What is Zeytun?
Zeytun is a grassroots initiative for durable academic exchange between the Netherlands and the Middle East for students of political science, international relations and diplomacy. The word zeytun, meaning ‘olive’ in different languages in the Middle East, has many symbolic senses that are cherished in this initiative. The olive has a reputation for being a strong and rooted tree able to survive for centuries and is at the same time a symbol of the richness and glory of ancient European and Middle Eastern cultures, as well as of peace and goodwill. These features are exactly what Zeytun stands for: European-Middle Eastern relations with a rich and glorious past, a peaceful and prosperous future and a strong nature able to persist for centuries.
The Middle East and Europe have been of great importance to each other throughout history and remain so today. The two regions are connected to each other not only by geography, but also by a shared history, trade links, cultural ties, migration, security questions, as well as environmental issues. Many have recognized the importance of European-Middle Eastern relations and have tried to bring the two regions closer to each other. Despite these attempts, there is still a huge gap in many fields, among which higher education.
Higher education produces the intellect of tomorrow and is in this respect of vital importance for societies, whether in Europe or the Middle East. If it is our desire to establish durable, stable and beneficial relations, we should first of all make the young minds in both regions actively engage with each other. The most effective way to facilitate this are academic exchanges. Exchanges not only make prejudices and stereotypes diminish, but, more importantly, lead participants to common values. The diffusion of a common European consciousness among participants of the Erasmus program in Europe illustrates this very well.
Our vision and values
Zeytun envisions greater academic mobility and increased cooperation between higher education institutions in Europe and the Middle East. Mobility and cooperation are considered important assets that contribute to the broader aims of modernization and innovation in higher education in both Europe and the Middle East, and to a healthy and constructive foundation for dialogue between the two regions.
As a grassroots initiative of the University of Amsterdam, Zeytun starts with exchanges between the Netherlands and the Middle East and will gradually grow into a European-Middle Eastern exchange program through partnerships with European higher education institutions.
Being an academic initiative, Zeytun attributes much value to diversity, transparency, and freedom in academics. It ensures that its activities are built upon these values and seeks to diffuse these values among its participants by signifying their importance.
Zeytun builds on a series of earlier exchange projects between the University of Amsterdam and higher education institutions in Iran, Syria, and Yemen. The first exchange was already realized in 2002 with the School of International Relations (SIR) in Tehran and has been repeated each year with new groups of students. After the successes with SIR, exchange projects were established with Sana’a University and the Yemen College for Middle Eastern Studies in Yemen in 2005-2006 and with the University of Kalamoon in Syria in 2007-2008. A pilot project was realized in Iraq in 2008-2009.
The purpose of this initiative is to develop these individual exchange projects into one comprehensive and durable exchange program, while at the same time offering a clear-cut model for academic exchange and creating a framework for gradual development of academic relations between Europe and the Middle East.