Friday, June 5, 2015

This moment theirs

Taken in Prishtina, Kosovo
Thank you for joining us!

And so it begins again. A little over a year later, AUC students head for Kosovo. This time though, it’s not a private pilot trip, but a real class! Many thanks to AUC former dean, Marijk van der Wende; acting dean, Ramon Puras; and head of Social Sciences, Sennay Ghebreab, for creating this new class (and its budget!) in record time. We are Peace Lab—a qualitative research fieldwork methods class, where theory meets practice. And the 21 students who signed up have spent the last week taking a crash course in Balkan history—no easy feat!

I’m watching them now, as they take the exam on the Friday before we fly on Sunday. We have learned so much this week, and heard a Serbian voice and Bosnian voice from among our own rich AUC community (thanks Semra and Jovana!). So now we all know the significance of the numbers 1244 and 1369.

I feel such excitement. I find myself wondering if the smiles of the people I met last year will fill me with hope again. Hope for not just Kosovo, and her young Europeans, but hope for all who struggle to cobble together a future in a post-conflict area.

Those of you new to this blog might be wondering, who am I? Anne de Graaf, the instructor of Peace Lab. I also teach Violence and Conflict; Human Rights and Human Security; and International Relations Theory and Practice. All stuff you can argue til late at night about. I was born in San Francisco, but have lived most of my adult life in my adopted homeland, The Netherlands. My Dutch husband Erik will be coming with me and the students. I still owe him a black leather jacket for his status as bodyguard/bouncer during the trip.

As some of you know, this last year I’ve been researching and working with a group of Native American tribes. (Yeah, in all my spare time I wrote a paper for a conference and the academic powers that be seemed to like it.) Why? Because these tribes' governance model moves away from victimization and into the realm of prioritizing youth, education, and land buy-back. They are all about cooperation, rather than compensation. I’ll be spending part of the summer on their “Rez” in eastern Oregon. And I’m beginning to understand that wise leadership is so key to the fate of marginalized groups. It is perhaps, even more important to the rise and fall of societies than issues such as corruption.

This is relevant because during our class this week, we discussed what happens when a society remains stuck in victimisation. And what happened (to Germany, for example) when wise leaders pulled the society in the uncertain direction of wrestling with the unanswerable questions, such as guilt being visited upon the next generations.

What I sensed in Kosovo last year, was a mix of deep courage and deep despair. Between 7-17 June, we will be trying to understand this dilemma, as well as others, such as how the disconnect between the rhetoric and reality might actually link to other issues. We will be hearing voices, opening a listening space, asking open-ended questions about dreams and the future, education, and integration.

The students stay with Kosovar-Albanian families, but we will also spend two days in North Mitrovice, a Serb enclave. We have a list of 20 organizations we will be visiting, everything from an NGO that works with Roma, Egyptian and Ashkalia people, to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

One of the assignments is to work on projects: something non-academic that can be given back to an organization or group of people in Kosovo, and something that involves qualitative research methods. I think it’s called impact. Already I’m hearing such exciting ideas. This afternoon, after the exam, we practice interview techniques: what is NOT being said? And the need for self-effacing humour.

In the days to come, this blog will blossom with entries from each of the students— so please subscribe and follow us, to read the students’ voices. In my experience, a trip like this is a game changer. It becomes a before-and-after moment for young people who realize what they want to do during the next stage of their lives, as the field of peace and conflict opens up for them, in terms of meaning and understanding.

On the first day of class, last Monday, I asked them all what their expectations were for the trip. Then they asked me what I was looking forward to. I’m looking forward to seeing our Bardha and Enver again (guides, translators, family, and welcome team extraordinaire!). I’m looking forward to the evening meals when I look up and down a long table. . . .

I hear voices laugh and ask
While faces listen and nod
The clink of cutlery
Watched eyes bright with
A growing understanding of the world
Reflected candlelight
Blinking on wine glasses
This moment theirs

1 comment:

  1. I am so very envious of you all. Oh how I'd love to share in your adventure and experience this trip with you! I wish you all a most enriching trip, both intellectually and in terms of your personal development and growth. May the food be tasty, the people be welcoming, the excursions be instructive, and the nights be long! Keep the updates coming - I'll be awaiting them. Greetings from Amsterdam, Nick

    PS: Nice poem, Anne :-)