Saturday, June 25, 2011

To Oslo!

The Entrance Arch

   Welcome to Blindern campus!

   As we wander through the yellow painted arch (the same color as all of Norway's nationally important buildings), the ever-present rain trickles through the trees. We have finally come to our trip's final destination: Oslo. The spreading capital holds almost a fifth of the country's population, and while small by American standards, it is still quite large to this Iowan! Walking through the grey gravel towards the dorms, it is easy to see the history of the place. The buildings are many decades old, and the neo-classical facades facing us are magnificent! Between the dorms, a sunken courtyard reveals a fountain and multiple baths leading to other far-off corners of the campus; it is beautiful.

   Dozens of country's representatives mill around as the rain continues to fall. Our group from Lillehammer smiles and greets the others as we slowly make our way to collect keys, information, and directions for our new life for the next six weeks.

   Truth be told, it is a little disconcerting and unwelcome to switch locations. Lillehammer seemed a wonderful place full of country hospitalities and little corners of excitement. The people welcomed us with a smile and boundless generosity. Steiner, his family, and the staff of the Nansen Academy provided such warmth that it is difficult to leave that place. Oslo, the booming capital will likely be less friendly as any city tends to be.
Steinar, the Wonderful Bearded Peacemaker

   As we entered the doors, the change in location was especially stark. The Nansen Academy provided for small, yet clean and homey, single rooms. Here, the decades-old dorm is cramped; my room is meant for one and now houses two. I will even sleep on a cot for the duration of my stay at Blindern. Oh well, it is simply an inconvenience. I am in Norway, free of charge, for seven weeks. Nothing is really worth complaining about.

   Since our rain-clouded arrival, we have registered for classes. Additionally, we have begun to become oriented to our new surroundings. Classes start the day after tomorrow, and I am excited to begin studying the history of Norway in depth. Also, I have selected the weekend excursion that I wish to partake of. The school offers several different excursions out into Norway, including rafting, hiking, and other fun activities. Mine will be a tour of one of Oslo's major fjords. Additionally, we will tour a massive fortress, garnering the history of that defensible place. Furthermore, we will take a ferry out into the fjord, stop in Sweden, and stay in a fancy hotel. All told, it promises to be a very fun event.

   And there are so many more adventures to come! Although the transition has been difficult, we will adjust eventually, and Norway has so much to offer. The next few weeks will truly provide for an epic saga.
My Cramped yet Workable Dorm Room

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Nansen Dialogs

Explorer and Peace Worker

   "You really believe that we poisoned your children? Now I understand why you hate us."

   Lillehammer, a small city of 30,000 north of Oslo and host of the Winter Olympics is home to another world-changing gathering. While most know of the place for its sporting history and welcoming people, peace advocates know of Lillehammer for the Nansen Academy and the Nansen Dialogs.

   This week, nearly thirty students from the Balkans, Southern Caucasus, the United States, and other lands have gathered together for days of relationship-building and attempts to further peace in the world. The Nansen Academy, named after the famous polar explorer and international diplomat, is a place of multi-cultural study. However, in recent years, the buildings and their occupants have concentrated on the Balkans and the establishment of peaceful relations among the states and ethnicities of the former-Yugoslavian lands. This is accomplished through extensive use of dialog.

   Dialog is a little-used form of communication. In popular usage, the word is interchangeable with "conversation," but this is hardly the truth. Rather, dialog is a meeting of different opinions that allows for movement.

   In debate, the participants attack the other side; facts are torn down and the enemy's argument is reduced to irrationality. Often, the participants hope to prove that the other was wrong and seek just revenge.

   This is not dialog.

   In negotiations, each side comes to the table hoping for a win-win situation. Their positions are ardently defended, and the best deal is looked for.

   This is not dialog.

   Rather, dialog is a complex series of talks that don't allow for proving that someone is right or defending a position on an apparent truth. No, dialog in the Nansen tradition is conversing with an enemy to understand them. The quote that began this blog was actually spoken at a past dialog. In the terrible breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbs and Albanians entered into a vicious conflict, and atrocities were committed on each side. The quote refers to a rumor that Albanian school children were poisoned by Serbs in their place of learning. Serbs often believe that the Albanians made the story up and believe that the story is false. Albanians believe that Serbs committed the heinous crime and continue to deny it. Each side possesses what they believe to be true. This belief is wildly important. Each side uses a parallel story that defines them, and the result is violence.

   In the quote, the Serbian speaker finally understood that his Albanian counterpart actually thought that Serbs had poisoned Albanian children. It finally made sense why the enemy actually hated him, even if they believed a falsehood from his point of view.

   Through dialog, each side is allowed to experience and being to understand the enemy. As a result, peaceful connections are established. Furthermore, since dialog is not a negotiation, no one wins. Instead, each side is allowed movement in their previously held stereotypes; enemies become people and not faceless demons. And all of this happens at the Nansen Dialog, who, for the last fifteen years, has been seeking to establish these peaceful connections in the Balkans.

   And this week, I was allowed to experience this. I have met Serbs and Albanians whose lands have been ravaged by war and whose cultures have been shaped through recent violence. The Nansen Academy has truly brought us together in a week of indescribable power. As we leave for Oslo, my heart concurrently grieves for the world and pulses in thankfulness for the work of the Nansen Academy and other institutions seeking harmony in our war-torn world.
My New Friends from the Balkans

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jet-Lagged Arrival Ramblings

The Norwegian Countryside

   We have finally arrived! And before this post goes any further, I'd like to apologize in advance for the jet-lagged tone. So, in that rambling mood, I'll just present a quick overview of the first day. It's now 8:39 P.M. here and we're pretty exhausted. The trip was wonderful and went very quickly, but even so, it takes the wind of out you.

   We arrived in Iceland around 7 A.M. local time this morning and stayed in the airport for about an hour before our next flight left. Then, when we got to Oslo, we collected Thad and another girl who came early, as well as several Serbians and Bosnians and traveled to Lillehammer for the Nansen Dialogues. These are discussions that occur among the differing ethic groups from the wars in the former Yugoslavia. We're here to participate and witness these dialogues, and we'll be here all week (more on these later!).

   Next, we moved into our dorms and I have a single for the whole week (Yes!). They're a bit small but just perfect for privacy and sleeping without having to spread too much stuff around. Then, we took a short walking tour of part of the city. Aside from the recent Winter Olympics held here, the city has a marvelous history, including a coat of arms dedicated to a skiing rescue of a prince by his faithful soldiers. I learned that my $50 will purchase two hamburgers at a fast food restaurant in the Norwegian currency; the exchange rate is simply, unequivocally brutal.
   Since they didn't serve free meals on the plane rides (Strange, right? I purchased a minimal amount to save money), we were all very, very hungry by suppertime. We had rich rice with beef and vegetable stir-fry on top with fresh crunchy salad and hot bread bedecked in sesame seeds that I would mug someone to eat again. Finally, well-fed, we all retired to a common lounge to check in with our families. Soon, it'll be definitely time for bed, with the real festivities starting at 8 A.M. tomorrow morning. But, they've mentioned that the sun will be light until about 3 A.M. I'll have to do a short post on the weather next; it has truly changed seven or eight times in the last few hours. For now though, it's time for some relaxation and a bit of sleep.
The Nansen Academy in Lillehammer