Eurovision: Singing for Cultural Diplomacy

It is that time of the year again! We are only a few weeks away from Eurovision! Last year, to my surprise, I met some people who didn’t know about this beautiful event! I thought Eurovision was the second biggest event in the universe – the first being, of course, the World Cup.

When something is an inherent part of your culture and life, it is very difficult to explain it, especially when other people have no idea what you are talking about – “It is like American Idol – but an entire continent competes” or “It is a parade of songs and stage shows that have never left the 80s” or simply “Just watch it, it is fun”. Last year, I watched the final with friends from Nepal, New Zealand, and the UK. It was really interesting and funny to see non-European reaction to the contest.

Let me try to explain what Eurovision is. Once upon a time European countries came together and started an organization called European Broadcasting Union (EBU). EBU decided to do something to bring European countries together after the World War II, and tried to test the broadcasting technologies. Eurovision, a song contest broadcasted simultaneously in several countries, started in 1956. And we still watch it, and no, apart from Ireland, we are still not bored (Ireland won Eurovision seven times). The winner country gets to host the following year’s contest. Last year, Norway won, and Eurovision 2010 will take place in Oslo, Norway.

Eurovision, for me at least, presents a snapshot of European politics, as well as our deep commitment to disco era. Last year, I was in a position to explain why Scandinavian countries give 12 points to each other, why it is a big issue when Turkey votes for Cyprus, and why we pretend to speak French (deuze pointe). Now, on one hand, we forget about politics – Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and even Israel are seen as ‘European’ countries, we love to hear them sing together. On the other hand, when it comes to voting, we are reminded how powerful political relations are in Europe – i.e. 12 points are exchanged between countries with strong ties (yes Scandinavian countries, I am talking about you!! Stop doing that!).

Long story short, thanks to Eurovision, people see at least some faces, melodies, and lyrics from all around the continent. Visit Eurovision’s website at and be a part of this great event!

PS: This is Turkey in ESC 2010:

and this is my favorite song thus far – Iceland:

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Study Abroad and Culture

I was silent for around two weeks. I was preparing for International Academy of Business Disciplines Annual Convention in Las Vegas. I presented two papers, one project, and co-chaired four sessions. In addition to all this academic work, I tried to support IABD Press project. Shortly, I had quite a busy schedule during the conference.

One of the papers I presented was on the impacts of Fulbright Program entitled “More than a Touristic Visit: Scholar Exchanges as a Communication Method in Public Diplomacy”. I introduced a three-level schema for intercultural encounters. The first level is tourism. Tourists, indeed, see a new country/culture, and go through a highly fabricated and controlled experience. But still, they go through an intercultural experience and they will have something to say about the country. The second level is exchange program participants. Scholars spend longer periods of time in a different country and go through a less controlled experience. After they return back to their home countries, they are considered as information sources about the host countries. The third (and for me the highest) level is the cultural ambassadors. People might start arguing for their host countries and might advocate their rights. We discussed how tourists and/or exchange program participants can be transformed into cultural ambassadors.

Given the international characteristic of the association and backgrounds of participants, we started discussing personal experiences and the importance of study abroad experience (Two people from the audience, both American, became cultural ambassadors of two different countries after their study/teach/live abroad experiences). Dr. Bonita Neff talked about her university – Valparaiso University -, and its commitment to increase the number of international exchange programs. I was amazed by the number of opportunities available for students to go abroad. I am not going to reinvent the wheel but I would like to recap some of the most important obstacles we discussed for intercultural discussions:

– Dominance of American data: We realized that most of the research we were doing was based on American data. For instance, I was discussing scholar exchanges through Fulbright program. Another presentation discussed face-ism through 2008 Presidential elections. The last presentation was on celebrity diplomacy, and of course, discussed mainly American celebrities. The volume and quality of data about the US is more than satisfactory, and we do not feel the need to look at other countries unless we are willing to do a comparative study.

– Dominance of American literature: Even the resources we cited were mainly from the US. Practically speaking, data and journals – maybe unintentionally – cause the scholars to focus solely on the United States.

– Cluster Study Abroad: When students are sent abroad by their colleges and universities to study abroad, they tend to travel in clusters, either with students from their own countries or from similar cultures. Therefore, even after spending a semester abroad, students have no idea about the host culture.

– Plain laziness: Many people just don’t want to take the risk of moving abroad (usually overseas in the case of the United States). So, they choose to stay in their home country and do not interact with other cultures (well, maybe occasional interaction when they want to eat ‘authentic’ food).

In short, go abroad & live abroad. You don’t need to come back as a cultural ambassador, but your intercultural experience will broaden your horizon.

PS 1: This is a photo of me, getting the Global Communication Award at IABD (hopefully, I will get another award for this weird handshake next year.)
Frankly speaking, I am proud to be part of such a diverse organization. This was my second year at IABD, I am looking forward to the convention in New Orleans next year! For further information about IABD, please visit You can reach the press project for IABD 2009, St. Louis at and for IABD 2010, Las Vegas at

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