What an experience this has been so far! I have met and been inspired by students from the Ukraine, Russia, Norway, the Balkans and the United States; I am deeply touched by their stories. The week at Nansen challenged me to reflect on my experiences, social position, and values, and I have absorbed a lot:
Never in my life have I been affected by violence. Never have I been persecuted, censored, or held in deep contempt. I have not once heard the cacophony of falling bombs, I have not once fled into the dark of night, I have not once been fearful of the murderous intent of my neighbors. War has never been my reality. Listening to my friends’ stories conjured up a vision of war that made me feel uncomfortable, and rightfully so. I am now aware of my privilege: the stability, safety, and freedom I take for granted every day. Dialogue is essential because it allows us to practice empathy, to see the world from another’s perspective while also viewing our own experiences in a new light.
Before coming to the Nansen Center, I viewed war as a distant, tragic phenomenon: the subject of radio reports, newspaper headlines, and dinnertime conversations. This distance from conflict facilitated apathy, not necessarily the absence of care, but the absence of understanding and intention. My colleagues’ first and second hand experiences with violent conflict have made war more real to me. This reification process is not unique to dialogue, but in this context of conversation, the consequences of war are given a human face, a name, and significance. I by no means have a complete understanding of what it is like to experience war, but I have a better understanding now than I did when I arrived in Lillehammer. This knowledge has influenced me as a student, peace scholar, and future nurse. It will be difficult to articulate the experiences I shared at Nansen center, but nevertheless, I am eager to share my understanding with the PLU community.
Alongside these poignant dialogue sessions, I have eaten the most flavorful salmon of my life, plunged into the freezing Mjøsa lake, and become pleasantly lost in the Scandinavian hillside. I have also enjoyed the company of 35 of the kindest, most genuine people I know, and who I hope to stay in touch with long after this program. Lillehammer welcomed me, and I embraced the town’s wildlife, relaxed pace, and friendly inhabitants.