ISFiT is not only workshops and cultural events. One thing about ISFiT that not everybody is aware of, is the dialogue groups. For every ISFiT, we bring in students from separate focus areas together, in an attempt at a somewhat practical approach at building peace. Following the end of the dialogue groups of ISFiT21, I had the pleasant experience of interviewing a few of the participants.

Emma Lykken Gaustad, Assistant Head of Coverage

Bernadette Tóth

“I didn´t know I needed it, but I did,” says Bernadette Tóth. With the Corona virus still raging on, the dialogue groups gave the participants a change to be social and to get to know new people, despite just sitting alone behind a computer. In these times, getting to know new people isn´t so easy. Bernadette tells me that she was able to form connections that she doesn´t normally form.

While the focus of this year’s dialogue groups was to bring students from Poland and Hungary together, Bernadette explains that she, being situated in Hungary, not only learned more about Poland, but also about so many other countries through the group discussions. When I asked Bernadette what she felt she gained from her participation, she mentioned the socialization and obtaining more knowledge about other countries, but she also said: “we learned to use a sort of structure, or strategy, in our discussions.” Bernadette explains that she has been able to use this structure in everyday conversations afterward and that it has really been an asset for her.

When they first started out, Bernadette told me she expected that they were supposed to convince each other that one side was right and the other was not, and that they were eventually supposed to reach some sort of conclusion, but to her surprise, they did neither of these things. “I liked that we didn´t have to agree, but I feel like everyone´s view changed a little bit nevertheless.” Although, the discussion ended up being about the political situation in Poland and Hungary, they talked about many varying topics before that. “It felt like we just kind of happened to end up with that topic.” When I asked Bernadette whether they ever reached any sort of conclusion, she replied: “No. There were no conclusions. But the lack of a conclusion was almost a conclusion of its own”.

“I liked that we didn’t have to agree, but I feel like everyone’s view changed a little bit nevertheless”

Bernadette Tóth

“I would definitely recommend participating in these discussion groups to others!”. She tells me she really hopes she will be able to do something like this again, and that she wishes it was organized more often. “Some of us actually talked about organizing something like this ourselves, because we had such a good time participating. We want to give others the opportunity as well.” Bernadette goes on to praise the facilitators for the job they have done. Before the dialogue groups began, she wasn´t sure that it was going to work, considering that it had to be done digitally. However, thanks to the amazing work of the facilitators, they pulled it off. “We all talked about how this never would have worked without them.”

Rawand Amani

“When I first joined, I did not have high expectations, but I grew to love it,” Rawand Amani says. She expresses disappointment over the fact that the dialogue had to be done digitally. “I miss human contact, but we all tried so hard to bridge that,” she explains. Furthermore, just like Bernadette, Rawand goes on to praises the facilitators for a job well done.

“Participating in the dialogue seminar gave me an opportunity to practice dialogue and active listening,” Rawand mentions. She leans closer to the computer and it´s easy to tell that she is about to talk about something she is invested in. She explains that they were taught a strategy for active listening, which they then continued to practice throughout the seminars. One can listen for hours. “Usually, we don´t listen to understand, we listen to reply,” Rawand states. Because of the dialogue groups she has realized that listening does not mean that you necessarily have to reply. Furthermore, Rawand tells me that she always used to say, as many others, lets agree to disagree. However, now, she strongly disagrees with this statement; “Let´s rather agree to listen to each other, agree to understand, to accept and to put away our prejudice.”

“Let’s rather agree to listen to each other, agree to understand, to accept and to put away our prejudice”

Rawand Amani

In the dialogue seminars, the participants were spread out in groups where they would discuss various topics. “We did not have topics we had to talk about, it was up to us as a group to decide, so we got to find something that touched all of our interests,” Rawand clarifies. Naturally, she was very uncertain about how the dialogues would actually go, considering they would have to have their discussions digitally, which will inevitably be a very different experience. “I got up every day and told myself: ok, I´ll do this thing for one day. But then I ended up having such a good time, so the next day I would tell myself the same thing: let´s do it one more day.” Eventually, the seminars came to an end and Rawand had been there for it all. She explains that it was particularly due to the great dynamic between the participants and the facilitators that she felt the whole thing went “so smooth”. “I would definitely recommend this to others, although I hope it´s the first and the last time it has to be digital.” Despite the set-backs of having to have a digital dialogue group, Rawand tells me that, overall, her experience has been very pleasant. “I´m happy I did it.”