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!