By Anja Kiesow
As I walked into the conference room, I was immediately impressed by the size of the seminar and the diversity of my fellow participants. It was obvious from the get-go that we were here to bridge borders, bringing cultures together.
The spirit of universalism was rekindled for 3 intense days as we acknowledged that success would mean that we each had a part to play on and off stage.
Looking around the room I could not help but admire the diversity of backgrounds and opinions the conference had brought together. We had each made our journey to discuss the topic of disinformation in the media literacy.
We were 50 participants from all corners of the western hemisphere, spanning the distance of Bulgaria to California - 25 Europeans with diverse backgrounds and 25 American Fulbright participants.
Together we were paying homage to the old tradition of the transatlantic partnership by gathering at this year's EU-US Young Leaders Seminar.
As I sat down at one of the many round tables filled with participants, the ice broke between us in an instant since it was clear that openness was a perquisite for participation. Soon we were all chatting with each other.
The 23 year old Miriam popped up next to me and introduced herself. As an Erasmus Mundus Student from Germany, she is currently researching disinformation in war photography and journalism, a topic with which I had never come in contact, so I was keen to learn more. And again, I realized how disinformation touches almost all aspects of life and this has only snowballed in the digital age.
The structure of the programme was especially helpful with defining and understanding the complicated solutions required to combat disinformation. To ensure that we were all on the same page from day one, the seminar kicked off with a presentation by researcher Sophia Ignatidou providing an in-depth analysis of the terminology we were going to utilise.
The seminar provided three panel discussions dealing with separate sectors that struggle with disinformation - government, private, and those of community levels.
Each of these panels were then followed by breakout sessions where we were able to work in groups.
With the help of moderators we could engage with the topics on hand, which ensured the even spread of the information. The panels functioned as a microcosm of what effective dissemination of knowledge looks like on a smaller scale. We were able to share our personal knowledge of expertise, to network with our fellow participants and to begin to think critically about the problems at hand formulating the best practices moving forward.
By the end of the seminar, we had gained a fresh confidence by interacting with such a bright young group of experts and future leaders. The positive experience exchanging ideas and tactics was incredibly empowering. Michaela, a current Fulbright scholar, teaching on the Canary Islands, described my feelings best - we came into the Seminar with a much more pessimistic perspective on the state of communication and the public discourse, leaving it with more hope and encouragement after the conversations we had with other participants.
There are many steps we can take as individuals and the seminar has laid the foundation for group organisation to confront disinformation. For this once-in-a-life-time experience I want to express my gratitude towards the organisers of the seminar aswell as to the OCEANS Network for my nomination.
By Valerio Callegaro
It was an extraordinary chance to meet smart people, as always at OCEANS events, and we seized the opportunity by networking extensively during the 3 days of the meeting.
The talks were varied, featuring people from the public sector (European Commission, US Department of State), private companies (Facebook, Mozilla, Google) and journalists; topics were very up-to-date, as speakers used to work in the sector, and there was always ample time for questions at the end of each talk. Participants had no shortage of questions, and the sessions had to be cut (after a good amount of questions) in order to pass to the next talk, which in my opinion reveals the interest of participants.
The best parts, in my opinion, were the group sessions with fellow participants; there was always a good atmosphere, a good listening and a complementarity of ideas, which gave a sense of "wholeness" at the end of the sessions, as different opinions tended to complete each other.
Accommodation and food were of very good quality; personally I would have been okay with much less, considering that we were using taxpayers' money and that the main reason of being there (meeting each other and being given a well-rounded update about the topic) did not depend on food & accommodation quality, but certainly it was appreciated.
The icing on the cake was that at the end, the staff treated us with a Belgian-style waffle from a truck specifically called for us, and it was very good.
I'm glad I was able to participate, and I thank the OCEANS Network and all the organisers for this opportunity; I hope that we will be able, in the up-coming years, to return 10 times or more of the investment that was made in us.