Rooted and Reaching

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.

Nanea Lo


Today was my first Lāpule (Sunday) and Iulai (July) in Oslo, Norway. It started off with breakfast and making sandwiches for lunch in the morning. The Peace Scholars and I met up around 11:15am to try and catch the ferry to Hovedøya a small moku (island) off of the city in the Oslofjord we missed the first ferry, but caught the next one directly after. The weather is beautiful here this time of the year and definitely reminds me of home. 

The people here have so much to do and its accessible. The transportation system here is superb. Even the ferry that we took was apart of the monthly pass that people here can buy a month and students get a big discount versus the general population. People here love to be outside during the summer and because there’s more sun normally they stay inside because of winter that they have for long periods of five to six months. Couples walk around with babies in their strollers and toddlers and keiki run around and play with one another. It’s refreshing to see that especially since in Hawaiʻi I feel like keiki there are so disconnected to ʻāina and just general human interaction. 

Oslo this time of the year like I said reminds me of home. I expected it to be a lot cooler here, but due to climate change it has even affected this place. It saddens me to see that in my nation that’s why it is my hope that the future of my nation be reformed one day one a separate identity to America that is so fixated on individualistic consumerism. 

The island was cute and quaint and we walked to a spot where there was some sand like stuff for a beach mostly crushed little rocks and clam shells. I gathered some to take home with me I hope the ancestors of this land don’t mind. The sun was shinning, the sky was blue as can be, and the water was cold as within a cooler with ice. A perfect Oslo summer day, so thankful I could be able to enjoy it. 

me ke aloha ʻāina,

Nanea Lo

By Lex Dorfman

Where to start… my experience in Norway has not been what I was expecting. I was not expecting the scenery in Lillehammer to be like a postcard. I was not expecting to connect with 40 people within hours. I was not expecting all of us to bond over intense conversations. I was not expecting to not get homesick. The thing that surprises me the most is how fast we created a strong support system. Even through the emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically draining week in Lillehammer, the majority of the time we were able to embrace each other with our comforting words or bodies. As cliché as this sounds, we became family.

Specifically, one moment that I will always remember was when our US group of 14 people was talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My new friend and I had different views. When we first had this conversation in our small group, I felt attacked, but luckily through meeting with everyone before we shared our opinions with the larger group, I was able to express my negative feelings and to make sure that we would approach the conversation with a different tone/intention. After we shared our opinion in front of the 40 people, we hugged each other, cried, and felt the love that we gave to one another. After experiencing this, I do believe that dialogue can solve conflicts.


By Max Eness
I arrived in Oslo a week ago, not knowing what to expect out of the first week. The International Summer School segment of the Peace Scholars program seemed very concrete in my mind, while our stay at the Nansen Center was nebulous at best. Dialogue is a word that I associated either with people seeking to reinforce their own beliefs under the cover of openness or Socrates. Both feel archaic and ill suited for handling the division our country is undergoing.
The first few days at the Nansen Center were interesting but I remained skeptical that the methods we were using could truly solve anything. We were learning to ask a multi-national audience questions such as “what shaped you?” and “what was the most important event in your life?” These questions felt ill-equipped to deal with the divisions that we have in the U.S., both along political and racial lines. They felt too nice to dig into the fissures forming between us.
The third day of dialogue practice came around. We were split into groups by country, and the 6 other countries posed questions to us. Some of the questions were easy to field, yet others divided our group. This division felt critical to the success of the other. Steinar, earlier in the presentation had cited Martin Buber as introducing the theory that our identities aren’t constructed through self-reflection, but rather in experiencing the other, someone or something unknown and realizing that there is no defined line between us and them. In order to transition from the I-It relationship to the I-Thou relationship, one must first have an ‘It’ in mind.
Coming into dialogue without a “It” in mind can stagnate the progress to be made intellectually. If someone thinks that they are completely open to all thoughts and experiences they are probably lying to themselves. Dialogue is necessary because we have these prejudices, not because we are already enlightened. Coming into a dialogue hoping to examine the ways in which we think we differ is likely more important than examining the ways in which we think we are the same.

Beginner’s Dialogue

By Kristian Evans35963457_1912797675431648_5596347510583984128_n            Upon arriving at the Nansen School for Dialogue in Lillehammer Norway, I was met with mixed emotions. Norway was largely familiar to me, my family had Norwegian heritage, I had visited many times and I had even spent a year living in the city of Stavanger after high school. Despite this comfort level with the country, I knew I was going into a situation with people I didn’t know from a wide variety of contexts of which I had no knowledge.

Through the course of the week, a group of 40 students from 13 different countries dived headfirst into the basics of dialogue. Discussions ranged from answering the question “What shaped you?” to bigger discussions about the plights of identity and nationality. Forced to confront both the ignorance toward the issues of other nations and the conflict that exists within our own nation, the dialogue proved that while these conversations are difficult, they are absolutely priceless.

Now at the University of Oslo with these same wonderful people, I have started a Norwegian language course, once again starting to build the foundations of dialogue in a whole new way.


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.