International students and public diplomacy

International students and student exchanges are topics that I personally feel close to. Coincidentally, I was exposed to the studiy of public diplomacy (and nation branding) when I was (not knowingly) part of the Foreign Fulbright Program – the flagship exchange project of the US. Thus, I feel almost upset if I don’t get to write about the 2014 Open Doors report of the Institute of International Education.

I basically want to talk about on two points: (i) What do these new numbers mean? (ii) Can we international students as an agent/actor in public diplomacy.

Places of Origin for International Students Studying in the States

Places of Origin for International Students Studying in the States

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Back to blogging

During the last couple of months (well last year), I wasn’t able to blog as regularly as I would like to. As a good doctoral student, I spent all of my time on my dissertation. I finally managed to finish my dissertation and get my degree over the summer. I am currently a faculty member at the Kadir Has University, Department of Public Relations and Information in Istanbul, Turkey.

Below you can find the executive summary of my dissertation. The table of contents can be seen on my Academia page. As I am currently on the market looking for a publisher, I will not be sharing the full text online.

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“Facing the Climate” Exhibition in Washington, DC

Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend the “Grand Opening of 2014 Theme Program: Going Glocal” at the Swedish Embassy in Washington, DC (also known as the House of Sweden). The event was particularly important for me as Sweden also unveiled Facing the Climate - a cartoon exhibit that includes the works of Swedish and international artists on climate issues. Also, Facing the Climate is one of the projects I study in my dissertation. It was a “geeky” and a “happy” moment when I finally saw the project that I have been interviewing, reading, and writing about for the past two year in person.

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Where is the Undersecretary?

Update: With Stengel in the office, I updated the graph and the data. I also added three dates for Richard Stengel’s tenure in the office based on the shortest, average, and longest tenures Undersecretaries before him had. Here, I am not trying to forecast when he is going to leave his post. Rather, I plan to use these dates to make arguments about vacancies and high rate of turnover in R.

Let me share a short post about the vacancy data about the Undersecretary for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy position. Everybody who works in or studies public diplomacy knows that the position has seen high rates of turn over and has been vacant quite often. I was playing around with the vacancy data and created this timeline visual.

Here is the data I used as a table.

Untitled

How not to Conduct Digital Diplomacy: @IDFSpokesperson and IDF Blog

As a ‘scholar-in-training’, I try to focus my writing (and even thinking) on my dissertation topic and do my best to stay away from ‘distractions’ mainly due to two reasons. Firstly, I want to get my PhD sooner rather than later. Secondly, I want to brand myself through my dissertation research and related writings. Middle Eastern politics, for instance, is a subject I would not touch with a ten foot pole. Yet, after witnessing Pillar of Defense (or #pillarofdefense for the purposes of this blog post), I decided to write on how not to conduct digital diplomacy and underline IDF’s mistakes in message formation and medium selection.

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What is PD again? Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy Meeting

Image from Heritage.org

On Thursday, I attended the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy’s public meeting with a couple of colleagues from AU. Both Lena and Laura blogged about their impressions. And right now, I feel obliged to do the same. The transcript of the meeting will be available online soon (Follow @mountainrunner for more information), so I’ll keep my post considerably short.

First of all, this was Matt Armstrong‘s first public appearance as the Executive Director of the Commission (Congratulations once again Matt, and nice to finally meet you in person!). He has been a prominent figure in strategic communication within both academia and blogosphere. He talked about some planned changes in how the Commission works. Apparently, the Commission will be more open, and will initiate dialogues with think-tanks, universities, and other interested parties. (They will also be publishing white papers!)

I realized the practitioners and scholars of public diplomacy have one thing in common: no one knows what is really going on. Betsy Whitaker from the R, in her presentation, mentioned that other agencies and departments have public diplomacy budgets but the R is not sure what they are doing or even whether the budgets are still spent on public diplomacy attempts (or moved to public affairs). Well, both practitioners and scholars know public diplomacy is important, we have to do/study public diplomacy – and we do. But, please, don’t ask about the details, it gets fuzzy.

The second presentation was from BBG. In Jeff Tremble’s presentation, BBG seemed much better than I thought they were. I mean, my personal interaction with BBG is limited to VoA Turkish. To be honest, VoA Turkish does not have high quality programs. But BBG seems to be aware of what is going on and is capable of using several technologies to reach out to as many people as possible. For some reason, during the entire presentation, I questioned whether BBG is actually doing a great job or just knows how to deliver great presentations… I still do not have a clear answer. But US seems to be doing its best to reach ‘populations deprived of free flow of information’ through BBG.

Yet, I am quite optimistic about the future of American public diplomacy. Even though, during the last decade, the Commission and BBG pretty much talked about the same things (budget, inter-agency cooperation etc), I believe Matt Armstrong is an invaluable addition to the US bureaucracy. The R is aware of its shortcomings, (and the shortcomings of public diplomacy FSOs), and is creating new institutions and programs to increase its effectiveness. BBG is devising region-specific policies, and increasing its technical capabilities. If for nothing else, US is one of the few countries that publicly discuss what to do about public diplomacy, and right now has Matt Armstrong working for the government!

Diplomacy from the Block: J.Lo Not Performing in Cyprus

Jennifer Lopez was supposed to perform in Cyprus (TRNC) on July 24th to celebrate the grand opening of a hotel…also the 36th anniversary of Turkish Peace Operation on the island (also known as Turkish invasion of the island – Please click here for a historical introduction). Recently, she canceled her trip with a statement* on her official website. The statement was not welcomed by the Turkish audience. As of today, she also posted another statement**, apologizing from people that she might have offended. We will see if she is going to apologize once again from people who will be offended by her apology. (This sounds like a ‘welcome to the world of diplomacy’ party for J.Lo).

I will just try to summarize four important points with regard to J.Lo (not) performing in Cyprus from my own perspective:

- The Cyprus conflict is a part of daily life. Especially in online media, we managed to see how deeply embedded the conflict is to our daily lives. One blog post had “Cyprus, Diaspora, Greece, turkey” as tags; there were reports about the event all over the media – talking about 1974 operation, Greek diaspora, lobbies in Washington DC, even a senator was named as a party to the cancellation. Turkish media presented one side of the story, and the Greek media the other. Turks tried to host the event, Greeks tried to get it canceled. It was no longer a J.Lo concert, it was a question of legitimacy. Can a singer perform in an ‘occupied’ territory? Is TRNC an ‘occupied’ territory? Even a concert of a famous (and not really that political) singer became part of the conflict.

- Celebrity spectacle increases relevancy. Well, Cyprus is an important place for Turks, Greeks, and Brits. IR scholars are all aware of the situation, but at the end of the day, we are talking about an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It might be difficult for several people to even point out the island on a map. But, as the J.Lo incident showed us once again, when a celebrity gets involved in a conflict, the issue becomes relevant, especially to young people all around the world. It might be possible to (ab)use this awareness in communication campaigns.

- Grassroots movements are crucially important. J.Lo, supposedly canceled her concert after receiving a few thousand e-mails from her fans. After seeing several comments on her website, she removed her initial statement and apologized from people. Internet seems to continue empowering individuals. It also facilitates the process of becoming an active citizen.

- Do we still not care what the newspapers say about us as long as they spell our names right? Turkey, and to an extent TRNC, have been explicitly and implicitly accused of violating human rights and being invaders during the last few days by J.Lo and the media. I am pretty sure this image is not desirable for the aforementioned countries. Then again, it is true that several people heard TRNC, and maybe Turkey, for the first time in their lives. It is important to get media coverage, but there seems to be a need for a communication strategy to benefit from the coverage.

In short, appearance of celebrities means ‘news’, moreover celebrities attract the attention of young people. With a solid communication strategy, parties can use these short spans of time to ameliorate the situation and to resolve their conflicts. Unfortunately, in the case of J.Lo and Cyprus, the main motive of the parties was to present their sides of the stories and to exacerbate the situation.

* Jennifer Lopez would never knowingly support any state, country, institution or regime that was associated with any form of human rights abuse. After a full review of the relevant circumstances in Cyprus, it was the decision of her advisors to withdraw from the appearance. This was a team decision that reflects our sensitivity to the political realities of the region.
(Small note about the first statement. Lopez decided to remove it from her website after the initial reaction. I am pretty sure she has a very very large PR budget, and still the action to communicate with negative comments was to simply remove them. Are we going to pretend that the first statement was never made? what about those comments? They are all over the internet, so I guess one should face negative comments rather than hide them.)

** This whole situation makes me so sad. The statement that was issued by my representatives was done without my knowledge or consent. It is my personal policy not to comment on political issues between countries. I love my fans all over the world. I want to sincerely apologize if anyone was hurt or offended in any way. Again, I am truly sorry.
(Another small note: Statement issued without knowledge or consent? Blaming the ‘other’ guy?…J.Lo, if the PR agency bills you for this communication attempt, you should not pay them even a penny.)

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