Thursday, May 8, 2014

The ultimate experience

I have been coming to do research in Kosovo for several years now. My academic interests evolve around terrorism, identity and radicalisation. Quite frankly: radicals are my thing and when it comes to being radical Kosovo is a nonpareil. Think about it – the fierce fight for independence, the courage to change a geopolitical status quo, the refusal to yield… Kosovo is a real treasure when it comes to deepening understanding and broadening horizons. In fact, every time I arrive in Kosovo I don’t feel like a researcher, but rather like a kid in a candy shop.

OK, my friends tell me, but why bringing students with you? Why do you bother at all? What compels you to make your life difficult and trouble yourself with a group of youngsters who don’t know a thing about this place when you could do the research on your own?

Well, my answer is, easy things are easy but the challenging ones are those which are worth the time. Also, talking about radicals, fieldtrip is an ultimate radical teaching experience and since I consider myself to be a teacher by vocation I would never miss such opportunity!

Why do I claim that fieldtrips constitute radical teaching? There are several reasons, I shall talk about those three which are the most important for me. I’m sure you can easily expand this list even further.

Firstly, remember the commandments drummed into you by your tutors and instructors. What is the first one? Do your readings! Of course! And the more, the better. Readings provide you with the factual foundation, offer the background factors, and – last but not least – introduce you to the main theories and debates pertaining to the given issue. These three things are absolutely indispensable for teaching: data, context and perspectives. In the classroom you don’t have to do your readings, in the field you must know them, otherwise you’ll be lost. Resolution 1244, Athisaari Plan, Albin Kurti’s political vision – all these are your tools for survival. Out there, knowledge is not a choice any more, it becomes a necessity.

Secondly, in the classroom you have a chance to opt out. You don’t have to participate, you don’t have to be active, you can just passively let the class go by. You can sit quietly and let the others speak and engage. Fieldtrip, on the other hand, excludes the passivity and avoidance is not on the menu! The things you see, notice and observe, the phenomena you experience, the conversations and debates you participate in – the exposure is total and unforgettable. Guess what, you won’t have to revise for exams. In a sense, fieldtrip is an exam on its own.

Finally, and that’s my favourite part, fieldwork is all about translating the theories into practices. The theories is something you read and learn about, alternatively it’s something you hear about from people when X says something while Y argues that things are different. Fieldwork provides you with the reality check. And so, you might hear the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Petrit Selimi telling you that Kosovo has the most advanced legislation in the whole Balkans when it comes to minorities, but at the same time you have the possibility to visit the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians’ neighbourhood in Fushë Kosova and see that law and daily praxis don’t add up. You can study human rights and know everything about the right to adequate housing or the right to water, but somehow it is different to talk about it in the class and altogether different to be deprived of shower after 10pm.

During the fieldtrip you compare and contrast. You start asking questions. You start saying “yes, but” and coming up with your own ideas and opinions. In short, you fulfil every teacher’s dreams. Simultaneously, all this is not forced but comes as naturally as breathing. And for these reasons I do believe fieldtrips to be the ultimate radical teaching experience. For these reasons I cannot wait for another fieldtrip with you. 

I’m ready when you are! Shall we?

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