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IYLEP: An impressive, fantastic, and unforgettable experience!

Nine AUIS students participated in Iraqi Yong Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) this June for six weeks. Before I start talking about our time in the program, let me give you the basics. IYLEP is a leadership, educational, and cultural program funded by the US Embassy in Baghdad. There are two IYLEP institutes administrated by FHI 360: Social Media and Public Policy. There are two others implemented by World Learning: Environment and Social Awareness and Public Health and Community Development. There is also IYLEP for high school students, which is also administrated by World Learning.  Now let’s get a little deeper. Randi Barznji and I participated in IYLEP Social Media Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond; four AUIS students participated in IYLEP Public Policy Institute at University of Massachusetts – Amherst; and three others participated in IYLEP World Learning. During that time, we had an impressive, fantastic, and unforgettable experience.  This program basically consists of two parts: academic and cultural, which we called “the fun part.” As the only AUIS students in Social Media Institute, Randi and I each got three certificates: one from the Embassy of the United States in Baghdad & FHI 360, the another from the School of Mass Communications and the Global Education Office at VCU, and the third for first and second place award by Social Media Institute at VCU. We spent 5 days in Washington, D.C. for the opening conference. We participated in various activities, visited popular tourist attractions, and attended lectures. For example, we went to a lecture about American Government and the Presidential Election of 2012 by Philip Patlan, who worked for the White House during Obama and Bush administrations. He talked about life in the U.S briefly, and then discussed public life as well. In the very beginning of his speech, he said that individuality is very important in the U.S. After his lecture, I had a chance to talk to him.  I told him that on the one hand, individuality is not something unique about the U.S. It is important almost everywhere in the world, including Iraq, because everyone is motivated by self-interest. This is the nature of human beings, as Machiavelli discusses in The Prince. But that does not mean that family or other things such as power, money, and religion, are not important. They also play a very important role, especially in Iraqi society. On the other hand, yes, Patlan was right because individuality is more important in the U.S than in Iraq, where family is usually more in charge of society than individuals. Then, he talked about public life which is very different from public life in Iraq, because we do not have a strong government, and a large number of associations, nonprofit organizations and NGOs, as they do in the U.S.    Another interesting thing that I happened upon in D.C was seeing AUIS President Dr. Athanasios Moulakis on the street. One day, in the evening, we went to see the White House and the Capitol Hill and some other popular places in D.C. After that, we took a taxi to go back to our hotel. On the way, we stopped at a red traffic light, and suddenly I saw Dr. Moulakis. He was walking on the street. I called him and he turned around to me, and said hello, but unfortunately, I did not have a chance to talk to him because the cab driver pulled away. I told him to stop for a few minutes, but he could not because it was too crowded.  After the opening conference in D.C., IYLEP participants from Public Policy headed to Amherst in Massachusetts, while the Social Media participants headed to Virginia Beach on the Atlantic Ocean. We spent the weekend swimming during daytime and attending concerts at night. After that, we went to Richmond, VA. Richmond, which is the capital city of Virginia, is only 2 hours away from Washington D.C., but it is totally different. When we first arrived in Richmond, I felt like I was visiting another country!  We had Social Media class for one month with VCU students in Richmond. During every class, experts on social media lectured us. We had midterm and final exams, assignments on Twitter and, and presentations on social media tools and Iraq. After the class, we also did some other activities. For example, we visited CBS6, a local TV station, and Randi and I were selected by our professor and IYLEP staff for an interview about social media, Virginia, and Iraq. The anchor of CBS6 asked me a question about one thing that I would like to tell the Americans, and my response was that I hope that more Americans will take interest in what is currently happening in Iraq. Iraq has been developed since the liberation of Iraq in 2003. There has been a lot of construction and investment. Our education is getting better. Our economy is growing every day. I would like to tell the Americans that what you see in the news about Iraq is not always correct. If Americans want to get a better understating about Iraq, they should visit Iraq to see the progress.   We also wrote blog posts for My article was about politics and equality in my hometown, Rania, and Sulaimani in particular. The most important part of the academic side of this program were our projects for nonprofit organizations. We worked for non-profit organizations with VCU students in Richmond. Our class was divided into 10 teams. There were IYLEP students and VCU students in every team. Our client was Fan Free Clinic, which was the first free clinic in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We created YouTube video, Tumblr, social media strategy and manual, and other social media platforms for our client. By the end of the course, each team presented their projects, which were judged by 3 experts on social media. Randi’s team won first place in the final project by voting from the audience and the judges, and my team was placed second.  In short, the most important part of working for nonprofit organizations was the combination of VCU and IYLEP students in each team. We learned a lot from each other. They learned a lot about Iraq and our culture, and we learned many things from VCU students about American culture, American history, American Government, even American music and food. This experience proved to me that it is absolutely correct when they say students can learn not only from their professors, but also from other students as well, especially if the students have different backgrounds. I think this is why or it may be one of the reasons that the universities in the U.S attempt to diversify their student body populations by accepting international students.   Finally, we returned to Iraq on August 6. Since I returned, I have been asked by a number of people about the main purpose of the program. I am sure some of you who read this blog post have the same question. The main purpose of this program is not to get a certificate. It is not only about social media or public policy. It is about life in general. We experienced many different things. We compared life and culture in the U.S and life in Iraq. There are a lot of similarities and differences. For example, one of the differences that I observed was that dreams and goals differ between Iraqis and Americans. In the US, everyone can have a long term goal and achieve that goal if they want, and they make a lot of effort to pursue that goal. However, in Iraq, people have a lot of short term goals, but it is not easy to accomplish short term goals because of the political instability and some other problems that we have faced.  One of the similarities is diversity. The U.S is also very diverse like Iraq.  

AUIS students Hold Regular Reading Camps

Studying, chatting on the internet, and checking Facebook everyday takes up a lot of the time of men in the Kurdistan Region, in Iraq, and in the broader Middle East. However, there are some who want to escape from the meaningless and mundane activities of everyday life. They want to have a respite, to escape into books, an occasion when they can get away from everything but their books.  In Iraqi Kurdistan, there are dozens of students who regularly schedule a “reading retreat” in which they dedicate themselves to poring over their favorite books. These events are being held in different villages, towns, and cities in this region.  Each time a different student reserves a house or a villa belonging to a relative or himself. There they spend a week, a weekend, and sometimes even a month doing nothing but reading.  I have been involved in such reading camps for two years. However such events have been going on for many years, and no one can exactly mark its history. Students from different areas participate, mostly from Sulaimani, Hawler, Halabja, Chamchamal, and Rania. 15 students from the American University of Iraq Sulaimani participated in the most recent retreat that I participated in.  How and what to do? The person who arranges the reading camp creates an agenda and discusses it with his companions soon after they arrive at their destination. The agenda must include activities as well as reading periods and rests. In other words, the reading retreats we arrange are activities within activities.  Activities include hiking, swimming, watching movies, playing soccer, field trips to local museums and parks, and lectures by invited intellectuals.  At the end of each day, each participant presents a brief summary of what he read. This time, we headed to a very exciting place named Warte, a sub-district three hours from Sulaimani. The “reading retreat” took three days. In Warte, we went to a villa in the mountains. At night, I heard the cries of owls, and in the mornings, I heard a variety of birds, especially nightingale songs.   Because the place was a mountainous area, we were able to do something very exciting: hiking. We went to Karokh Mountain, one of the highest mountains in the Middle East region. Salman Ahmed, an AUIS student from Rania describes the hiking, “I was truly enjoying hiking in my last trip with some of my colleagues because one of my most interesting hobbies is hiking. It was my second time to do some Hiking in Karukh which is one of the highest mountains, and it is really a wonderful place for hiking especially during spring. Karukh stands against the Zagros Mountains, and we saw Halgurd Mountain which is the highest mountain in Iraq, and it is a part of the Zagros Range.” How Did We Feel? The reading and activities delight the participants. One mentioned, “Even though I dislike getting up early in the mornings, I am really pleased to have this chance to participate again because the reading, the food and above all, the activities and being with such great friends cannot be easily described.”  These reading retreats also reconcile participants with nature as in this hectic life, as they are too busy keeping up with the speed of their modern lifestyles. “These reading camps don’t only make me read books, but also read nature. Each plant is a book itself that should be read, and each sort of their leaves is a book too.” Danar, an AUIS student from Sulaimani said.  Krekar Muhammad from Rania was another participant and expresses his feeling, “This is unprecedented experience.  When you view someone reading, you subconsciously pick up a book and commence reading. I like the discussion part most because I think if you read something and have no reaction, you then have read nothing. But it is certainly fun to learn how our fellow reading campaign members value both the experience of reading and their time spending with books.

NMUN: A Melting Pot of Ideas

It took the MUN club secretariat four months to prepare for 9 days at the National Model of United Nations conference. Was it worth it? After our flight was cancelled, there seemed to be no hope left. We tried to take a bus from Erbil to Istanbul the next day only to find more ticket trouble waiting for us. Restless, tired, and pessimistic, the AUIS delegates finally boarded the plane to Istanbul. Fortunately, the rest of the trip went as planned. We attended the conference, and four out of six of our resolutions passed. If we hadn't persisted with hope in our hearts, we never would have made it to New York, and the conference would have become a relic of the past. The delegates put in effort to make it happen against all odds. Thousands of students from all corners of the world came together under one roof to participate in the National Model of United Nations conference in New York City. Excitement was in the air. It was a new experience to the delegates from AUIS. We had meetings in Sulaimani and practiced the procedures of the conference, but in Sulaimani we knew what to expect. We found it hard to believe we had made it this far. Our delegates were divided into pairs, each pair assigned to a different council. Each university was assigned a different country. Delegates introduced themselves, and not only made alliances, but also made new friends. A melting pot of ideas produced solutions to problems that affected the well-being of the whole world. Different interests led to disagreements every now and then, but through negotiation and compromise, conclusions that benefited everybody were reached. The National Model of United Nations conference was more than just about politics. It was a conference that exemplified unity, encouraged teamwork, brought out confidence in delegates, and paved the way for future partnerships. It required hard work and dedication and provided AUIS students with a direct look at what the United Nations and global politics looks like. The group also enjoyed all that New York had to offer – from the magnificent food and internationally acclaimed shopping experience, to scouring the heights of the Empire State Building or just taking a relaxing bike ride through Central park, we did it all. There were truly not enough hours in the day to experience all that New York had to offer, but with the time available to us, we experienced as much as we could. We were told New York is the city that never sleeps, which proved very true, as Times Square by night was just as busy as during the day. Needless to say, shopping was one of the main objectives for all the delegates. We went on a shopping frenzy by checking out all the hotspots in and around New York City, such as 5th Avenue, Soho and Woodbury outlet. Although New York’s sheer size did not hamper our efforts to see the city, with our hotel located on Times Square itself, we were within the hustle and bustle of downtown New York to begin with. With major sights such as 5th Avenue, the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden only a few blocks away, we were able to easily walk to the major tourist attractions. New York is an experience never to be forgotten, not to mention enjoying it with a group of your very closest classmates. The conference introduced many of the delegates to another world for the first time. In addition, it became the leading vehicle to a united and never ending friendship among the delegates. These delegates, with the experience they have brought back, will set the groundwork for the first international AUISMUN conference. NMUN attendees: Zana Muhammed Jaff, Rand Mohammed Khalifa, Sarwar Mustafa Karim, Shunas Hussein Abdulla, Hoshang Shorsh Admed, Bayar Falah Hassan, Nawa Shorsh Ahmed, Sasan Hassan Hamid, Tawar Sarnar Yahia, Amed Latif Omar, Bery Majeed, and Decan Tofik.

Five Days in the Dead Sea...!

 It was March 1st when I headed to the Erbil International Airport to fly to Jordan to attend a conference there. The Middle East Partnership Initiative Alumni Professional Conference was held in the Marriott Hotel in the Dead Sea in Jordan from March 1-5, 2012. The conference lasted for five days. The event was a reunion for about 90 students in the Middle East and North African countries who participated in the MEPI Undergraduate Leadership program in the U.S. during the summer 2011. All the students who submitted their project that they were doing in their countries and communities were invited to the conference. Peshawa Ahmed and I as the two AUIS students, who were the summer 2011 participants of the MEPI program, were invited to the conference. We presented our poster presentation about the Business Plan Competition that we are currently managing at AUIS.  It was great honor for us to introduce ourselves as the two AUIS students. A large number of participants were really eager to understand about our project within AUIS and asked us about AUIS and our project. It is worth mentioning that we learned a lot from the conference since we were not the only two students who presented poster presentations. Each participant had his own poster presentation and talked about his or her project that he or she was doing. It was great to see how enthusiastic those young leaders were while they were talking about their projects. I, personally, was so encouraged to do whatever I could do within my community after I attended that conference by the great passion and effort that each participant shared with us during the conference. I used to have one idea and one method to apply that idea into practice to my country. However, the conference taught me to have several strategies to implement my ideas to practice. Any poster presentation I observed taught me a different way to build my team work, create my project plan, and implement my project. Beside the poster presentations, we had several lectures that were presented during the conference. The lectures were all provided to update the participants with the new ideas and projects to bring positive changes in their communities. We were introduced to the way that the famous leaders like Martin Luther King struggled to change the world. We were taught how to benefit and learn from such great leaders and apply the knowledge we achieve from them to change our societies for better. Beside the academic activities, it was great to meet with all the MEPI participants again. It was great to sit with each of them and talk about the current situation that is going on in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. It was an amazing time to listen and to share the experience that each of us had in our countries. More to the point, it was just a great and unforgettable time to have lunch and dinner in the Marriott Hotel that served us with a great food. I still taste Masnaf, the most special and famous Jordanian food. Moreover, it was just an amazing feeling to experience the great whether of the Dead Sea and walk into the Dead Sea. Last but not least, through the five days of the conference, I got the opportunity to meet with new students whom I have not been able to see during the summer. I met with so many potential future leaders who will be absolutely great resources to learn from them how can I be an active civil servant for my community. Furthermore, the conference introduced me many other MEPI alumni who participated in the MEPI program in the past. I learnt a lot from them since each of them attended the conference and shared their great project that each of them provided to their communities. I left the program with a spirit that there was no way for me to not have a project for my community from that moment on. The conference really encouraged me to do whatever I can do to help my community and people have better life. 

I Wish I was One of the Graduates

It was the March 3rd and I was busy studying for the next day of school when I was invited to attend a special dinner arranged for the first ten graduates of AUIS. I was surprised! I did not know whether to go or not. After some hesitation, I decided to go. I dressed in 20 minutes which was unusual because I usually need an hour to get ready! I was hesitant because I was not sure whether it was okay to go there since only parents were invited. But my friend’s parents could not make it, so she considered me as her family and best friend to be with her at that special moment. We were a little bit late, so I do not even remember how we reached the university’s presidency building. Now when I look at the pictures, I remember that we spent most of our time taking pictures while we were walking to the building. When we entered the presidency building where the dinner was served, I saw almost all of the AUIS instructors. It was a very exciting moment. I was happy for my friend who had the honor to be one of the first ten AUIS students who graduated in the fall semester. Although I have been to that place many times, I thought that it was a different place. It was all decorated as if it was prepared to welcome a king. At that night, even the staff and faculty looked different. They all had this look of a great achievement on their faces. It was obvious they were happy since they were able to see the result of their long term efforts to teach and cultivate knowledge in the minds of their students. Later on, when the ceremony started and the students gave short speeches, I started to have a strange feeling. My eyes started shedding tears and I wished that I could be in that procession at that time. From that moment, I feel like there is a force inside me that pushes me to work harder and do things better in order to leave remarkable footsteps in my university life as those students did.  I also dreamed of bringing my beloved family and friends for the ceremony that will be held for my cohort. It was wonderful to meet the parents and the friends of the graduates. It was an unforgettable night that I wish never ended, and I wished I was one of the graduate students and part of that ceremony. For this reason, I will always do my best to do things better so once I graduate, I become a student representative of AUIS and its modern educational environment.

AUIS Students Demonstrate Early Initiatives with Their Careers

Student blog by Mahdi Murad  January 30th, 2012, the Spanish Embassy in Iraq hosted a conference on Agribusiness. Many Spanish companies attended, gave presentations on their projects and showed their new high-tech machines for irrigation systems as well as poultry and plastic greenhouses around the world. The speeches and presentations were given in English; therefore, the Spanish Embassy asked AUIS to nominate five students to work as translators for the conference. The five students included myself, Roza Saeed Mohammed, Nergis Ismet Muhammad, Sarmad Akeel Kinany, and Pola Kamal Hama. These students were chosen to be the university representatives based on their academic record, English speaking ability, and interpersonal skills. As one of the participants, it was a great experience for me. I realized and tasted how delicious English was. Although it was not my first time working as a translator, it was challenging. I learned a lot from the experience. I learned what strategies I should use to translate speeches in such conferences in the future. I learned how I should prepare myself before standing on a stage, picking up the microphone and starting to translate. Although I think I did a good job, this experience helped me to improve my translating skills. I can proudly say that I know what I will do next time to do a much better job. I feel proud to be an AUIS student because I am given the opportunity to learn many different skills before I graduate. I am convinced that I will be experienced enough to take on any job related to my education after graduation, which is not something that all undergraduate students can say. Why are AUIS students well-positioned to participate in these kinds of conferences? I believe that AUIS provides the best education of any undergraduate institution in this area. It is a university that prepares its students to not only become assets to other companies, but also to start their own business projects. I am always encouraged by my professors to start my own business in the future and I believe that I am gaining the skills necessary to achieve this goal in the future because of opportunities like this one. Although the Kurdistan-Spanish Agriculture meeting only lasted one day from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, the learning that took place that day was equivalent to so much more. The conference provided me with the opportunity to meet with so many experienced businesspeople. Whenever I check my email accounts, there are at least two or three messages from people that I met during the conference. They always have wonderful advice for me on how to improve my own skills as well as business in general in this region. When I first read the conference agenda, I saw the word ‘Agribusiness’. I had no idea what that meant. I looked it up in the dictionary to see what type of business it was. Later on, I started reading about it so I knew a few things about Agribusiness before I attended the conference. Over the course of the day, I got to know a lot more about Agribusiness. Furthermore, the program provided me with the opportunity to understand how foreign businessmen do business. I learned a lot about how to become a strong marketing representative for a company through the individual conversations that I had working as a translator that day. It was interesting to see how businesspeople were selling their products to the customers. I was really inspired by the strategies they used to explain the products that their companies were offering. The conference provided me with a lot of opportunities to improve my skills to be a strong marketing representative.  Last but not least, it is worth mentioning that I am grateful for everything that AUIS has provided me with so far. AUIS is certainly one of the main reasons why I have had the chance to take these opportunities and to learn so many skills that will prepare me for life after graduation.

Select AUIS Undergraduates Spend Summer Break Abroad

Close to 40 select undergraduates participated in a number of prestigious leadership conferences, exchange programs, and seminars during the summer break. Heman Khalaf, Randi Rahbar, Ammar Haider, Mohammed Raja, Dashne Abdul-Kareem, Nergis Ismet, Salman Ahmed and Dina Dara were invited to participate in the Iraqi Young Leadership Exchange Program (IYLEP). The program provided six weeks of fully-funded leadership training and classroom instruction at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. In addition to classroom work, these students traveled to numerous US cities and spent time volunteering and developing strong friendships with fellow participants.  “I learned a lot and met with different people that each taught me something special and new,” said Dina Dara. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.” Mahdi Murad traveled to Greece for the International Institute for Political and Economic Studies (IIPES), a two-week academic program that allowed students from 23 different countries to explore major political, economic and cultural issues important to the Eastern Mediterranean region. “My life dramatically changed through IIPES,” said Murad. “I learned a lot about various cultures, values and institutions.” Hersh Seidgul participated in the Middle East Partnewship Initiative (MEPI), a program operated by the US State Department that offers assistance, training, and support to individuals striving to bring change to the Middle East and North Africa.  Tara Raad, Decan Dana, Sherihan Mudhafer and Muhammed Nabeel took part in the Study of United States Institutes (SUSI) for Student Leaders, a five-week academic program for foreign undergraduate leaders hosted by academic institutions throughout the United States. Mudhafer participated in an institute focused on religious pluralism at Temple University, where she attended lectures about differences between religions and the role pluralism plays in American Democracy. Raad, on the other hand, participated in the New Media in Journalism Institute at Washington State University, where she examined major topics in journalism, learned about new technologies in media, and interacted daily with American students. “[SUSI] opened my mind and gave me the opportunity to see the world,” said Raad. Rawaz Omeed and Saz Aso Jaefar attended the Women2Women conference in Massachusets, international leadership program to brings together promising young women, aged 15 - 19, from the United States and Arab and Muslim world. Jaefar called the conference “a life changing experience”.


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