Intergenerational Conversations on Politics at Aksarben has completed its fourth semester on Thursday, May 3, 2018.
My students in Islam and Politics class had weekly visits to the residents and Aksarben Retirement Community to have conversations on current issues in Muslim-majority countries. They did an 11-week program from February to May. For each week, the seniors read a student-assigned newspaper article related to the topic that we cover in class in that particular week. Then the students moderated a one-hour discussion. Previously, my students in “International Relations of the Middle East,” “Introduction to Political Science,” and “Introduction to Comparative Politics” did the same program. They extended class discussions to the community. Below are a few quotations from the reflection paper that the students were required to submit after their visit.
“Dr. Kilinc, I want to thank you for organizing this dialogue between us UNO students and the folks at the Aksarben Community. Meeting Bruce, Jack, and the ladies to discuss politics was a highlight of my academic year. I was excited about this project when you first introduced it and my expectations were exceeded. Older generations offer wisdom and joy that cannot be easily expressed. Sadly, many people in the U.S. seem to forget about the generation that raised them. It is sad for the older people, obviously, but it is also sad that many people are missing out on this kind of relationship. I left the meeting at about 8:00 feeling happy and invigorated- despite the tall task they assigned of “fixing all the world’s problems”. I hope you continue carry on with this wonderful project.”
“The way they joked reminded me of my grandfather and I really appreciated their enthusiasm and ability to have respectful disagreements. I took a lot away from the conversation and I was amazed at how sharp the seniors were.”
“I’ll start by saying overall this was a much more interesting and fun experience than I would have pictured before hand. The seniors we had the pleasure of speaking with at the Aksarben Center were just awesome in general (including a very sweet dog that sat with us attentively the whole time) and were surprisingly interested in our own opinions, passions and general outlooks on life.”
“They were super cool and were genuinely interested in what we thought we had in store with our lives and urged us to leave the world a better place than we found it.”
“All in all, it was a very positive experience that I actually really enjoyed. I felt like I got to know the seniors pretty well in the short time that I was there, in that they really just made me feel their wisdom and in hopes that I could use it to better myself and the world around me. Overall I can see why people so frequently cite the experience as a course highlight.”
“After leaving the session, we could not believe how amazing the conversations were. We felt so uplifted and encouraged to know that more people stand together on these social issues in this country than we originally thought. It gave us hope to know that it is not just our generation that stands against certain laws, restrictions, and religious discrimination. It felt good to speak with individuals who completely understood where we were coming from.”
“Overall, I found the experience at the Aksarben Retirement Center to be fulfilling and rewarding. Being able to apply my knowledge and understanding of the Middle East to an educated discussion to a well-informed and highly educated group of senior citizens gave me confidence on the material I have learned in class. Thank you for the wonderful experience.”
“I found the visit to be enjoyable and was surprised conversation flowed as easily as it did. The discussion was more political than I was expecting but I felt as though it was done respectfully from all parties and was constructive instead of critical. The interaction with these residents contributed to me by reenergizing hope that there isn’t such a stark divide across generational gaps and that elderly people do care about the type of world they’re leaving behind.”
“The discussion with the seniors was absolutely great. The seniors were very kind and welcome us with their great sense of humor. I like the fact that they are very interested in our culture and background which made the discussion more interesting and delightful. It was a great experience interacting with great and bright people. I enjoyed talking to them and telling them about our culture that they did not know before.”
“I honestly haven’t had a political discussion with someone outside of the academic setting or my close family in years because of the general tone these discussions take anymore. This experience taught me that shying away from these difficult, heavy, and often partisan-tinted discussions is not only irresponsible, but it’s also, quite simply, lazy. By actually sitting down and speaking with these seniors, I found many more shared experiences and perspectives than I thought I might. This made the disagreements we might have had just sticking points to work through using reason rather than insurmountable differences of opinion as they might have been in a digital landscape of relative anonymity.”