> Home News March 17, 2011 — On the ground in Kosovo: students study the building of a new nation

March 17, 2011 — On the ground in Kosovo: students study the building of a new nation

by Christine Elias — Thursday, Mar 17, 2011

Students worked on individual research projects focusing on the European Union’s role in the country

March 17, 2011
Christine Elias

Appearing from left to right: (front row) Sarah Beard; Olga Olson; Zara Abbasi; Kelly Mingram; Rewa El Oubari; Agim (hotel owner); Magnus Aase; (back row) Ylber Kusari (program coordinator); Ranko Plejic; Robert Austin; Thomas Pinnington. (Click to enlarge)

Some students study the history of nation-building; delving into such topics as the post World War II transformation of Japan and Germany. Others — such as a group of political science students who recently traveled to Kosovo — experience it as it is happening.

Eight undergraduate students and their instructor — Robert Austin of  the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies — traveled to the newly independent nation over reading week to work on individual research projects focusing on the European Union’s (EU) role in the country.

"The course examines the process of European Union enlargement and its ongoing contribution to democratization and reform in present day applicant countries”, said Austin, a specialist on Albania and Kosovo. “Given the legacy of wars, Kosovo, and other parts of the Balkans, is where the European project succeeds or fails. There is therefore no substitute for face-to-face meetings with the people who are trying to build a new Kosovo under what are very challenging circumstances.”

A view of Prizren. The Bistrica River flows through the town and the Sharr Mountains are in the distance. (Click to enlarge)

“The best thing about the trip was being right in the heart of something that we were studying,” said Ranko Plejic, a political science student in his final year. “To go from a lecture on the St. George campus about this fledgling nation's progress to being smack, dab in the middle of downtown Pristina and getting an on-the-ground look at the role the international community is playing in Kosovo's capacity building was dream-like.”

Kosovo, one of the countries in Balkans that aspires to EU membership, has garnered — mostly negative — international attention for almost a decade. But things are changing and the EU is providing practical help to facilitate the integration of the nation, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, into statehood and the EU structures.

While overseas, students investigated topics such as judicial reform, negotiations with Serbia, minority/community rights, privatization policy and economic development. They  also met directly with civic leaders, officials and other stakeholders who provided insights into the themes the students are studying.

“We had an opportunity to interview outstanding people ― governmental officials, activists, and representatives of international organizations ― who helped us to make sense of the situation in Kosovo”, said Olga Olson in her last year of a specialist in international relations. “Being a part of a small group of students each researching a particular topic, while at the same time receiving guidance from a professor and a graduate student advisor, was a lot of fun and a tremendous learning opportunity.”

The research trip was part of the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Internationalized Course Modules (ICM) program.

Introduced four years ago, the program provides an opportunity for faculty members to incorporate an intensive international experience into the framework of an existing undergraduate course. Over 30 groups of students have traveled to destinations in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and the United States.



Video: Rewa El Oubari