International Week opens windows on a better world

Now in its 30th year, UAlberta’s week-long exploration of complex global challenges has never been more relevant.


(Edmonton) It’s been a turbulent year around the globe, and this year’s International Week at the University of Alberta opens a window to gaining insight into understanding world events.

I-Week (Twitter: #iweekualberta), as it is nicknamed on campus, runs Jan. 26 to 30 and offers a lineup of more than 60 lectures, workshops, exhibits and cultural performances based on a theme of “For a Better World.”

The free events are open to everyone on campus and beyond to attend and explore current pressing global issues centred on conflict, displacement and terrorism, said Nancy Hannemann, director of global education for University of Alberta International, which hosts I-Week.

“This year we are witnessing terrorism in Canada, the Middle East, France and Nigeria,” she said. “We face a bit of fear when we hear about these events in the daily news, so International Week gives students, the campus community and the greater community a chance to examine some of the current conflicts in the world and gain a deeper understanding of their causes, consequences and potential solutions.”

Now in its 30th year, I-Week is an annual showcase event for UAI’s Global Education Program, which shapes students as tomorrow’s leaders who can take on the complex challenges facing the world.

“A chance to broaden our world view”

I-Week is especially valuable for U of A students who want to broaden their perspectives.

Third-year student Alec Forest began attending I-Week in 2012 and went on to organize an event about sustainability for the 2013 event. He’s also president of the U of A Oilsands Student Delegation, one of this year’s presenters.

“International Week stands out to me, as a native Canadian, because of its importance in helping us escape our biases and expose ourselves to new ideas and perspectives,” said Forest. “It’s a chance to broaden our world view.”

Forest, who is studying for a degree in conservation biology, says the insights offered by I-Week events add to his knowledge as he plans for a career aimed at environmental sustainability.

“Because I’m pursuing a career that will use international collaboration to tackle global issues like climate change, I want to be able to appreciate thought processes different from those I grew up with. I-Week provides me with understanding and awareness of issues and best practices that I can apply in my classes and use in my work and volunteering. Ideas might be hard to quantify, but they’re one of the most valuable parts of my university education—and I-Week exposes me to a lot of them,” Forest said.

“Students have the opportunity to go beyond the classroom to hear diverse global perspectives from community groups, activists and high-profile intellectuals who are brought to campus for the event,” Hannemann noted. “We hope students take away a deeper understanding of themselves as global citizens, including how we are interconnected and how our actions affect one another.”

To that end, UAI also offers other internationalization programs such as a new Certificate in International Learning (with a current enrolment of 136 students and 17 graduates) and Education Abroad initiatives including more than 300 programs in 40 countries and $500,000 in scholarships. The U of A was also recently endowed with the Indira V. Samarasekera Global Student Leadership Fund, which supports students in their education, research and community service beyond Canada’s borders.

Creating a better world by celebrating diversity

International Week at its core is about creating a better world, Hannemann noted.

“Building a better world happens as a result of gaining a deeper understanding of global issues, developing a broader world view and then responding appropriately. The U of A is training students to be leaders in the world, so that broader view is important.”

I-Week, the largest event of its kind among Canadian universities, also celebrates diversity on campus through its roster of cultural event offerings, she added. “We have 7,000 international students here. I-Week provides an opportunity for them to share their knowledge and experiences as well.”

Keynote speakers this year include award-winning author, historian and journalist Gwynne Dyer, speaking about the turbulent state of world events such as the Ebola outbreak and ISIS; groundbreaking environmental photographer Edward Burtynsky, discussing the process behind his large-scale images of nature transformed by human industry; and U of A alumna Jennifer Hyndman, director of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University. Hyndman will discuss how to respond to the urgent need of refugees globally. As well, former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell, principal of the U of A’s Peter Lougheed Leadership College, will speak about women’s leadership role in peace and security, as will Obiageli Ezekwesili, the driving force behind the #bringbackourgirls campaign following the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014.

U of A researchers will also talk about their internationally driven work, including Gordon Houlden of the China Institute talking about East Asia’s looming resource crunch, researchers and students from the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies addressing war and revolution in Ukraine, and Joseph Patrouch of the Wirth Institute exploring the lingering impact of landmines in Croatia and Bosnia.

Community advocacy groups such as HIV Edmonton and the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights will also be part of I-Week. Other feature events this year include a Human Library Jan. 28, offering a chance to speak with “human books,” people from various demographics who speak openly about feeling the sting of prejudice and misunderstanding.