By Louis Sutcliffe
Eleven days have passed since I returned from Kosovo. After having time to process and think about my experiences in Prishtina and across the country, it’s time to draw up a final reflection on the things that I’ve learnt, both inside the country and upon my return.
Perhaps the most immediately recognisable thing that I learnt during the trip was the way that I perceive statistics and articles. Kosovo was my first field trip into a post-conflict zone and was hence the first occasion wherein I had the opportunity to put a face to the numbers, so to speak. It’s very easy to think of statistics discussing deaths and refugees nonchalantly when they’re written in a book, though as soon as you meet the people affected you realise the gravity of the situation and indeed your own naivety in the way that you respond to said statistics. One is taught to remember that each number in the statistic represents an individual with aspirations or a mother to a daughter. I think that the trip helped me to bind this to the way that I analyse sources and I am intent on carrying this with me further.
With this in mind, the trip gave me a greater sense of responsibility to humanity. You realise after days of speaking with people from a different culture that really we are all the same and that we ought to care for each other much more. Particularly if you are in a privileged position as our group is, in the sense that we have access to a quality of education afforded by few, we certainly have a responsibility to use our position to help others: Our brothers and sisters in whichever culture they reside.
Returning home was an equally abstract experience. For nine days, my mind has constantly been filled with meaningful thoughts about Kosovo and its people, the project and the questions I would ask the next speaker. The intensity of the trip gave such stark contrast to the reality that I returned to, which was one thing I did not prepare for nor did I expect. The evening that I returned, I went for some drinks with some friends and was immediately peppered with questions pertaining to the trip. Mostly, people asked in positive tones about how much I enjoyed the trip, which was met by my sombre answers. A friend of mine began to dully natter on about her problems with a different boy to the week before and other uninteresting drivel. I coolly responded by continuously nodding and allowing the words to flow into one ear and out the next. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to satisfy their superficial quizzing and her bumbling musing, it was that I physically couldn’t. To go from a place that feels real to a place that seems a parody of itself was something I couldn’t get over, that evening, and so I returned home rather early.
The thing that I took away from this experience at the bar was that I no longer had any desire to put up with trivial annoyances and I began to understand the things that are truly important in life. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with small talk about your problems with your friends, but it should by no means be a focus in your life (not for me, anyhow). That being said, I must give kudos to a number of my friends that approached me a number of days later who were excited to really talk about my experiences in Kosovo and learn about the country. I was impressed by peoples’ desire to understand and to learn through my own learning.
I suppose what this taught me was that we can and we should tell people that want to listen about these experiences in order to supplement group learning. It doesn’t have to be anything like a seminar or a lecture, but a casual conversation can go a long way. My roommate, for example, spent approximately 8 years of his life in Albania. We spoke casually for an hour on and off about Kosovo and the Albanian identity there. For the first time in over a year, I saw him wearing his Albanian football shirt yesterday. It could be coincidence, but I like to think it isn’t.