So ISFIT, or to give it is full name ‘The International Student Festival in Troundheim‘, is an event which bring 400 students from 150 countries to the city to trade ideas about how to best handle corruption. It’s an event exclusively run by students which is great because everyday you’re given the opportunity to work in a group with others from Troundheim University. At the festival you stay with a host, however I had the misfortune of staying with some students, so I pulled the short straw and ended up sleeping on the sofa!
The week kickstarted with a lot of ice-breaker activities which really helped us all to bond. During these days we had the honour of hearing from the founder of Transparency International, Peter Edgan, who told us a fascinating and inspiring story about how he had been forced out of the World Bank because he pursued what he felt was morally correct.
On the third day we had the pleasure of Johnathon Caprio, a current senior official from the World Bank, joining our group. This was an unbelievable experience to be able to talk to, and challenge someone in such a powerful position. I felt that I got a real insight into how banks can help provide aid to countries that are most vulnerable, and how this assistance can further develop so that these countries are able to fend for themselves in future years.
The following afternoon I attended a speech by the winner of the Student Peace Prize, an activist from Bahrain called Aayat Alqormozi. The content, passion and delivery of the speech was incredible, and I believe that this has been one of the most eye opening elements of the entire festival.
During Aayat’s presentation, a speaker from Amnesty International made comments about Saudi Arabia. Having someone from Saudi in the room defending their country was a very humbling experience. I feel that we often only hear things about the Middle East from one side and to able to actually have a proper honest and respectful discussion was fantastic.
Another ISFIT event which I will never forget is the panel conversation about how the media can help to fight corruption and the difficulties which exist due to the high level of power which the media exert. The panel consisted of the Current Head of Transparency International, as well as a journalist from Uganda and Heather Brooke’s, an investigative journalist at the forefront of uncovering the UK MP expenses scandal and the Snowden Leaks saga. Heather’s speech focused on informal corruption which exists in the UK amongst social groups. This was a significant reminder for me that we have a lot of work still to do at home. However we are fortunate that we are not like Uganda where the President gives money to random groups to create a society that is founded upon the principle of who you know, rather than what you know…
In the final days of the festival I was given the opportunity to address 800 people about how we can attempt to cut down the amount lost to corruption by 50% by 2030. This was petrifying to say the least, but I felt so passionately about the topic that I believe I truly came into my own. It also helped that I had made many new friends who were cheering me on in the audience.
Beyond the hard work we also had a lot of down time during the festival. At night times many of us gathered at different apartments, had a few beers and had further discussion about some of the topics we had touched on during the day. For many that may sound a bit boring, but it was great to get a more detailed and diverse perspective on global issues. For example, something I was reminded of is my cultural ignorance. Every person I met had a different stereotype about the UK, which amazed me. However when meeting people from Cambodia, Chile and Ghana, I realised that I myself had many preconceptions about how their political and cultural systems function. However the festival was brilliant at helping us to break down these preconceptions and helped us to form stronger friendships as a result.
My time at ISFIT is something which I shall never forget. I spent some of the most emotionally draining days of my life at the festival, meeting new people, creating new friends and learning more than I thought would ever be possible in such a short space of time. It was great to be able to openly talk about our personal views and opinions on topics which would generally be considered to be quite divisive, but I felt like this only helped to strengthen our social and cultural understandings of one another.