How the Clock Turns

When Steinar Bryn told us not to waste our time being homesick- that these next 6 weeks will fly by so fast. He was not lying.

But yet, the first week at Lillehammer felt like time was going by slow- we would all wake up, eat breakfast, go through a lecture or discussion and by the time lunch would roll around- it seemed like this morning’s events were yesterday’s. But it was the same day and I thought to myself “wow, we have a lot to get through”. When Wednesday came and were invited to go to Steinar’s house- it seemed like I had been in Lillehammer for 2 weeks, not three days. The close friendships we built in such a quick amount of time awed me and made me less homesick than on the first day. Truth be told, I was just missing my nephew and my bed.

This does not mean to discredit my experience at Lillehammer- I adored the scenic landscape, the calm waters, the church and its cemetery, and the midnight sun. All those who were remaining after Lillehammer at the International Summer School can vouch for how much we all missed Lillehammer- especially in the hustle and bustle of lunch.

Once we started the summer school, then yes- time was flying by ridiculously. I would read my compendium and be prepared for the next 3 days and voila!- those 3 days were up and I had to prep again. It was exhilarating though- going to class, going to lunch, joining my Peace Scholars on field trips to the Nobel Peace Center, Norwegian Refugee Council, PRIO, Fredhuset, etc. Every time I realized I was in Europe- no wait- Oslo, no wait- finally here at the summer school with the people who I had only seen pictures of- I had to soak in the moment. Close my eyes, breathe and listen to the voices of those who would now only remain in my memory (until we are reunited). Each and every one of you have been so kind to me, even in some small way and I am so humble to have met you all. I learned from all of you- kindness, forgiveness, patience, acceptance, perseverance, and gratitude.

I was glad to have learned how the welfare state in Norway works- for when I would conduct my research or go out in the city, I would see those policies in action at the neighborhoods of Gronland, the Immigration and Integration Center, Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers and of the election season. (Hoyre was handing out button pins of Erna Solberg at the Nationaltheatret station). I was also glad to have gone on those field trips- for whom I was lucky enough to interview and make progress on my research. I send my thanks to them!

Six weeks is not enough time for a young person- to reflect on what she would like to do next, who she is, and where she belongs. I do wish I had more time but nonetheless, I would take these 6 weeks over 0 weeks. I would like to thank, Professor James Rae, Professor David Andersen-Rodgers, and Professor Patrick Cannon- for 1) sending me here and 2) motivating me to keep going. Also our Dean of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies, Orn Bodvarsson; and now Interim Dean Ted Lascher. I would also like to thank my mother- despite her flaws, her resilience inspires me( even if she will not admit it)  and I hope mine does too for her.   She was not happy to let me go for 6 weeks, yet told me to bring a “Norwegian souvenir”, two weeks later. There is a lot more people I should thank- but I will list names: Phoenix Johnson, Ms. Louvenia Azzan, Andrea Lagomarsino, Eustanik Blanco, Michelle Frederickson, Torild Holmstad, Augsburg College, Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng and my nephew. 

Where is your favorite place in the world?

Where is your favorite place in the world?

I asked this question when the 16 of us Peace Scholars were doing a meet and greet with about 14 peace research grad students from around the world at the International Summer School (ISS). I was surprised to find that almost all of them answered by naming their hometown. When I also asked my fellow Peace Scholars (most of whom are from the United States) this same question later on, many of them responded with a specific spot—like their room or a specific hill.

These peace research students, and so many more people I met at ISS, are incredibly passionate about working to make their homes better places to live.

I think that for much of my life I have thought of my own home country, the United States, as a lost cause. I have searched for the feeling of “home” in other countries so I could feel good about working for peace in those places instead. I did, indeed, find a sense of “home” on many of my travels, particularly in Palestine, and I do want to continue fighting for peace and justice across the world.

This summer, however, I realized the importance of working within my own community as well. I also realized how attached I have become to New Haven, Connecticut in the 7 years since I have moved there.

I have many favorite places in the world that I see such potential in, but which need so much work to become places that everyone can feel happy and safe living in. My hometown is one of those places, and I feel inspired by all those I met this summer to make it a beautiful, wonderful place.

Bethany Keyl

Elevator Pitch

As I look forward to Fall semester and my role as a Peace Scholar on campus next year, I’ve begun to contemplate how I will talk about my time in Norway.  I wish I had an hour or more to speak with each person with interest in the program, but I will likely have mere moments to talk about my summer and all that I’ve learned about peace and dialogue.

With that said, I have a difficult task at hand: to condense the breadth and the depth of my experiences and their meaning into a few well-crafted, concise phrases.   I’m excited to answer questions from faculty, peers, and loved ones, but my responses need to be excellent and intentional, albeit brief, to do the program justice. I find it challenging to select a handful of highlights from dozens of memorable moments and conversations for a few “elevator pitches”.  These succinct, persuasive synopses will convey some of the meaning I derived from my experiences as a Peace Scholar, but if given the time I could share much more. Primarily, I want to be prepared to speak with enthusiasm and eloquence on behalf of myself, the Peace Scholars Program, and my institution at the Peace Prize Forum, campus events, and beyond.

These are some of the ways I might respond to questions about my summer in Norway:

  • In a word, my summer was transformative; The last seven weeks in Lillehammer and Oslo have been some of the best and most memorable weeks of my life.
  • Being a Peace Scholar made me realize how much I can and should be doing in my community as an activist, advocate, and student nurse. I have come to care more deeply for the world, and the people I’ve met in Norway. I see the world holistically, not divided by invisible fences into this nation or that state, but as a global community united by our common humanity. I now have close friends  throughout the world, in Ukraine, Bosnia, Azerbaijan, and these connections strengthen my empathy and my commitment to issues of global importance.
  • One of the most important concepts I have learned is that people, relationships and collaboration matter more than the final product or solution. I believe that these bonds are the foundation for trust, reconciliation, and peace. Relationship and trust are developed not only in structured dialogue, but in the simple acts of sharing a meal, playing cards, and dancing together.
  • Dialogue is a tool, a means to learn about the world and international relations through the intimate lens of lived experience. Dialogue is aboutmovement, movement in how we think and relate to one another and related to the process itself. Dialogue is also about visibility, to be acknowledged and heard in a space where hurt is present, and to chip away at the “why” behind our own and other’s beliefs.

Small acts for peace

Below is a super short synopsis of my time, it is not all encompassing but it is a lot! 

I began my adventure at the Nansen Center for peace and dialogue. This center is ran by Stienar Bryn a wonderful man who is very humble and you would not guess that he is a six time Noble Peace Prize nominee. He had offered wonderful bits of information to chew on and small phrases that rattle in my mind still such as “distance creates conflict.” Another fellow who i had the great opportunity to meet was named Goran who was gracious enough to have conversations with me about the methods behind the dialogue process and I was able to learn more through those conversations than I could have envisioned going into this trip. I learned a tremendous amount from them that week. These two plus the other 15 peace scholars and 20 students from the Balkans, Russia, Ukraine and Norway provided a deeply rich experience for me to learn and grow. I was challenge, confirmed, and validated before I left. The next step our front is to plan the peace scholar’s presentation at the Noble Peace Prize forum! 

After that week ended I went to the International Summer School at the University of Oslo where I am studying The Norwegian Welfare State and the political conditions that are needed to create a more communal society and a Peace Scholar Seminar. In the Seminar, I have had the opportunity to go to organizations like the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seeker, Norwegian Refugee Council, Norwegian Peace Council and I have also had the opportunity to meet with civic leaders such as Norway’s previous prime minister Keller Magne Bondevik. and the Mayor of Oslo. The scale of this program is unbelievable and the people and organizations that I have been able to engage with have greatly shifted my worldview. 

My major projects at the university are twofold. I was elected the president of the student council representing 520 students from 85 countries ages 18-78 and I have been working to engage with students and committees to plan events such as the International Cultural evening and a story telling media session! I have also been working on a research project looking into why people in Norway engage in activism related to refugees. I will speak more on that project below. 

During the long break, I went on a study trip in Berlin and yesterday I had a tremendously powerful and serendipitous experience! My peers and I toured the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and that alone was a harrowing tour. During the three-hour tour, I chatted with the tour guide Pip at multiple points asking key questions and sharing information about my work. At the end she invited myself and my friends to go to a conference called “Rememory” where tour guides chat about how they should share stories of these tragedies to do them justice and to not erase any history. When I arrived at the conference it was a small event in a small outdoor terrace with about 20 of us and I sat down at a picnic table across an older gentleman and asked him about his pins and one was an honor from a large society of Jewish individuals and the other was a pin from a President of Germany. When I asked him his name he said it was Leon and we began to talk about his life. He was a survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp when I told him of my work in peace and reconciliation he shared with me. “Can I forgive, never. Excuse, never. Reconciliation is the only way forward.” Then as a large group we discussed the importance of how tour guides should share the stories and then in a large circle Leon told us his life story. I was greatly humbled to hear about it. This supplementary activity to the peace scholar program continued to expand my understanding of the need for peace work.

When i returned to Oslo my research project was the main topic for my education! I was able to have an interview with an individual who works with Refugees in the health sector and she offered insight into the issues that refugees face that I originally did not even consider! Something though that most people outside of Norway do not know is that in the summer month a lot of people in Norway go on a 6-week vacation from work. This challenge made getting interviews harder and led to a shift in my research methods from interviews to surveys. This had the pro of increasing the scale of the project but it also removed some of the personal responses that can only be extracted via interview. After these meetings with such influence people and the research I have been highly reflective about my life and what role I have in contributing to the broader work of peace and reconciliation around the world. Every field has a role to play even if we are not in the “eye of the storm” as they say at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue.

A quote from the former Attorney General and Senator Robert F. Kennedy has been resonating with me more than ever before and that quote is “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

For anyone thinking about the International Summer School or the Peace Scholars Program I highly recommend that you apply. I have yet to fully decompress from the trip (because I am still here) and I can wholeheartedly say this has been a life changing experience. With the closeness of the world, the tremendous amount of connections with new friends I have made, and the knowledge I have gained I know that I am going to be reflecting on this experience for a long time to come.

Austin Beiermann

After Norway

Our final night in Norway had a lot of tears, I’m not going to lie.  It was stunning to realize how close we had gotten to everyone in our program in such a short amount of time.  So even though saying goodbye was so hard, we all had this confidence that we would see each other again: whether it be in Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, or the United States of America.  We also had this unquestioned confidence that, in the meantime, we could change the world.

I was casually making plans on the plane for programs I would start back home – peaceful dialogue initiatives, events, social media promotion … but when I landed in MSP, I was suddenly stunned by how big America is.  The cars, the roads, the cities, even the food.  The Minneapolis metro area alone is more than 5 times the size of Oslo.  Not only that, but the problems seemed just as big, too.  The news seemed to cycle on political chaos, and the day before I had arrived, there had been a terrorist attack on the Minneapolis mosque.  … I have never felt so small.

So, I did what anyone would do after studying abroad in Norway.  I went out for Mexican food.  Specifically, I went to go catch up with Betsy Fawcett, who had been in the Peace Scholars program the year before me.  We had gone to the same schools and the same churches growing up, and it seemed beyond a crazy coincidence that we had been in the same places abroad, too. We discussed issues we were passionate about in our country and around the world—the US opioid crisis, the annexation of Ukraine, the Palestinian / Israeli conflict—and Betsy gave me some great advice: there are problems that are too complicated to even begin to understand until you’ve lived them.

I admitted how casually I thought changing the world was going to be; the problems now seemed insurmountably complicated.  Maybe it wasn’t even possible.  “I don’t know how this experience is going to change me—if I’m going to be able to change anything,” I admitted.

“You’ll never understand how it’s changed you,” Betsy shrugged.  “But it’ll change the way you look at everything in the world going forward.”

It reminded me what I realized when I was abroad: that even though we had had some amazing experiences in Norway, Norway itself wasn’t the only reason why.  On one of our last nights, a group of us had hopped on the metro to go to the fjord and eat at the foot trucks along the way.  It was a beautiful night.  As always, there was someone next to the Oslo Peace Prize Centre blowing soap bubbles for kids.  As the sun was setting, the light reflected off of hundreds of them, scattering bits of rainbow light everywhere.  “Isn’t Norway perfect?” Jessica asked.  The scene certainly looked like the murals Edvard Munch painted in City Hall: a political utopia.  I thought about it, and said, “No.  It’s not perfect … but it’s good.” Happiness and success aren’t tired to a specific geographic spot: they can be found anywhere, in lots of ways.  The goal isn’t to recreate Norway.  The goal is find what allows people to live peaceful, productive, and satisfying lives – and to recreate that wherever we go home.

Is it Soccer, Football, or Futbol?

We read a concerning study from a sociological journal for class one day.  It was on diversity.  There are two dominant theories: conflict and contact theory.  Contact theory seemed to be the liberal thought underpinning the whole international summer school – the more you get to know other people from other cultures and other places, the more tolerant you become.

This study brought up a lot of data and evidence for the opposite: conflict theory—which states that more contact creates more tension, more division, and more violence.  It is easy to think that Norway is a utopia, but Henrik Syse noted that in Norway people’s willingness to compromise makes them less willing to bring up obvious problems.  As we studied immigration statistics and policy, we kept coming across Norway’s continued hope for immigrants of other cultures “to integrate into society”.  To integrate—to become similar—to leave out distracting ‘otherness’ that may cause conflict.  I’ll never forget visiting the Islamic Cultural Centre of Oslo and meeting with Arslan, who admitted that it is hard in Norway (and Europe in general) to carry multiple identities.

So which was true?  Would being diverse make us better?  Could humans even live with diversity?  That was certainly a depressing thought.  The solution the sociologist came up with was that when it came to diversity, it was neither “contact” or “conflict” theory.  After analysis he said, it was both: “diversity may bring out the turtle in all of us”, but the best way to coax people into new situations was to not strictly identity people with a race or a culture but rather with unifying values.

It was hard to think of these theories in grandiose, abstract language.  In the meantime, I was head of the sports committee.  Just to clarify, I had never played a sport in my life.  I could barely run without tripping.  But I wanted to try something new.  As overwhelming as it was to suddenly meet 500 people from around the world, I wanted to get over any shyness and meet them best I could.  It turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the summer school.  It was so inspiring to see that we had people from all over the world playing together.  We didn’t split teams into nationalities; we didn’t have a mini Olympics.  Rather, we had players from Italy and Scotland and Eritrea and Ethiopia on the same team.  It was really inspiring to see people from such different places become good friends so quickly.  I got a lot of bruises and grass stains from slipping on the uneven pitch outside Blindern, and I couldn’t be happier at the end of the day.

It turned out Steinar Bryn was right.  Making peace among people didn’t necessarily need a complex theory; to bring people together, you had to live together, to eat together, and to drink together.  To add to the list, maybe you had to fall on your face trying to score a goal together.

Listen, Talk, Eat, and Dance

Is peace defined by not being conflict?

Or is merely a lack of violence not enough when people suffer from systematic injustices and poor social and political systems, as I learned in my Global Peace and Social Development class last year?

Or can peace be as simple as bringing together people of many different backgrounds and identities to talk, listen, eat, and dance together?

In June I spent a week in Lillehammer, Norway at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue with 36 people who were dedicated to fighting for peace and against injustice. Hearing about the work they do was inspirational and life-giving and hopeful. I grew in my knowledge of the vast reaches of those working for peace in the world. But what felt even more meaningful  was the moment I realized how close the 36 of us had become over such a short time.

Going into that week I knew shockingly little about the conflict in Ukraine, and shockingly less about the conflicts in the Balkans. I can now say I have good friends who are intimately familiar with violence in those areas, who have lost relatives, and who feel scared to work for peace for fear of imprisonment and torture (but who do so nonetheless). I understand much more now.

 I came to this understanding by listening, talking, eating, and dancing. In a large part, it was really that easy. We had many difficult conversations, we disagreed on U.S. involvement in Syria, we cried over our friends’ losses, and we requested breaks when the dialogue became too much to handle.

But the main thing I saw us doing was building relationships, which can be incredibly simple and painless. My Ukrainian friends taught us to love Ukrainian music and dancing, I engaged in a rather violent game of Spoons (a favorite card game of mine)—followed by one of the longest and strangest Uno games I have ever played, and I fell to the ground giggling during an ultimate Frisbee match. Then, here in Oslo—where many of us joined over 500 students from all over the world to study in a variety of disciplines—we became each others’ lifelines. We went off to our separate classes and made new and fascinating connections, but with the certainty that if we needed someone to count on—whether it be for a hug, going out for coffee, or holding a seat during the crowded lunch wave—we could find one of our 30 or so Nansen friends amongst the crowd.

Steinar—one of our main teachers and dialogue leaders at the Nansen Center—once said (I’m paraphrasing but it’s pretty close): “this is not magic, what we’ve done here this week. We talked, we listened, we ate, we danced.” And yet we became a family, and we grew in our understanding of each other’s lives and daily struggles.

Can this, this method of having dialogue, really create peace? As our mentors reiterated time and again in Lillehammer, we will never know until we try.

Nansen Pic.jpg

(De)constructing Identity

At this stage in life, we often define and construct ourselves in a way that is overly matter-of-fact. We live in our intellectual bubbles filled with familiar contexts and people which are further supported by the echo chambers and information silos that permeate our society. An unintentional process of reification occurs, making our lives more concrete, our identities more salient and our knowledge less penetrable. Emerson’s quote from the essay “Politics” comes to mind when he said:

“Society is an illusion to the young citizen. It lies before him in rigid repose, with certain names, men and institutions rooted like oak-trees to the centre, round which all arrange themselves the best they can.”

The danger in thinking of these societal constructions as immutable threatens our agency and critical capacities. This experience has been one of deconstruction for me. With each lecture, conversation, reading and observation, I find myself challenged by the counter-narratives to my “truth” on a variety of topics. Our last Peace Seminar discussed this phenomenon of not having a “monopoly on the truth.” It is a powerful exercise to consider how much time we spend analyzing and giving meaning to the world within our own minds. Cultural maturity is the process of having a multiplicity of definitions and perspectives to pull from, rather than blindly accepting the most obvious. Both the workshop at the Nansen Center and our time at the International Summer School have provided the ideal environments for this process to occur. By beginning to live with this double consciousness, the formulation of the ‘self’ should no longer be done against an ‘other’.

Humanity First

I left for Norway carrying a familiar, navy blue booklet inscribed with the golden words “United States of America” on the front cover. Like any other person traveling abroad, this passport would serve as my main proof of identity for the next seven weeks. While in line at the airport, I remember peeking over the shoulders of strangers next to me, curious to see where they were from and what their passports looked like. The man in front of me carried a green passport declaring “Republic of South Africa,” and the woman behind me held a maroon passport which said, “The United Kingdom of Great Britain.”

Being this was my first time outside the United States, it didn’t initially occur to me how strange it is that much of our identities are attached to the nations we come from. The oddity of national identity didn’t quite hit me until I found myself, sitting in a large circle in Lillehammer and at a long cafeteria table in Blindern, introducing and reintroducing myself as “an American.” After a while, I began to wonder what I was even telling people when I said “I am an American”. Likewise, I wondered what people were telling me when they said they were Russian, or South Korean, or German… What information were we actually providing?

I think dialogue has an answer to this question: not much. Dialogue has taught me that when we build empathetic relationships with one another, all other categories–nationality, ethnicity, religion–fade to the background as we see each other for what we are: fellow human beings.

I cannot tell you the nationality or religion or ethnicity of each person I’ve met in Lillehammer and Oslo, but I can tell you about Leda, who loves Sylvia Plath poems as much as I do (if not more), about Billy who plays the guitar beautifully (and humbly), about Anessa who loves to watch movies (including cheesy rom coms from the `90s) and about Misha who lights a candle for peace every evening (last time we spoke, he was on night #903). The list could go on and on, but to sum the summer up, each person here has taught me that by uniting in our humanity, peace is not an abstract concept, but something we can actively work towards.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from Lillehammer, taken by the talented photographer, Елена!

Dialogue:The Bridge Between Worlds​

My experience thus far with the Peace Scholars Program as well as the International Summer School has been overwhelmingly rewarding. After returning from an incredible long weekend in Poland we went to an insightful talk and discussion at the Peace Research Institute. Our host was the son of Norway’s former Prime Minister, and gave a lively talk on his philosophical theory research and the Norwegian value system. The following days that week were filled with both seminars and excursions, and we touched on a variety of different aspects of Norway’s incredibly complex peace and welfare systems. I am also a part of the Norwegian Welfare State course, and so it’s been fascinating to be able to form links between how Norway’s welfare state contributes to the idealism of a peace society.

One of the most transformative aspects of this program for me has been the opportunity to interact with so many brilliant individuals who have made a career out of peace work. This has been something somewhat shocking to me as in the US, any sort of nonprofit or NGO worker is generally poorly compensated and overworked often to the point of burning out from the industry entirely. In class we actually talked about how a career in peace work is seen as very respectable, and something young people gravitate towards much more so than in the US.

I will be beginning my masters degree in the field of Public Administration in late August, and this program has inspired me so much. I’ve always been passionate about peace work and a career path that is socially responsible, but I’ve struggled between my idealism and my desire to live a comfortable life. I’m beginning to see that these two values aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, and that it just might take a bit of creativity (or moving to Norway) to achieve.