On Thursday our group went to visit Mitrovica, a town located in the north of Kosovo. For many of us it was the first time, Ivan and I however, were lucky enough to make this our second visit to Kosovo, and Mitrovica. Just like last year, the drive towards Mitrovica as well as wandering around the city gave me an instant feeling of home, Jo then explained to me that Mitrovica was my ‘Spirit City’. I come from a small town in a wine region in Germany (Bensheim and er Bergstraße) and Mitrovica, with the wooded mountains surrounding it and modern high buildings reminds me of it a lot. When I told this to our teacher Anne, she immediately asked me whether I was from Heidelberg, which is indeed very close to my hometown and the landscape resembles to that of Mitrovica. What added to this impression was our final appointment that day.
In the afternoon we met with students and teachers from the International Business College Mitrovica. This university is unique to Kosovo in many ways: it is one of the few opportunities for young Kosovars to study in English. Furthermore they created two campuses to offer Serbian Kosovars, who mostly live in the northern part of the city, and Albanian Kosovars, who live in the South, equal opportunities. Even though it has been 16 years since the war in Kosovo had ended, Mitrovica is still divided, not only due to the tensions between north and south, but also because it has two parallel institutional structures, including police forces, municipalities and mayors from the Kosovar system, but also under Belgrade’s supervision. Since tension between the two dominant ethnicities is still very much present, the two campuses are crucial to ensure the sense of security of their students. Another unique aspect of their education is the practical approach to learning. Students try to gain as much work experience throughout their studies as possible. For the majority this means working with local enterprises and businesses, as well as thinking ahead on how to apply their skills to give back to their community and city. Our group was received in the northern campus of the ICBM. Both, teachers and students were very proud of their recently finished campus. After walking through the modern building (the architecture quite similar to our own university in Amsterdam), we sit down in the acclimatized (!) library. Upon entering the room many of us let out a big sigh of relief, since we had been walking through the town and had meetings in small stuffed rooms all day, and that with 35 degrees and sunshine (horrible, right?). The library is located on the top floor of the university, and whilst sitting down we could see many rooftops of the new, modern buildings of Mitrovica. Together with the cool room and landscape in the background, I almost felt like I was transported back to my high school, from where we could often look out of the windows and see some of the higher buildings in my hometown or the wine hills.
Considering that Kosovo almost completely rebuilt itself in less than twenty years and that Mitrovica remained the center of violent outbreaks for many years after, this impression was almost surreal. It shows how much progress a country can make, especially with students that are so motivated to learn and willing to put their energy and knowledge into their hometown. What struck me about this is the sharp contrast that stands between the new modern site of Mitrovica we could experience from the library, towards the dry, hot and to be honest, dirty reality we found in the side roads outside. It was quite confrontational to leave that clean, modern impression and suddenly face, poor roads, torn down houses and giant heaps of trash, simply thrown together in the middle of the road or in backyards. To me this made me realize what this city, and Kosovo in general, has already achieved and, at the same time, remember the challenges that still lie ahead.