Roza, Copenhagen

Roza is a senior Hunt Scholar, Mustang Scholar and member of the University Honors Program. She is majoring in communication studies in Meadows School of the Arts and political science in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. In fall 2012, she is studying abroad with SMU-in-Copenhagen.

Travels to Spain and Italy

At Park Guell

If my time in Copenhagen has taught me anything, it is the value of experiential learning.  Here at DIS, Europe truly is our classroom; two weeks after my trip to Kosovo and Vienna, I traveled with several friends, two of whom attend SMU.

For our second travel break we visited Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Milan. I had never been to Spain or Italy, so I went in without any expectations.  The week was definitely well spent – full of fun and cultural immersions, but tiring. In Barcelona we got to eat some tapas, see La Sagrada Familia (after waiting in line for nearly an hour), visit Park Guell as well as some touristy areas in the city. It was also interesting to see Catalonia’s desire to separate from Spain play out, with some people supporting separation holding up a particular flag versus those opposing the movement.

After spending a short yet lovely three days in Barcelona, we headed over to Madrid, where we got to visit Museo Del Prado. I can now say I am one of the few who has seen the Prado both in Meadows and Spain! We had only one night in Madrid and surprisingly ended up seeing much of city. While eating at one of the restaurants in Madrid, a friend of mine from DC who is studying abroad in Madrid recognized my voice, and we had a spontaneous greeting, with both of us screaming in shock and running to each other’s arms.

In Rome

After our short visit to Madrid, we spent the next five days in Rome, where we got to enjoy some delicious pizza, pasta, gelato and tiramisu. Although I really enjoyed Barcelona and Madrid, walking in Rome literally felt like I was stepping into ancient history. The highlight of the trip for me was the seeing the Colosseum and the Vatican City.  It takes a trip to Rome to truly understand why the Colosseum is not only one of the greatest works of Roman architecture, but also one of the largest tourist attractions. I am still amazed at how a building started in 72AD is still standing in pretty good shape. Walking in the Colosseum and going in the museum made me feel as if I were in the period of Imperial Rome ready to watch gladiatorial contests.

Stepping foot in the Vatican City elicited similar feelings. The feelings of “you are no longer in Rome, but in the Vatican City” was very much a reality. Visiting the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum were the highlights of the Vatican City tour. We didn’t quite fulfill our wishes of running into the Pope, but at least we spent a whole day in his city!

Our hostel in Rome wasn’t so great – actually it was the worst hostel I stayed in – but besides that, we spent an unforgettable five days in Rome. We closed out a great trip by spending a day in Milan, most of it uncomfortably in its tiny airport overnight, but we sure were glad to be back in Copenhagen and catch up on rest.

At the Colosseum with SMU students

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Class trip to Kosovo

I am way overdue on my blog updates, so I will try my best to catch up my readers on the past two months. Since my semester will be ending in about two weeks, I figured it’s either now or never.

Posing for a picture at Mitrovica: on the other side of the rocks lies Serbia, where many Kosovo Albanians have never been.

My last blog indicated my pending trip to Kosovo, so I will start out by discussing my experience there.  Last semester while doing the International Law and Organizations Program at American University, I was introduced to the situation in Kosovo from an international law perspective. Back then, Kosovo to me was nothing more than the discussion we had in our class and the papers I wrote, so to actually go on the trip really brought the topics I had learned about to life.

I no longer had to argue for or against the statehood of Kosovo from literary research and a “he said/she said” perspective; now I could actually hear and talk to Kosovo Albanians as well as Kosovo Serbs, visit governmental and non-governmental organizations, walk on the land where wars took place and assess the situation for myself.  While my assessment is not fully developed by far, as I still have a lot to learn and would like to travel to Serbia to get a well-rounded assessment, I walked away with a few observations.

For those who do not know about the Kosovo War, it saturated the media in the 1990s when Serbs and ethnic Albanians fought for the Kosovo region. Although Serbs make up the minority in Kosovo, they consider it their own. The 1974 Yugoslav Constitution defined Kosovo’s status as an autonomous region of Serbia. However, when President Slobodan Milosevic took power, he made it his goal to deprive Kosovo of its independence, and this in turn led to uprisings by Kosovo Albanians. In 1999 the conflict escalated with Kosovo Albanians being severely persecuted and forcing a NATO involvement. After nearly a year of NATO airstrikes, Milosevic was forced to withdraw his troops and Kosovo was left under UN supervision.

Fast forward to 2008, Kosovo is still under UN supervision, but it has declared independence with Serbia, which obviously rejects its independence but most of the European Union countries accept.

In 2012, little has changed. Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and although the situation in the region has been largely controlled, tension still exists between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs. In the municipality of Mitrovica, which my classmates and I were fortunate enough to visit, a bridge divides Kosovo and Serbia.

Although the bridge is less than a couple minutes’ walk, I was astounded to meet Kosovo Albanian students who had grown up there their whole life, but had never walked across the bridge and have no clue what lies on the other side. In addition to the physical barrier, the division is apparent in the hearts and minds of the people. Either ethnic group would gladly open up and share their dissent for one another; however, to provide this kind of assessment overlooks the progress that has been made in the country.

Although my education has exposed me to Kosovo from the conflict and international law perspective, the image I walked away with is of a country that is rebuilding. In Prishtina, the capital city, there is a huge carved-out stone that bears the letters NEW BORN. And that is exactly what Kosovo is — a “state” in the process of rebuilding itself. A lot of construction is going on in Prishtina, along with a renewed sense of commitment to rebuild Kosovo into a peaceful and modern “nation.”

Besides soaking up the current and past history of Kosovo, during my week stay there, I also got to soak up some sun. After spending nearly four months in Copenhagen, where it is currently snowing and 28 degrees Fahrenheit, I couldn’t contain my excitement for the 70 degree weather in Kosovo. For the first time since August, I got to wear a dress, so I can’t say I didn’t try to advocate for a longer stay.

My classmates and I were flying back to Copenhagen on Friday, but since we had a layover in Vienna, we had planned to spend the weekend there along with three of my classmates. My classmates and I had an incredible time. The contrast between Kosovo and Vienna is quite daunting. After spending a week in a developing “country,” I was in complete awe of Vienna’s beauty. So clean, modern, and beautiful – it was the perfect way to end a week of travels!

My classmates and professor in a tiny village in the mountains of Peja, Kosovo, where we visited a family that has lived there for over 700 years.

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Connecting to the Danish culture

My housemate and I in the city

It has been quite a while since my last blog, so I thought I should give a brief update. As the days go by, my time in Copenhagen only continues to get better. I got involved in a few activities that I have come to really enjoy.

DIS encourages students to join immersion activities to become more connected to the Danish culture. I am part of the visiting family program and buddy network. The visiting family program connects interested DIS students who are not living with a host family to a Danish family they can regularly visit. Last week I went to visit my family with another DIS student, since two of us were assigned to the same family. They had us over for dinner and I had a lovely evening with them.

My visiting family lives in a commune/farming cooperative, where over 60 families live close to one another and share a common kitchen, laundry room and have dinners as a group. I had never visited a commune before, and after hearing about the myriad reasons they love it, I walked away with such a positive outlook on their unique lifestyle. We also met their two sons and youngest daughter and ended up spending nearly three hours conversing. I am already looking forward to my next visit with them!

Last week I also attended my buddy network, a program that allows Danes to meet other American students their age and vice versa. The goal is for Danes and Americans to learn about each other’s cultures and backgrounds. We had dinner together and played a couple games to get to know each other. We have various exciting events planned for the upcoming weeks such as cake baking, movie night and city tours. With the buddy network and visiting family combined, I am convinced I will leave feeling immersed in the Danish culture.

Horses, cared for by my visiting family

I have also been getting more involved by regularly attending a church. I didn’t think I would find an English service, but I successfully found not only an English service, but also a church similar to the one I attend back at home. The members of the church come from all over the world, so it’s wonderful to worship internationally in an international church.

This weekend I will leave Copenhagen and fly to Kosovo, where I will spend a week with my humanitarian law and armed conflict class. The course has been very interesting (as all of my classes have been), so I am very much looking forward to the trip. We also have a layover in Vienna, so I will spend a weekend there with several members of my classmates as well. That’s all the updates for now!

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Lessons in pirates and history

Naval Military Police with weapons confiscated from pirates.

Immediately after I got back from my trip to Hamburg, I repacked and got on a bus to head to Western Denmark with my classmates.

This week at DIS is core course week —students travel to some part of Denmark with their core class. As I mentioned in my earlier blog, core classes are related to the various programs in which student enroll. Since I am enrolled in the Justice & Human Rights program, this meant I get to spend a whole week with my Humanitarian Law and Armed Conflict classmates and professors.

Although the week is not over yet, the past four days have been quite enjoyable. There is a healthy mix of academic and social activities. A few highlights of the trip include visiting the Navy Military Police, where we heard from presenters who travel to the Gulf of Aden regularly on an anti-piracy mission. We actually got to see the ship that is getting ready to head to the coast of Somalia in October.

Visiting the Egeskov Castle

The military police also gave us permission to see where and how the pirates are detained in the ship. Afterward they showed us weapons used by the Danish military police to fight against the pirates as well as weapons confiscated from pirates. I have never gotten so close to the issue of piracy before! Of course my classmates and I couldn’t resist taking pictures with the confiscated weapons.

We also visited the Danish fleet headquarters where they also spoke about their anti-piracy mission in Somalia and gave a presentation on the legal side of their anti-piracy operations. I have read about piracy, seen news clips of Somali pirates, and my classes have briefly touched on the topic, but I had never seen the ship where the pirates are kept, or got to actually hear from the very people whose sole mission is to fight against these pirates and are constantly involved in detaining and prosecuting pirates.

With one of my classmates at the “Hitler and the Atlantic Wall” tour

The social component of our trip was also just as exciting. I got to go kayaking for the first time, ate some delicious Danish food, competed in a game of bowling with my classmates and professors, visited Egeskov Castle and went on a guided tour of “Hitler and The Atlantic Wall.” The core course week will come to an end tomorrow and already I can say this has been my favorite week in Denmark!

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Face to face with genocide

My professor speaking at Neuengamme concentration camp

This past weekend I spent time in Hamburg, Germany, with my Holocaust and Genocide class. In Hamburg we got to immerse ourselves in a little bit of Holocaust history by visiting the Bullenhuser Damm School as well as Neuengamme Concentration Camp.

I can’t think of a better time to visit these places after just spending my summer learning about these sites in Dr. Halperin’s human rights class. It is one thing to sit in the classroom and hear the horrifying statistics of the number of individuals killed at these sites, but to touch the buildings and have a moment to reflect brings the issue even closer than I could have ever imagined.

Bullenhuser Damm School is the site where 20 Jewish children who had been used in medical experiments at Neuengamme, their four adult Jewish caretakers and six Red Army prisoners of war were killed in the basement.  Today the building is used as a kindergarten, which I find hard to wrap my mind around because if I were a parent, I don’t know how I would feel about sending my kids to that school knowing the atrocious history behind it.

Neuengamme, perhaps one of the better-known concentration camps, started out as a subcamp of Sachsenhausen concentration camp until it was turned into an independent concentration camp in June 1940. After visiting genocide sites in Rwanda less than a month ago, I felt mentally prepared for what I was about to see. Although nothing can really prepare you to come face to face with genocide, I will admit that the genocide sites in Rwanda exposed my heart and my eyes to some of the most unimaginable and unbearable scenes.

This time around I wasn’t only thinking about the site or the victims whose lives ended there, but I just kept reminding myself of the cruel and heartless nature of mankind. I hate constantly reminding myself of this fact, but visiting sites like Neuengamme leaves me feeling frustrated with humanity and thinking, when will this ever end? Human begins waging merciless acts of violence and murder against one another?

Because as important as it is to commemorate these sites, I wish sites like Neuengamme never existed, and really it’s up to humanity to ensure there is never a need for another concentration or extermination camp. Nonetheless, I am still grateful that I got to visit these sites and simultaneously see Germany.

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Old and new friends

I spent my first Saturday in Copenhagen, and it was quite nice. In the afternoon I had to go to immigration services with several DIS students since we have to apply for a visa to stay for four months.

After I got immigration out of the way, I met up with one of my friends from home. We both went to high school together, and she is a junior at Yale now. She is here doing a program on security at the University of Copenhagen, so we planned to get dinner and catch up. A couple of my other friends also joined us, so we ended up going to dinner with several girls.

The food was delicious, and I enjoyed our conversations as well. Afterward we stopped to get delicious ice cream, and then we ended our evening with a nice walk around the beautiful city.

Tomorrow I have plans to check out a church around here, so my friend and I have that on our agenda, then I will probably do some reading to prepare for my 8:30 am class on Monday. It looks like my first weekend will be a success!

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Learning inside and outside the classroom in Denmark

Just four days after I arrived home from Rwanda, I packed up my bags and started yet another exciting journey to Copenhagen. I have been in the city for about a week and am absolutely loving it. The only downside is that I miss SMU and leaving for another semester wasn’t the easiest decision, but I’m glad I have one more semester to come back to.  Now that I got the downside out of the way, let me explain how my time in Copenhagen has been thus far.

So a few introductory remarks about what I am doing here exactly. I am enrolled in the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS), which has a number of neat study programs to choose from. Although all of the programs seemed pretty interesting, the Justice & Human Rights program immediately caught my attention, so I selected it.

The first step of studying at DIS is to choose your program, which comes with a core course and a week-long study tour. My core course is Humanitarian Law and Armed Conflict, and my week-long study tour is to Kosovo. I also am enrolled in three additional courses: Holocaust and Genocide, Humanitarian Law and Armed Conflict, and Human Trafficking in a Global Context. Since I am working toward a human rights major, I intentionally chose human rights courses, but the program does not require that you choose courses specific to your program, aside from the core course.

All of my courses started last Thursday, and they all went well. It seems like my courses will both challenge and interest me, so I am looking forward to soaking up all of the knowledge from my professors and classmates. The courses are structured similar to most of my SMU classes, where professors expect participation and hard work in class.

While I am thrilled about my courses, DIS has a lot more to offer. At DIS, study abroad is not solely about academics, it is also about cross-cultural immersion. The motto DIS uses to illustrate its commitment to inside and outside classroom learning is “Copenhagen as your home, Europe as your classroom.” The program’s commitment to provide students with a globalized education is also one of the reasons we have a mandatory travel week as well as two optional study tour weeks, where no classes are held and students are encouraged to travel and learn outside of the classroom.

Another neat opportunity offered by DIS is the living and learning community, which is a themed residential housing. There are a variety of living and learning communities such as the green house, culinary house, and arts and culture house. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and apply for the culinary house, and I must point out that I am not a cook, so this was a big decision for me. I figured that if I am already out of my comfort zone, might as well go all out. The house is absolutely beautiful, and the best part is, I live only 5-10 minutes away from DIS so I get my daily exercise! I’m hoping to expand my cooking skills and learn to have better appreciation for different kinds of food.

All in all, it seems like I am in for an exciting and adventurous four weeks of study abroad. I am keeping an open mind and ready to take in all that DIS has to offer. I will try my best to maintain a constant blog, though I can’t promise that all of these opportunities won’t pose a distraction.

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