The morning greeted us with sweet Norwegian sunshine as we woke and left for central station. Eager to start our adventure, we arrived at our train’s gate far too early and settled in at a coffee shop nearby. Our groggy conversations gained momentum, and before long our train had reached the terminal. We boarded and gathered together in three rows of two, spread peanut butter on our Wasa crackers, and relaxed for a six hour journey to a far-away land: Sweden.
If you would have asked me a month ago if I thought I would ever travel to Stockholm, I would have said no, but then again, I’ve been wrong about most of my predictions for this summer.
Most of our journey was silent. Some slept. Others listened to music. As the rolling hills of Norway were traded for flat Swedish farmland, we remembered that soon we would leave behind Norway for good, and began to reflect on our time abroad. We sadly realized that our time together was waning.
In attempts to lighten the mood, someone pulled up their application essay and we marveled at how this trip has been so much more than we ever imagined. Another application essay was passed around the train, and another. As the weekend progressed, I read many more application letters, each one just as creative and passionate as its author, each one leaving me more in awe of my company.
In our letters, we expressed our expectations for the Peace Scholars program. We thought we knew what we were getting into. Although I cannot speak for my colleagues, I can confidently say that my preconception of the Peace Scholars program was dead wrong.
Sure, I’ve explored unfamiliar cities and attended countless classes, sessions, meetings, tours, and museums. I’ve tasted local cuisine (salmon and potatoes with a side of salmon and potatoes). I’ve met students from around the world. I knew those things would happen, and I am so happy that those expectations became reality.
But beyond those simple predictions, most of what I’ve done here has been completely different than what I anticipated. I thought I would learn about the history, leadership, and political concepts behind peacemaking. Although I have learned about all of those things, the bulk of our time has been spent pondering other issues. Instead of learning how to make peace, I have gained uncertainty in what peace actually is. Instead of studying the ways in which Norway is a peace nation, I’ve learned to be more critical of the institutions that the world deems “peaceful”. Instead of becoming a fearless world-changer, I’ve reflected on my own motivations and seriously questioned why I am interested in change in the first place.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am thankful for the extensive amount of information that the Peace Scholars program has taught me, but what I value the most are the skills I have gained.
I have learned to critically evaluate the ideas and motives behind peacemaking. I’ve learned to see the complexity behind humanitarian aid, and that peacemaking is not as simple as it may sometimes seem. Despite my original assumptions, I have learned that peace is not the result of a single action. It is not a state of being, but an ongoing process. It takes planning and careful consideration.
When I applied for the program, I assumed that I would leave feeling ready to take on the world’s every problem. Thankfully, rather than urging us toward mission trips and humanitarian work, I think the Peace Scholars program has caused each of us to take a step back and consider our passions more deeply. Each and every Peace Scholar has aspirations to make change, and I am fully confident that someday we will. However, just as peace requires patience and persistence, so also will our own plans.
Upon arrival at home, my friends and family will surely ask, “What did you learn this summer?” Though it is not the response I predicted, nor will it be the answer they might anticipate, I will gladly tell them this: I learned that I have so much more to learn.
While I wait for my time to change the world, I will continue to exercise the skills that the Peace Scholars program has taught me. I will look more closely at what seems crystal clear, I will challenge the ideas that seem set in stone, and I will always remember how my time in Norway was beyond my expectations.