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Between the Lines

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Gender: Co-Ed

Type: Overnight/Residential

Physical & Mailing Address:
Stephen Lovely, Director, Iowa Young Writers' Studio, The University of Iowa, C215 Seashore Hall
Iowa City, IA USA 52242-1402

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An exciting two-week creative writing and cultural exchange summer camp for teens. Improve your writing, make international friends, live in university dorms, and have fun in the UNESCO city of literature, Iowa City. Read More!

About Between the Lines

Between the Lines (BTL) invites students of differing nationalities to the University of Iowa campus for a unique summer camp that develops participants’ creative writing skills while also promoting cultural exchange. Since 2008, BTL has hosted young writers from over 20 countries including the U.S., Russia, Canada, and more than 15 Arabic-speaking countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Participants come together for an exciting two-week session, spending their days in creative writing workshops and global literature seminars designed to foster a love of world literatures. Evenings and weekends are spent on assorted adventures—attending literary and cultural events in Iowa City and nearby towns, touring the caves at Maquoketa Caves State Park, and exploring each others’ cultures through events such as Arabic and Russian 101, Translation a Go-Go, and the BTL Cinemathèque.

BTL offers students the opportunity to experience other cultures and campus life at a major university via a small, structured summer camp program run by experienced staff at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, located in Iowa City, a UNESCO City of Literature and home to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Participants live in university dorms and are taught by a faculty of prize-winning poets and writers from the U.S. and abroad, themselves experienced creative writing teachers. By the end of each session, participants grow not only as writers but also as citizens of the world, becoming part of a tightknit international network. In the summer of 2015 BTL will conduct two sessions, each focusing on Peace and the Writing Experience. The first session assembles students ages 16-19 from Russia, Arabic-speaking countries, and the United States, followed by a special session uniting students ages 17-20 from Armenia, Turkey, and the United States.

Q & A with Between the Lines:

Q: What makes your camp or program unique?

A: While there are lots of summer programs that focus on creative writing and lots that focus on cultural exchange, Between the Lines is unique in that it brings the two together, using creative writing and a love of reading as a mechanism through which dialogue, peace, and friendship develop. Between the Lines is run by the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa and has been bringing together writers from all over the world for over 40 years. Iowa City is the perfect location, being a UNESCO City of Literature and home to the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Q: Describe a typical day in your camp or program.

A: Weekdays are spend it classes. Evenings and weekends give students the opportunity to attend local events and cultural exchange activities. A typical weekday might look something like:

9:30am: morning meeting to detail the day’s events

10am-12pm: Global Literature Seminar, a dynamic discussion-oriented class designed to introduce students to different cultural and literary traditions.

12pm-2pm: Lunch and time to explore Iowa City, read, or write!

2pm-4:30: Writing Workshops, where students focus intently on their own writing, workshop material, and exchange ideas with peers and an experienced teacher, who is also a published poet or writer.

6:30pm: Evening events in the past have included cultural exchange activities such as Arabic101 or Russian101, a Literary Scavenger Hunt around town, Karaoke Night, guest-speakers, Literary Readings, and the BTL Cinematheque, a student-run series featuring domestic and international films. Weekends include activities such as touring the caves at Maquoketa Caves State Park or canoeing at Lake MacBride, visiting the Figge Art Museum, or hanging out at the Iowa City Jazz Festival.

Q: What type of teenager participates in your camp or program?

A: The only commonality between our alumni is their love of writing and reading, along with an openness for meeting students from other parts of the world.

Q: Where do your participants come from?

A: In 2014, BTL consisted of 34 students total, coming from 9 different states in the U.S., 9 cities in Russia, and 9 Arabic-speaking countries! Between the lines has brought together students from approximately 20 American states and over 20 different countries. And for the first time in 2015, we are offering a special session for students from Armenia, Turkey, and the United States.

Q: What is the housing like and what can you tell us about the meals?

A: Participants live in University of Iowa dormitories for the two-week program. Dormitories are centrally located in downtown Iowa City and just a block away from Between the Lines headquarters, the historic Shambaugh House. Students are matched with a roommate from a different country, live on gender-separated floors, and have a counselor, who is also a writer, staying in the dorms with them. Meals are provided by Dining services and offer students a buffet-style selection for all three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On special occasions students eat elsewhere: either pizza night at the Shambaugh House or invited dinners, such as last year’s Ramadan dinner feast at the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids.

Q: Please describe what teens have to say about your program.

A: We don’t have to describe it. Here are some BTL alumni reflecting on their experience:

Between the Lines gave me more than just self-confidence, courage, or even experience and improvement in my writing. It introduced me to what I now call my second home—because it gave me a wonderful family that I love. BTL is not just about the writing and the experience. BTL is about the remarkable journey you make within yourself.
--anonymous 2012 participant

A part of my heart has been left in Iowa. I'll remember these two wonderful weeks of summer 2014 forever!
--Alissia, Russia, 2014

I’ve been writing all these two weeks nonstop; I’ve been reading nonstop; I’ve been talking nonstop; I’ve been playing games nonstop. It is because you don’t have a break from it and it is your whole life for two weeks…I’m a different person now. These two weeks they made me a different person.
--anonymous 2014 participant

These two weeks opened up my eyes to a glimpse of a whole new world – and there’s so much I haven’t even seen yet. From cultural exchange at the Russian and Arabic 101s to learning about Russian hipsters (Stilyagi) and eating dinner at a mosque, I realized that there’s a whole entire universe out there just waiting to be explored. I don’t hope I’ll see these people again; I know I will. And if not in person, then on shelves, because the talent and promise of the writers I’ve encountered here will surely be noticed.

This isn’t goodbye. This is just the beginning.
--Hannah, BTL 2014

Diversity broadens the limits! It was American diversity that gave us opportunity to talk to each other in a mosque, share ideas, poems and broken misconceptions. And I am pretty sure that all of us will bring thespirit of understanding and curiosity to their countries! We are going to come back enriched, flexible, and even a little bit genius.
--Anton from Russia, BTL 2014

For more interviews from students, watch our BTL video, visit our website, or ask them yourself on our Facebook page! Also, check out what they have to say on BTL Tumblr:

Q: Any other information you think teens should know about your program?

A: If you have any questions, please visit the BTL website and FAQs. You may also contact the BTL coordinator at or 319.335.0128.

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