By Aziza Ahmed
“If enough people value connecting and coming together, it could make a difference.” Steinar Bryn, a five-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, said that when a fellow peace scholar expressed their skepticism about the use of dialogue.
I have never been more humbled than I have been in the past two weeks. I spent last week in Lillehammer at the Nansen Dialogue Summer School surrounded by a serene vista. More moving than the views, however, were the people. I shared a space so intimately with people from the US, The Kingdom of Hawaii, the Balkans, Russia, Ukraine, Columbia, and Norway. Each of these people have marred–in a good way–my heart, what I thought I knew, my socio-political philosophy, and the way I walk in my own path. The world became so small in the span of week.
At Pacific Lutheran University, and in my sphere of work, particularly, we say that we are rooted and reaching. Meaning we are rooted in Lutheranism (who we are) and are reaching in a few different capacities. Reaching to build bridges, reaching for more knowledge, reaching for others… you get the idea. This phrase has stuck with me. I am rooted—in my Blackness, my Somalinimo, my Womanhood, and in my core values borne out of Islam—but I am also reaching in similar capacities. Coming to Norway, I knew that I was reaching. I thought I was reaching academically. I even said in my Peace Scholars application that, “my primary goal would be to come back to the PLU community having gained the skills and strategies pertaining to the principles of peacekeeping through the developed methodology and research that is borne out of Norway.”
I got so much more than that. I learned things that we’re so invaluable that I would have never learned in a formal classroom setting. I learned about myself, how I perceive the ‘other,’ and how to approach peace and conflict using dialogue. I also learned how little I know and had my roots shaken a bit.
Coming to the University of Oslo and learning about Peace and their welfare state more formally, I am now in the process of thinking about my role in peace building and the legacy I hope to leave. I’d like to think of myself of an action-based sponge. I soak up everything that I learn both formally and informally and apply what I’ve learned when I can. This experience was so profound that I am still unsure what form the knowledge I’ve gained here will take in action. Returning to the US, I am only sure of one thing: now more than ever, I see a desperate need for us (me) to bring people together and foster connections across the many facades division takes.