Saturday, June 23, 2012

Peace Scholars! Lillehammer and Oslo, Norway (6/23/2012)

14:18, 23/6/2012

    Hello, friends!  Now that I’ve begun my Peace Scholar program, my blog posts will be fewer and farther between.  Here’s what I’ve been up to for the last week or so, and a preview of what I’ll be doing for the next six weeks:
    The first leg of the Peace Scholar program was held at the Nansen Academy in Lillehammer, Norway, where I learned about Peace and Reconciliation Dialogue alongside my fellow Peace Scholars: Clara Bergan from Luther College (Decorah, IA); Molly Kokesh, Maren Engel, and Katie Hjerpe from Augustana College (Sioux Falls, SD); Peter Larsen and Ingrid Pond from Augsburg College (Minneapolis, MN); Charlotte Rosen, Jordan Montgomery, and Nura Yousef from St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN); Adam Mousel and Howard Mukanda from Concordia College (Moorhead, MN); and Colin Mischael from Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma, WA).  At Nansen, we met about twenty students from the Balkan nations of Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia.  Students from the Balkans have a special relationship to the Nansen Academy: for the last twenty years, Steinar Bryn of Nansen has been working with Serbians and Albanians from the conflict-ridden nations of ex-Yugoslavia, bringing them to Lillehammer to conduct dialogue sessions.  This has resulted in several Nansen satellite centers in Balkan cities, continued dialogue seminars held in Balkan communities by locals, and ultimately has contributed to a movement towards peace between segregated ethnic groups, especially in the form of newly-integrated public schools.  For his dialogue work, Steinar Bryn has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, four times.  And I not only met him, but got a ride in his car and used his toilet.
    Over the course of a few days, the Peace Scholars and Balkan students became a tightly-knit group of friends.  There were limitless opportunities to chat over delicious meals, with a cup of coffee, in the nooks and crannies of the school, visits to the 1994 Winter Olympic ski-jump, the Maihaugen open-air museum and Lillehammer Art Museum, and on walks around peaceful Lillehammer.  It was an incredibly relaxing week: our itinerary consisted of several dialogue sessions, times to have deep, focused conversations with thoughtful, caring people, and to practice asking good questions, listening carefully, and sharing courageously and honestly.  When we weren’t sharing deeply about ourselves and our religious and social contexts, we chatted recreationally about global issues, religion, politics, and the like.  Needless to say, I was in paradise.  I could hardly ask for more in life than great friends who are passionate about global issues and some good food!  We also had a couple great lectures in the history of Fridtjof Nansen (Norway’s 19th-century resident badass, diplomat, and national hero), the Nansen Academy, and the religious and ethnic history in Norway.  Oh, and we had a huge party at Steinar's house, where we ate, drank, talked, and danced in the backyard until midnight (although it was so light outside you'd think it was 9:00.)
    After a great stay in Lillehammer, we all ventured to the University of Oslo, to study at the International Summer School.  To give you a sense of the environment, I only need describe the highly diverse cultural zone that is the Blindern Studenthjem Common Room:  On my left side is Marta from Poland, who is chatting with Xena from Palestine; Umida from Turkmenistan on my right, and Biren, a Sikh from Bangalore on her right.  Nori from Japan, Aluna from Kurdistan, and several others I haven’t met yet sitting across from me.  The Common Room is a fancy old room with wood-paneled walls decorated with old paintings and a mounted goat head labeled “Jan IV,” and a ring of three leather couches surrounding an old fireplace. The Blindern Campus is bustling with nearly six hundred students from ninety-five different countries, who will live together at the University for the next six weeks to study Norwegian language and culture, international relations, and peace. I’ve met people from places I know nearly nothing about-- Azerbaijan, Romania, Georgia, and Ukraine, to name a few.  It’s the ideal way to learn about the world.
    As you can imagine, I’m totally stoked for the next six weeks.  I’ll be studying hard, but I’ll be building great friendships all over the map, and having a lot of fun.  As if it couldn’t be more awesome, there’s also a wide range of social activities on campus, including a giant party at Oslo City Hall (where the Peace Prize is awarded), Norwegian cinema nights, cultural exchanges, free museum trips, and weekend adventure excursions to hike, whitewater raft, an camp around Norway.  I’ll keep you posted when I’m not too busy having a blast! ;)

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