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NYU Florence Student Interviews Recent Alum about Contemporary Art, Dialogue, and Studying Abroad

Feiran Lyu, current NYU Florence student, was recently in conversation with Andreas Petrossiants,
NYU ´16, Global Liberal Studies. This piece by Feiran shares highlights.

Andreas Petrossiants is an independent art historian and critic based in New York City. He received an M.A. in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London where his research focused on critical conceptualist art and labor politics of the 1960s. He finished his B.A. at New York University in Global Liberal Studies with a concentration in Arts and Literatures, where he studied at NYU’s La Pietra campus in Florence, Italy for three semesters while researching towards his senior thesis. He is a frequent contributor to The Brooklyn Rail, and has published writing in Senza Cornice, The Daily Serving, among others.

What does Dialogue mean to you?

The workshop that I conducted at La Pietra in October was based on a recapitulation of a broad swath of art historical and theoretical methodologies and I would like to continue such an approach for my answers here. That being said, please excuse the overly pedantic—and already well-documented—nature of some responses.

I believe it is safe to say that “dialogue” has taken on two very diverse (and strategic) definitions: one odious and reactionary, the other idealistically emancipatory. Today, we must understand that “dialogue” implies the tacit expectation of an eventual understanding, agreement, or compromise between interlocutors or groups. This potential has become—to my mind—severely overstated and ineffectual. Like other various progressivist tools—such as protest or grassroots activism—dialogue, and its goals, have been usurped by reactionary groups and tendencies to legitimize fringe groups and actions. Such groups have targeted identity politics, “political correctness,” and other strategies of forging and protecting identity, and distorted such protections to say: “our free speech has been infringed upon, we are no longer permitted to say the [horrible] things we would like to say.” That being said, I understand my response seems to be an indictment of free speech, and that is surely the grounds on which a member of such a group would disagree, but my point is only an indictment of hate speech masquerading as legitimate (political) dialogue. This is all to say, sometimes we don’t need to hear “both sides” when what only appears to be legitimate free speech comes into fierce conflict with other civil liberties. This is particularly important to consider given the current economies of clicks, likes, posts and the incredible proliferation of media and information. (A recent talk by Judith Butler, “Limits on Free Speech?” republished on the Verso Books website, is an example of a important way of reconciling all of the above).

All this notwithstanding, I should make clear that I am not referring to “dialogue” in the way La Pietra Dialogues invokes it, both in practice and in name. This is where the emancipatory potential can still function as a very real method for pedagogically bringing attention to what is not right, and to discuss courses of decisive action to counter this. For this reason, I consider LPD to be one of the most important organizations I was lucky enough to engage with as a young student. In many ways LPD stands as an example of the power of free speech, and especially dialogue, to create new discourses, new intersectionality, and new interdisciplinary. It is not farfetched or hyperbolic to say that LPD is a model of programming dialogue that much mass media should take due note from.

What role does contemporary art play today?

This is, perhaps, an even broader question that deserves much more attention than I can presently give—though that is not to say that more than ample attention has not been already been given. Firstly, one must distinguish between the term “contemporary art” as a placeholder for art after year x (the year decided by a particular institutional authority), art made now, and all the other ways of giving the contemporary era a temporal “origin” point—itself a very fraught historiographical action. Some authorities point to the multiple “deaths” of painting in the late 50s; others to the “dematerialization” of the art object coinciding with the “conceptual turn”; others yet, begin with the political activity of May 1968 or the fall of the Berlin Wall and the USSR.

On the other hand, a term like “Postmodernism” denotes a variegated, though still more specific, series of cultural tendencies and models; in the artistic context related to the rejections of authorship, the original artwork’s “authenticity,” and notions of teleological “progress.” See Frederic Jameson’s writings for the term’s early theorization, especially his seminal essay: “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.”

The definition of “contemporary,” etymologically at least, has little to do with the way the term is used in branding, historicizing, or spectacularizing art. Take, for example, the recent blockbuster record breaking auction sale of a Leonardo da Vinci painting that made headlines last month. What does this have to do with contemporary art? Not so much. However, it has everything to do with the contemporary hyper-inflated art market, our contemporary era of rampant financial speculation, and so on. So, my roundabout answer can only bring attention to a “broken” dialectic between history and contemporaneity, as they collapse into one another, and to the multiple meanings “contemporary” can take when used as a mechanism for history-writing, as a placeholder for no-longer applicable taxonomies, or as a direct provocation of our everyday. E-flux published a very useful reader titled What is Contemporary Art? (2010) that is a good place to start; I especially recommend Martha Rosler’s “Take the Money and Run? Can Political and Socio-critical Art ‘Survive’?” and Cuauhtémoc Medina’s essay “Contemp(t)orary Art: Eleven Theses,” both in the book.

Another way to approach answering this question is by looking at what is alternately called “socially-engaged art,” social art practice, relational aesthetics, and so on. Claire Bishop’s Artificial Hells, provides a strong critique of the validity of much of the work/theorizing that constitute such tendencies.

This year’s Venice Biennale was (for the most part) yet another startling example of art system escapism in the face of incredibly pressing and disastrous global political circumstances.

What is the relationship between contemporary art and culture?

Again, I worry about answering this question in brief. But a short answer might be that the former commodifies the later or that the former constitutes the latter (in part). The culture industry, as it has been organized, is a complex web of institutions ranging from academia, museums, and kunsthalles, to corporate art firms, auction houses, and for-profit galleries, and furthermore those institutions more distant from the rarefied “art system,” such as political parties, media structures, and so on. The recent (many) controversies following in the wake of documenta 14 are clear examples of the above. In such complicated webs, there are the many goings-on that together produce (mass) culture. But, one must be very careful not to ascribe the entirety of culture to what can be seen, bought, or read in a history book, and to not discredit various cultural phenomena that constitute our contemporary moment. (Once again this word haunts us). It is important to understand who is defining culture and from what position that definition is being produced and subsequently disseminated.

How did your experience in Florence influence or help your work?

This is a very personal response, and might not be the same reading of the city and its multiple cultural scenes that someone else might have. So, get out your grains of salt!

After working for two years at a for-profit art gallery in New York, my move to Florence allowed me to distance myself from a fast-paced profit-centric art system. That is obviously not to say that there are no for-profit galleries in Florence, nor that there is something inherently “wrong” with the concept. Different models of exhibition-making allow for their own specific benefits and hindrances.

My time in Florence allowed me to take in broad sections of the city’s many cultural scenes as a quasi-outsider: I interned at the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi (before the opening of the Museo Novecento and the arrival of another institution to show modern/contemporary art in Florence), I visited the contemporary section of the wonderful Museo Marino Marini, and got involved in the music scene at venues on the other side of the Arno, and so on. My undergraduate research and thesis-writing—which of course now I would like to amend and takes Florence as a case-study for analyzing how diverse art practitioners define the term “contemporary,” and how it can mean so much and so little at once. Florence’s production of simulacral history or idealized “authenticity” makes it an especially great place to view the culture industry on a smaller scale, and to understand how a façade (even a remarkably beautiful one) can deceive the eye, and can subdue historical analysis for a mystified imaginary. (Professor Lombardo’s course on the histories of urban planning and architecture at NYU Florence was an important introduction to getting past this façade). All that being said, the city was incredibly important for my development, both academically and personally.

In what way does art history help understand contemporary art?

Contemporary art constitutes art history, perhaps at the very moment that it is produced. Though, what is most important is to acknowledge how art history itself is created, consecrated, and venerated. Marcel Duchamp’s famed 1957 lecture “The Creative Act” is a great start. He describes how the spectator, or “art historical posterity,” completes the work of art upon its being viewed, experienced, heard, etc., and how the accompanying process of history-making is very selective. Those who write history create the narratives that are remembered and subsequently taught; but, they also choose those that are potentially “reopened” for historical revisionism and those that are forgotten. This question has only become more relevant as information systems and technology have proliferated in all aspects of life. As the Italian autonomists describe, the primary commodity of our time is information.

What do you think is the major difference between the European contemporary art world and the U.S. contemporary art world?

The major difference is in funding models for art institutions. Many countries in the EU have much higher percentages of their budgets allocated for cultural institutions of all sorts. Of course, the entrenchment of neoliberal economic models in the U.S. and in Europe has meant serious cuts to such public cultural spending in recent decades. Much of the art system in the U.S. is funded by corporate sponsorships, private donors, foundations, and the like; publicly funded projects are few and far between. This model is being applied in many European countries as well, especially now as right-wing governments take political control—either by winning elections, or by shifting policy (and the “center”) further to the right by becoming more extreme.

What do you think is the most important responsibility of art critics nowadays?

There are many that argue that (art’s) criticality, or its potency for any structural change, has been neutralized and made ineffective by an implicit complicity with the systems one critiques. I do not think this interview is the place to grapple with such a broad and difficult claim. I will say, however, that one very important approach (of many) that a critic must take is to shine a light on spaces, artists, groups, and moments that have been traditionally left out of art discourse. It is important to understand the mechanisms at work in creating history, a point that not surprisingly keeps coming up in this interview. For one very important and well-known example, Linda Nochlin’s brilliant and seminal essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (1971) exemplifies such an approach. We must continue in Nochlin’s path; today, perhaps, more forcefully than ever. We must not shy away from difficult questions.

Read some of Andreas´ recent articles in The Brooklyn Rail:

“José Leonilson: Empty Man”, December 13, 2017

“Resistance Across Time: Interference Archive”, November 2, 2017

And Senza Cornice: Rivista Online di Arte Contemporanea e Critica:

“A Painting by Hans Haacke: Dematerializing Labor”, n. 17, December2017/March 2018

 

This piece was originally published on the La Pietra Dialogues website and is available here.

NYU Abu Dhabi Students Develop Cost-effective Solution to Food Contamination Problems

Team iGem from NYU Abu Dhabi who won a gold medal at a competition in Boston for their cost-effective solution to detect E. coli.

By Ibrahim Chehade, NYU Abu Dhabi Biology Instructor

NYU Abu Dhabi’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team has received the university’s first gold medal at the Giant Jamboree held in Boston, US. The Giant Jamboree is a synthetic biology competition that hosts student academic scholars from 310 international teams.

The NYUAD team of 12 biology and engineering students were led by seniors Adrienne Chang and Khairunnisa Semesta, supervised by faculty members and instructors, Dr. Kourosh Salehi-Ashtiani, Dr. Yong-Ak Song, Dr. Mazin Magzoub, Ibrahim Chehade, Ashley Isaac, and Mona Kalmouni.

The project, E. coLAMP, was concerned with the development of a portable and affordable device that is capable of amplifying a genetic marker of the Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli in just 20 minutes using a technique called loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP). The engineering team designed and printed a robust, 3D-printed case, which houses the electrical components and the silicone chip for the biological reactions.

The intended usage of the device provides a simple procedure for the end user. A food sample is swabbed and added to a solution, and the solution is transferred into the silicone chip. The chip can then be placed on the heating base of the device, and the reaction can be easily visualized after 20 minutes. The team was successful in developing a proof-of-concept, which cut down the cost of each reaction to only $4 USD. The result: a cost-effective solution to rampant food contamination in various parts of the world.

3D rendering of a portable device that can detect E. coli in 20 minutes, developed by a team of students at NYU Abu Dhabi.

In the development of E.coLAMP, the team employed a comprehensive design-build-test cycle, integrating feedback from potential users into the design of the device to better meet users’ needs. In the spirit of community service, the NYUAD team also conducted extensive education and engagement programs by inviting 20 Brighton College high school students to NYUAD’s first annual synthetic biology workshop. An outreach program was also conducted in Indonesia to primary school students on food safety and hygienic practices.

Being the only team from the United Arab Emirates, the team hopes to encourage and share their experience with other GCC institutions to help them launch their own iGEM teams in the future. By doing so, they aim to promote the value and importance of interdisciplinary studies in the development of a successful project.

The team offers their gratitude to the Division of Science and the Division of Engineering, as well as the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology for their generous support that helped this program to become a success.

This post comes to us from NYU Abu Dhabi and you can find the original here.

NYU London Student on Volunteering – Changing Hearts and Minds in Calais

This reflection comes from NYU London student Destiny Gallegos, who shares her experiences during the joint NYU London and NYU Paris volunteer trip to Calais and Dunkirk.

What better way is there to start the best month of the year in France doing something that matters for people who need it? That’s exactly how I spent the first and second of December during the Calais Volunteer Trip to assist Help Refugees in their efforts to provide the refugees in Calais with provisions they so desperately need. There was plenty of sorting and cooking and loving happening at the warehouse those two days.

Admittedly, before going on this trip I did not know as much about the whole situation in France with the refugee crisis as I do now after the trip. It wasn’t until our debriefing upon arrival at the warehouse that I learned how awful the refugees have it in Calais. From sleepless nights and severe police brutality to their tents being slashed and them and everything they own being sprayed in teargas to suffering through endless days and nights in the miserable, wet weather — the refugees need any bit of help they can get. All of this appalls me. I couldn’t have been happier to be there helping this organization give these people some hope and kindness each day.

For both days I was on kitchen duty. I volunteered with amazing English and French people who were running the Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK) and even had the opportunity to mingle with and work alongside students from NYU Paris. The people behind RCK were so unbelievably devoted and made the hard work we did enjoyable. There was music. There was dancing. There were jokes and giggles. All of the people in charge went out of their way to make us feel comfortable and happy while we were working for them. They also fed us some really yummy (and VEGAN!) lunches that warmed us up after spending hours in 1°C weather. Good food, good company, and good work for a good cause? I wouldn’t even have to think twice about signing up for this trip again if there was a second, third, or fourth opportunity to do it.

Some of my tasks included washing and drying a seemingly endless mountain of dishes, opening gigantic cans of this and that, cutting, chopping and peeling various vegetables, and trying my hardest to stop the tears from escaping my eyes as I dealt with onions. When I wanted a different task, all I need do was ask the people in charge and they automatically had something else for me to do. It was definitely a hustle-and-bustle environment in the kitchen at all times because RCK provides lunch and dinner to the refugees in The Jungle (the area in the forests where the refugees congregate) every day. Everyone was aware at all times of the urgency and importance it was to have the food done and ready for distribution on time because we knew how hungry and cold the refugees must have been if we ourselves were shivering with our coats and hats and scarves surrounded by stoves of boiling foods. There were a few times when I became rather upset and bothered with myself and others because we commented (even complained) about how cold we were when we didn’t even have it nearly as bad as the refugees do day and night on end.  

For the night we stayed in a French hotel in Dunkirk. It had heat, warm water, and comfortable beds. That in itself was more than the refugees have and I went to bed that night counting my blessings for things that I before considered to be givens in my life that would actually be luxuries to others. It’s saddening to know that I live in a world where some people can have so much while others have nothing, not even the treatment of human decency.

To say this trip was humbling is an understatement. Not only did it make me really see how privileged I actually am, but it challenged me to want to use that privilege to benefit people who do not and never will have it as easy as I do in life. It was beautiful to see so many people wholeheartedly committed day in and day out to show the refugees that they matter and that they have not been forgotten. I’ve done some charity work in the past, and while all my experiences have affected me in one way or another, I have never felt as touched as I do after having worked with Help Refugees and Refugee Community Kitchen. The greatest takeaway I have from this trip is how easy and meaningful it is to make a difference when you’re in a position to do so.

My only complaint is that I, and everyone else from NYU, felt that we could have done more volunteering. Hopefully the next time this trip rolls around, NYU will make it a full weekend commitment. It was more than worth the £50, wearing Crocs all day in the kitchen, and the newly acquired permanent stench of onions on my hands that won’t go away despite numerous washes and showers. If you want to take a part in something that matters and have fun whilst promoting humanitarian greatness, the Calais trip is for you. The hotel being in Dunkirk was also nice because it was a 10-15 minute walk away from the beach of Mal-les-Bains. I woke up really early the second day of the trip and went to the beach after breakfast to watch the sun rise before we headed back to Calais for more volunteering.

It’s not every day that you get to have experiences that touch the core of your humanity and leave an imprint on all of your values, so if the chance to work with Help Refugees ever crosses your path, you MUST do it. But if you aren’t physically able to help the cause, then please donate. Any amount of money you give can help make the difference that these people need. It’s been said time and time again but only because it’s so true– I’ve witnessed it firsthand. Be one of the reasons a refugee finds the strength to not give up hope.

 

The original post can be found on the NYU London volunteers blog here.

NYU Buenos Aires Students Discuss Visionary Art Exhibition

In this video clip, three NYU Buenos Aires students speak about the recently opened art exhibition in Buenos Aires called La Forma de la Boca [Read My Lips is the English title]. The exhibition is about how the marginalized, immigration-informed La Boca neighborhood is seen or re-envisioned by five artists and one writer.

The curator is NYU Buenos Aires lecturer Florencia Malbran, an art historian and independent curator. She has chosen to fold in some narrative writing in her shows lately.

In the video you see three NYU Buenos Aires students speak about the show. This is a video produced by the Arts Department at the City of Buenos Aires, and it was fortunate that NYU students were selected as featured speakers. Two in Spanish and one explaining the show in English.

NYU Buenos Aires Director Anna Kazumi Stahl is the writer included in this show. Her work is based in fragments as a mode of telling unheard/invisible stories.

The visual artists include well-known figures like Pablo Siquier, Alejandra Seeber, and Gian Paolo Minelli as well as up-and-coming young artists Tomas Maglione and Irina Kirchuk.

NYU Students and Faculty from Florence and New York Brief European Parliament on Race, Racism, and Xenophobia

NYU students and faculty preparing just before the conference in the European Parliament.

9 November, 2017 was not a typical day for the European Parliament. That day, the Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup hosted NYU’s third conference on Race, Racism, and Xenophobia in a Global Context. Members of Parliament and the public heard from NYU faculty and students considering these issues through scholarly discussion and artistic expression.

This conference grew out of NYU’s unique willingness to allow students to grapple with the complicated issues they confront when studying away. The first conference, structured as an All-Campus Teach-In at NYU Florence on March 24, 2016, was developed by a student committee convened by NYU Florence Director Ellyn Toscano. As students observed the ongoing debate about “European identity” and migration, racism and Islamophobia, and as they also saw increasingly public racial violence in the US and student protests in response, they wanted to consider theses issues in a meaningful and informative way.

As the planning for the conference evolved, Ellyn explained the premise became that “the scope of this discussion on racism and intolerance be transnational and comparative. Racism must be understood as it operates in different historical and geographical contexts, reflecting local tensions and prejudices and intersecting with other important issues of class, gender, religion, nationality, marginality, citizenship, globalization and globalization.” The questions posed for the first conference included:

How does racism and discrimination operate in different geographical contexts, reflecting local tensions and prejudices and intersecting with issues of nationality, class, gender, religion, marginality, citizenship, and globalization? How does location affect the way in which we think about the social constructions of race and race relations? What role do historical experiences of slavery, discrimination and colonialism play? How does the current migration crisis in Europe and mounting Islamophobia help us better understand the similarities and differences between the U.S. and Europe?

Excited or Nervous? Students arriving at the European Parliament.

Asking those questions lead to a continuing dialogue and a second conference in New York on October 28, 2016. A diverse group of students has been involved in all three conferences, starting as freshman and sophomores in Florence, they presented and performed in Brussels as juniors and seniors. The students introduced and moderated conference panels in addition to providing live performances – song, poetry, monologue. A short student film was also shown. With faculty from both New York and Florence present, it was, according to NYU’s Senior Vice President for University Relations and Public Affairs Lynne Brown, a “unique opportunity to showcase students and faculty” which is at the core of NYU’s mission.

A number of NYU faculty have also been involved in all three conferences, including members of the faculty committee Deb Willis and Dipti Desai, Awam Amkpa, Jason King, Pamela Newkirk, Paulette Caldwell, and Ann Morning. NYU Florence faculty included Deborah Spini and Alessandra Di Maio. In opening the conference, NYU Steinhardt Professor Dipti Desai noted that the motivation for all participating is furthering the conversations necessary to create “a world that is more just and equal.”

MEP Kyenge and NYU open the conference.

Italian Member of the European Parliament Cécile Kyenge participated in the first Race, Racism, and Xenophobia conference in Florence and the second in New York. A member of the Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup, Ms. Kyenge was so impressed that she invited NYU to organize a conference for the European Parliament and the public in Brussels. During her opening remarks on November 9, Ms. Kyenge praised NYU’s interdisciplinary efforts, noting that the university does not “stop at scholarly discussion, but also takes a creative approach.”

That is in part what the students found inspiring. Helen You, a CAS senior who has participated in all three conferences, described the vibrancy of the event. “As someone who is both an IR major and potentially going to law school, but who danced and played music throughout my life, I really appreciate just how diverse we have made this conversation. I mean, we have everyone from the Law School to Tisch siting in this room to talk about issues that span across all departments and that is just amazing.” She and other students expressed their gratitude for the professors and administrators helped to make the conferences happen. Helen also especially thanked NYU Florence Director Ellyn Toscano on behalf of the students, saying, “So often, students have a passion and an idea in their heads, but they don’t have the opportunity to explore it and create something meaningful. You gave us the confidence and the voice to share our stories and make this conference a platform for change and we never thought that something like this could happen. Thank you so much for everything you have done for us and your support.”

The students with MEP Kyenge.

The conference was well-received in Brussels, with Parliamentarians and other participants very engaged. Even if you missed the opportunity to participate in Brussels, New York, or Florence, this is not the end of these conversations at NYU. According to student participant Eilish Anderson, “I sincerely hope that we were able to inspire the people watching the conference to take action in fighting against hate in the world, particularly through policy change. Even after the third edition of this conference, it’s still just the beginning. Where will we go next?”

The conference program is available here.
A live stream video of the Brussels conference is available here.

Interning at the Forum 2000 Conference: NYU Prague Students Reflect

Every year, NYU students intern at the Forum 2000 conference – an international event started by former Czech President Vaclav Havel and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to promote human rights and democracy.  Below you can read the reflections of three students whose job was to write summaries of the panels for the Forum 2000 website and social media.  Spending three days in Prague’s sumptuous Zofin Palace, the students rubbed elbows with world leaders, famous journalists and human rights activists as they discussed the conference theme, “Is Democracy Too Old for Young People?”  

Kevin Hanley (Politics major,Liberal Studies)

Flanked by six guards, Albert the II, Prince of Monaco, entered the lecture hall followed by a round of applause. He spoke of climate change and the impending danger we face. He spoke of non action as the greatest risk to our survival. His speech was short and to the point, unlike the rest of the conference.

The panels that consumed the conference were long and thought provoking, calling upon audience members to ask questions often. At the panel sharing the namesake of the conference, “Is Democracy Too Old for Young People?” dignitaries and millennials alike spoke about the political and philosophical implications of youth shifting away from democracy. Esteemed political philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo had a very worthwhile quote when the discussion shifted to democracy and capitalism: “Democracy is about emancipation of human beings, and capitalism is about domination of human beings.” Mete Coban, a Labour Councillor for Stoke Newington and founder of My Life My Say, provided a first hand view of the recent Brexit vote and how to remedy the youth’s dissatisfaction for politics in the UK. The youth of the UK actually became very invested in the Brexit vote, but without knowing much about the implications of leaving the EU. Education, Coban said, is at the crux of the current apathy towards democracy spreading across the EU.

One of the most interesting discussions came in a panel about protecting democratic norms and institutions. In light of Russian meddling in US and EU elections, the question arises: how do we protect our institutions in a technologically advanced world? Ken Wollack, President of the National Democratic Institute, made the important distinction that Russian propaganda now is very different than that of the Cold War. Rather than try and pull people into Russia, Putin is trying to peg everyone on the world stage down to Russia’s level. The three major takeaways from this panel were 1) that democracy is in danger, even more today than thirty years ago 2) the western world is still strong enough to defend its values 3) institutions are crucial to holding democracy together.

Throughout the conference, my views about democracy and the world were called into question and reaffirmed almost simultaneously. From speaking to different panel participants and audience members, I got a sense that everyone took different things away from the conference depending on their notions about democracy going into the conference. Nevertheless, I came out just as optimistic as I went in, and that’s all I can really ask for.

Alejandra Torres (Gallatin)

When I first heard about Forum 2000, I registered online. It sounded like such an amazing opportunity to listen to and be inspired by the ideas and projects of brilliant world leaders. It was a shame that I had not heard about it on the NYC campus.

. An internship at Forum 2000 was simple: my presence at certain panels would be mandatory as I was to write reports on them. These reports would later be circulated on social media, online news sites, etc. to summarize this year’s success and promote future conferences. It was up to me to be a good listener and note-taker, and a good writer. I will admit that this latter part made me nervous. What if I was not as attentive as I should have been and did not properly transcribe or articulate what was expressed by the former president of a country?

Thus, while I was deciding which internship to accept, I exchanged several emails with Sera, trying to make the most informed decision. I also wanted an internship to extend beyond the conference. I absolutely love the fact that NYU Prague offers non-credit internships because I was hoping to be able to have an opportunity to continue gaining work experience during my time abroad. More importantly, I was searching for ways I could be more involved in Prague, learn more about Czech culture and interact with people outside of NYU. When Sera assured me that she would send me examples of past reports and that I could go into the office on Tuesdays (my day off) post-conference to work on assorted tasks, I was sold.

Writing this exactly a week after the initiation of the conference, I am so happy and blessed to have been offered this internship. I was impressed by several factors that frankly, far exceeded my expectations. The Forum 2000 Foundation was able to book gorgeous venues for the conference, it secured a plethora of incredible panelists who have been doing amazing things in their respective nations as well as in the global community, and it is so well established on the international arena. Walking into the opening panel, I felt like I was part of something big. The excitement and desire of the speakers and audience members to be agents of change was as palpable as my nervous, shaking legs.

I attended the opening panel, “Changing the International Order and the Future of Our Planet,” “Central Europe: 20 Years From Now,” “Austria and Europe;” “Religion and the Crisis of Democracy,” and “To End a War: The Colombian Peace Process.” Admittedly, there were times during these panels when I was so enthralled by the elegance, eloquence and intelligence of the speakers as they debated how to strengthen democracy in uncertain times, that I would forget that I was more than just an audience member seeking to be inspired. I had a job to do so, of course, I would quickly recover! There were many times when I agreed with what the panelists said that I would find myself silently snapping my fingers in between note-taking. At other times, the interdisciplinary approaches offered by the speakers challenged my own view points. Certainly, I left the conference with the sense that my world perspective expanded and became more enriched because some panelists pushed me to think more critically and look beyond the surface of global issues.

Prince Albert II of Monaco taught me that knowledge and awareness are critical tools to solving any type of problems; Iveta Radičová, the former Prime Minister of Slovakia, taught me that tolerance, trust and solidarity are crucial elements of liberal democracy that must be reawakened in order to improve the current political climate. Heinz Fischer, the former president of Austria, instilled in me the importance of international unity, cooperation and solidarity to address global crises.

The rush of submitting reports before the deadlines was exhilarating and empowering. In what may appear to be a childish reaction, I felt like a real adult because I have never had such fast-approaching deadlines. It was definitely good preparation for my future career. My work felt important because my supervisors relied on me to comprehend a panel that they were unable to attend. In finding the time to write my reports right after the panels concluded, I was able to also better understand in what I had participated. I was better able to clarify my own thoughts. In short, writing the reports was not only my job but it was a form of academic and personal reflection.

As I wait for my reports to be reviewed and edited, I am excited to see them once they are published. It will be a testament to my presence and experience at an amazing conference which, a week later, still seems so surreal; it will be a testament to my work and appreciation of the opportunity presented to me. I am also happy to continue working with the Forum 2000 Foundation because I will be focusing on a proposal to engage the NYU campus in New York in next year’s conference.

Ashley Jia (Stern)

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I applied to Forum 2000, but I did know that I wanted to be more involved in politics. I’m no political science major, but as Jon Gnarr, former mayor of Reykjavik said, “maybe people who are not into politics should go into politics.” Sometimes that doesn’t work out so well, but I thought I’d give it a try.

The Forum 2000 Foundation provides a platform for global leaders and thinkers from around the world to discuss and debate critical issues surrounding democracy and the development of civil society. This year’s conference centered around “Strengthening Democracy in Uncertain Times,” and naturally, my reports examined current populist crises in Europe. I listened to MPs, professors, mayors, editors, political scientists—you name it—discuss and analyze just about everything when it comes to the rise of demagogues, whether that be institutional failure in Poland and Hungary or globalization in western countries.               

Though all the panels offered compelling discussion, my most interesting experience was reporting on a working breakfast at the French Embassy. The room was lavish, the breakfast was lavish, the people appeared important—forget about being a finance major amongst all the other political science major interns; now I really felt out of place. I did not think too much of it at first, but as I was rapidly typing away and shoving croissants down my throat (shout out to Forum 2000 for the incredible pastries), I suddenly hear a man seated a few spaces away from me be addressed as “His Excellency.” No wonder the pastries were so good. If they’re good enough for that guy, they’re good enough for me.

In all seriousness though, this experience has been incredibly rewarding. Having reported on this conference and listened to numerous panelists, I think that it is imperative for young people to become more active in their local communities and to be more understanding of conflicting viewpoints. With so much polarity in society today, positive change cannot materialize without action and a little compromise.

Photo by Ashley Jia

NYU Washington, DC Students Start Two Podcast Series

NYU Washington, DC Students Raven Quesenberry, Meagen Tajalle, Dillon Fournier, and Dominick Nardone have started two podcast series: Talk the Walk and My Friend on the Hill. Both series gather perspectives on civic engagement and activism and working in government and politics. The students talk to a diverse set of DC’s players and insiders and engage in lively discussions.

Give their episodes a listen on the NYU Washington, DC SoundCloud page: https://soundcloud.com/nyuwashingtondc

Internship Mixes Computer Science and Economics to Help Boost Development in Ghana

Students from around the NYU global network get a unique opportunity each year to participate in an internship in Kumawu, a small town in Ghana, where they work with the local population on technology to help improve their lives and livelihoods. The internship is organized by the Center for Technology and Economic Development (CTED) at NYU Abu Dhabi.

NYU London Student Reflects on Volunteering in Calais Refugee Camp

Austin Basallo, a Gallatin senior studying philosophy, studied abroad in Spring 2016 as a sophomore. While there, he participated in a volunteer trip to the Calais refugee camp. The trip involved students from both NYU London and NYU Paris and was both illuminating and intense for all involve. Austin reflects upon his experience for us:

I did not appreciate the gravity of the situation NYU London was signing me up for. It was a simple email invitation, like so many others, offering abroad students another extracurricular chance to do something “neat,” and for free, in another country. When we boarded the coach parked parallel to Coram’s fields I had little idea how we were getting to France, nor what I’d be doing. It was until a few hours later when our vehicle entered a train which ran through a tunnel to the coast of France that it dawned upon me: I was in a very different place.

Once we exited the train, we drove on a long dirt road along the coast. To our right, the small town of Calias. To our left, a chain wire fence separating us from an appalling site: an endless ocean of tents—rags really. Blues, reds, orange, tattered, high up, down low, and all dirty. All belonging to the refugee camp. We were brought to an isolated warehouse, surrounded by greenery, a quasi-secret base of operations. We actually were at a refugee distribution center, a joint effort ran by Help Refugees and L’auberge des Migrants, two refugee aid organizations.

The moment we hopped out of the coach we were given forms indicating that we would not take photos advertising the location nor would we be handing out this sensitive information once we left. Quasi-base was turning into actual base. I was beginning to experience firsthand just how charged the subject of refugees, and more controversially helping them, was in Europe.

Once signed and handed off, we were guided into the distribution center. Divided into three main sections, the warehouse was home to the three essentials for any human’s survival: food, clothing, and shelter. The food for feeding, the clothing for warming, and the shelter for protecting. All things the refugees were fighting for. Each section had its own system of packaging and sending out their specific materials.

I was assigned to the food section, experiencing firsthand how efficiently 10 people could assemble “care packages” of food. The system was based around packaging boxes based on family size. For a family of ten: 2 liters of oil, 5 kg of rice, 4 cans of beans, etc. Hopefully, enough food to last the recipients a week. Surrounded by industrials racks holding large reserves of food, a collection of tables had bins filled with all of the supplies required. Warm folk music turns on, and people get moving. The veteran volunteers run laps around the newbies, deftly filling up box after box with a variety of food items, knowing that the rice stacks well with the beans but not the oil, and sugar and spices always go at the top so the bags aren’t damaged and the contents spilled. But as time passes, the newcomers find their stride and began filling up boxes just as quickly and effectively. Not much talking happens, everyone is laser-focused on filling up the boxes, as though if lives depended on it. I only realized later that lives did, and continue to, depend on it. Within hours, some two hundred boxes were packaged and ready to be delivered.

After all of this work, lunch time came about and the community of volunteers came together to break bread. All walks of life were present. An old French pair, chatting while eating lentil soup. Several groups of students from both NYU London and NYU Paris, exchanging their experiences abroad. World travelers, people who can’t stop moving but help everywhere they can along the way. A gypsy couple tattooed from head-to-toe with ornate dreadlocks. The environment was so peaceful, removed from all of the politicking about the refugee crisis. These were just people who wanted to help. From the moment I entered the warehouse, I felt like I was a part of a community. A community of helpers, working towards something greater than all of us individually. It did not matter where we came from, or where we were going—the problems of the refugee were so great we all wanted to do something about it, even if only for a moment.

The day was coming to a close. Packages had been sealed, clothes organized, and the warehouse a little tidier than when we found it. We said our goodbyes to newfound friends, walked out of the warehouse, and boarded the coach. On our way back to London, I just began realizing that the experience had been surreal. I accidentally became part of movement that is rocking a continent. The implications are huge, brining in questions of human rights, national sovereignty, and international politics. These controversies played out in my head, inundating me into a deep sleep. A few hours later, I found myself waking up in Bloomsbury. I’m still not sure if I ever left.

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