Every core course at DIS takes a week-long trip somewhere in Europe for more hands-on learning. For my Humanitarian Law & Armed Conflict core course, we ventured to Kosovo for five days. Kosovo is located in the Balkans (think Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, etc.) and is one of the newest nations in the world, gaining independence in 2008. Its status as a nation is disputed as Serbia claims it as a province while 100 members states of the United Nations recognize its independence. From 1998-1999, Kosovo was engaged in a bloody conflict with Serbia; our class was in Kosovo to learn specifically about this conflict, its continuing impact on Kosovar society, and how the Kosovar people have gone about building a new nation.
Our time in Kosovo was filled with lots of academic visits, sightseeing, and traveling around the country. Every day we did something different and learned about Kosovo in a new way. Here are my highlights from every day of our trip.
Sunday: we flew from Copenhagen to Vienna to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. We checked into our hotel (which was VERY nice!) and explored the city. The highlight of this day was eating a traditional Kosovar Albanian dinner and meeting some local students. We exchanged stories and asked each other questions about our upbringing and the places we live. I ended up spending quite a good amount of time with the students we met and they proved to be excellent tour guides.
Monday: My favorite academic visit on Monday was to the Kosovo Security Force base. We learned specifically about an exclusive program they have that is similar to the American ROTC. Although I tend not to be super interested in military stuff, this visit was wonderful as everyone we met was extremely welcoming and did everything they could to make us feel at home. They gave us personalized tours with cadets and we had plenty of opportunities to ask all of our questions.
Tuesday: We visited Mitrovica— the divided city. The northern side of Mitrovica is populated by people who are ethnically Serbian while the southern side is populated with ethnic Albanians. A bridge divides the two sides of the city and movement across the bridge is limited. KFOR (NATO peacekeeping forces) troops patrol the bridge to make sure it’s safe; our tour guide asked if it would be safe enough for us to cross the bridge as a class and we were the first DIS class that has been allowed to do so. Upon entering the Serbian part of Mitrovica, we noticed differences in architecture and development, the use of the Serbian rather than Kosovar flag, the use of the Serbian Dinar instead of the Euro, and the prevalence of Serbian language and writing. Crossing the bridge is like crossing into an entirely new country and the persistent ethnic differences are evident here.
Wednesday: in small groups, we visited local NGO’s to learn about the work they do in Kosovo. My group visited the Kosovo Women’s Network. The representative we met with was knowledgeable about the many issues of gender inequality and gender-based violence that women in Kosovo continue to face. As a passionate feminist, I found this academic visit to be informative about the work that still needs to be done in building a nation where everyone is equal.
Thursday: We took a bus up into the mountains and visited Prizren, Kosovo’s second-largest city. Prizren was very quaint, with lots of culture, architecture, and history to explore. Our class enjoyed the fresh air on a walking tour. One of the most interesting parts of the walking tour was seeing a Catholic church, Orthodox church, and mosque all right next to each other. This is indicative of the ethnic and religious diversity of Prizren. We had the evening off in order to see more of Prizren on our own before flying back to Copenhagen the next morning.
Kosovo is a lovely country and I’m so glad to be part of a core course that visits such a unique place. Were it not for my course at DIS, I don’t think I ever would have thought to visit; I’m walking away from this trip having learned much more about conflict and peace-building and very thankful to the wonderful and hospitable Kosovars that we met along the way. They truly made our time in Kosovo special and I would love to come back someday and see more of the Balkans!