we have so much in common, e.g. we love reading about medicine and watching surgeries online.

Here are some wonderful Norwegian sweaters she can knit by herself.

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Photo credit: Erle-Andrea Bjørnsdatter-Løvenskiold Grüner Kvam

Within 16 different workshops (e.g. media, law/policy, history, religion etc.) participants had a chance to get to know each other in smaller groups and share their visions on specific issues related to the topic of the ISFiT.

Some of the festival participants shared their impressions about the ISFiT.

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Alexander Costa is an international business student at Aalto University, Finland. Half-Italian, half-Finnish, he has a passion for cultures, new people, and coffee.

“ISFiT is the people. Around 450 nationalities are represented, each one with their own cultures. However, despite these differences, everyone is ready to build a bridge and accept other. Never before have I had the opportunity to meet so diverse people, and actually feel so similar to them.”

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Lin Nguyen is a Vietnamese by ethnicity but was born and grew up in Ukraine. Studies at the Institute of International Relations in Kyiv. She is fond of the history of colonialism, marine law, scuba diving and intellectual game “what? where? when?”.

“I often feel lonely in a big group of people but ISFiT is not that case. It is impressive how people from so different countries can be so alike. ISFiT is all about finding your soul mates from another corner of the world.  Even though we live far away from each other and speak different languages, we share the same values; have the same hobbies and struggle with the same philosophical problems. ISFIT will not give you any chance to feel lonely: lots of laughs, smiles, hugs and of course – discos. Also, ISFITers are very talented and active people; I cannot help but get inspired and motivated.  Now every time I look at the world map hanging on the wall above my bed, I will think about my lovely soul mates from ISFiT.”

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Idris Bangnam is from Cameroon, now he’s studying Information Systems and Technology in Moscow, Russia. Apart from his keen interest in diplomacy and conflict analysis, Idris loves volunteering, working with people and for people, traveling and discovering new places and people, playing soccer, table tennis, singing, and dancing.

“Today’s world is changing at a very fast pace and many of our common values and cultures are being altered with these changes. ISFiT is a strong answer to such challenges in the 21st century. It presents and international platform and a non-discriminative dialogue arena for young people and students all across the world, who come together, leaving behind their differences while focusing on the things that make them united and connected. Personally, I think that ISFiT is not just an international gathering but it is more of a celebration. Celebrating living diversity, ISFiT is an initiative to highly encourage and support at all levels, from locally to internationally.”

In the “History” workshop I attended we discussed various discrimination related issues and shared our stories. Apart from the workshops, all participants had a chance to go to plenary sessions devoted to topics such as race&prejudice, refugees’ rights, gender&sexuality, indigenous people, discrimiligion: Christianity and Islam. The Project day was another special event of the festival to listen to and ask questions to speakers who fight discrimination in their respective fields. One of the motivational speeches was delivered by Daraka Larimore-Hall, Secretary of the California Democratic Party and Chair of the Santa Barbara County. By implementing skepticism to politics in a comedy manner he elaborated the topic of “Networking and key speaker”.

Imagine a room, a room full of young people. They speak English very well, they listen to music you listen to, they follow YouTube channels you follow – they are just like you apart from one distinct part. We all share different stories, or as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian writer said that “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” As Kuleshov’s sequence of shots (a plate of soup, a girl in a coffin, a woman on a divan) demonstrated the importance of fragments and context in film editing, similarly personal stories of participants were crucial in a way one perceived a person or particular event. The more I learned about each of them, the better I felt a thing called empathetic observation, understood who they are and how we appeared in the same place in the end. With various series of experience, the participants were eager to discuss the following questions: What is history? What stories go untold and why? Who constructs historical reality? Whose stories have been changed? What is the purpose of changing these stories or keeping them quiet? What value should we place on the past? etc.

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Photo credit: Fotogjengen

ISFiT is more than just a festival. It is such a valuable experience through which one might learn, how people can easily become an object of stereotypes and discrimination based on their religion, ethnicity, race or belief; how a single story can build one’s perception of you; how unbelievably troublesome and costly it can be to a student from Iraq to receive a visa, how we as human beings can mobilize narratives around not fictitious stories, but true ones.

After all, everything we experienced brought us some insights about ourselves and people around us. During those 10 days, I have seen that despite borders we share similar lifelines, and because of borders, we have various lifelines. To change yourself in general is a hard thing but changing in a connected and diverse environment makes that change easier.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places”,

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 1929

Bonus: Norwegians can smile, even dance salsa and pretty good by the way, they are born with skis on their feet, and they love to freeze (i.e. open windows) because they do not like, as they say, «thick air». Norway is a very safe place to live in. During my stay, I haven’t seen a single policeman on the street, but many Tesla cars and law-abiding citizens.

P.S. Special thanks to the best group leaders (Tomaris, Gretha, Theresa and Ida)!

 More information:

  1. https://www.samfundet.no/en
  2. https://www.isfit.org
  3. https://www.youtube.com/user/ISFiTtube
  4. https://www.studentpeaceprize.org
  5. https://vimeo.com/user50334710
  6. https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en

Prepared by Madina Bizhanova

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