First Week in Oslo

My first week in Oslo has been an incredible, exciting, and exhausting. There is never a moment to rest, it is all go, go, go. Whether it be a visit to Vigeland Park, visiting the Peace Prize Museum, going to a independence day party in June and eating what Norwegians consider a corndog, having a welcoming ceremony at city hall being interrupted by an evacuation because of a fire alarm, taking a three hour hike, supporting America in the World Cup, having a q&a with the former Foreign Minister for Norway, or staying up way too late to finish the required reading for class, there has been no time to relax or be bored. I would have it no other way.

The other members of the Peace Scholars group are what is really making this trip special. It has been so great to be with students who are very serious about what is going on in the world and want to discuss their thoughts on the world. We all come from diverse backgrounds of study, from Chemistry to English, to Education and Political Science, and it is interesting to hear how this has shaped the views of all of us. This group of students are so committed to trying and making a difference in this world, and they all have so much drive to make it happen. We are all a bunch of nerds and we love it.  As we like to say about ourselves, a bit tongue in cheek, you don’t get to be a Peace Scholar by being popular kid in high school. We also have a great time doing goofy things, like making the latest snap chat craze, “Snapcats” (well, a craze among peace scholars at least), having a flannel pj party, and becoming known as penguins for our propensity to cuddle anywhere, anytime.  

There are over 80 countries represented by the summer school, and this is another great part of the whole summer school experience. As an international affairs major, I have greatly appreciated being able to get the opinions on some of the issues of the world today from people who live there, and have personally experienced. There is one in particular, anther peace scholar actually, who is from Palestine, and talking to her has helped change my views and perceptions on the conflict, and the nuances of it. It is easy to come to moral high ground opinions and observations from 1,000 miles away.

 

This has been such a great experience so far, and I know it will continue to be.

 

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Dialogue is Movement, first week in Norway

My first blog post! I have never written one before, so please bear with me as I try to figure out how to best write these posts. I am now in Oslo, but I have been at the Nansen Dialogue Center in Lillehammer as a peace scholar from Sunday to Friday. Before I got here I was not exactly sure what we would be doing there, I knew that the center worked hard to promote dialogue in conflict regions in the world, especially in the Balkans, but not much past that. I was surprised to find out that us Americans would not only be observing the dialogue processes with the members from the Balkans, but participating directly with them. Our days have been spent with a mix of lectures, seminars, group activities and excursions. It has been a very eye opening experience to see all of these people from the Balkans representing almost all of the sides from the wars getting along, talking, laughing, and forming relationships. My preconception of the Balkans was that the wars, conflicts, and violence had left the region so scared that such a friendly meeting would not be possible. It gave a lot of hope for the future of the region, if such relationships are possible here in Lillehammer, why not in their home countries? Could this generation of young students and professionals be the key to reconciliation and improvement?

To give you more of an idea of what has been happening, on Monday the 16th, the program really started. The dialogue starts during breakfast, where everyone is introducing each other and getting to know one another. After this at 9 we head to the lecture hall for our first official session. Steinar, the head of the center and the leader of this week and who has one incredible beard, starts off by describing the essence of dialogue, how it is different from negotiations. There is not end goal, it is really just about bringing the sides together to tell their stories, to show that there are often parallel stories about what has happened, not to prove that one side is right and one is wrong, but to instead show that maybe we do not know everything, and to for relationships with those on the other side, to make them human and not just a concept of the “other”. We are then broken up into groups of three to introduce ourselves, then groups of ten to eleven for the same purpose. What was intriguing about these introductions for me was the US peace scholars all are very similar, we go to Lutheran Colleges and are 20-21 years old. There is a much greater variety among the Balkans contingent, they are coming from 6 different countries, and they are 20-30 years old. Some are students, some are professionals, and this diversity among this group will prove to be helpful in providing a variety of viewpoints and perspectives to issues and the discussions.

Throughout the next couple of days we will continue to hold these dialogue seminars, and continue to talk with each other through planned exercises and through extensive q&a sessions.  We also had field trips, such as going to the site of the former Olympic ski jump and climb down the 1000 steps together which as someone who is afraid of heights terrified me. We also watched the documentary “Reunion” which covered a dialogue sessions being Albanians and Serbs before and after the NATO airstrikes in Kosovo. These planned sessions provided us with a knowledge of and an idea of dialogue and how it works, however I feel that most of the work was done in an informal way, while we are taking breaks from the official seminars, exploring the town together, playing football (European Version) swimming in the freezing lake, drinking beer in the park, and staying up late to discuss our life experiences and hopes for the future together.

It was an incredible week we spent together in Lillehammer that challenged my preconceptions about many things. I hope I am able to maintain these connections I have made, and that I can continue to expand my horizons while in Oslo, and beginning to act on the knowledge I have now and in the future and to apply this to being a peace scholar.

Inntil neste gang!

 

Eric

 

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