Monday, March 06, 2006

The times they are a chan-gin'

I witnessed something great this weekend. Serb, Macedonian and Kosovar Albanian university students talking, laughing, singing songs and working together to make something happen. I was asked to be a faculty mentor for a group of students from the University of Prishtina that were participating in an international negotiation similation. I really had no idea what to expect, considering the current political climate, but I was truly impressed with everyone there.

The students came from 4 different universities in 3 different countries, and had to put aside personal politics and disagreements to work together to create a "contract" for protecting cultural heritage sites in the Balkan region. Each country's delegation consisted of a student from each of the different universities. The head of delegation for Kosovo's team was actually from Serbia and the head of the Serbian delegation was actually from Kosovo - just to make things interesting. They even assigned students to their hotel rooms to make sure that everyone mixed it up a bit. The first evening, people stayed somewhat with their own crowds, but by the end of the weekend, everyone was singing, dancing, learning words in each other's languages, and generally just having a fantastic time. They really took their task seriously - I overheard a couple of people still ngotiation percentage points at 2 am over beers in the disco. In the end, they managed to come to a consensus on the contract and an "official document" was signed.

I know it seems weird that I should be so surprised by all of this, but there is still so much mistrust and misunderstanding here, at least from the conversations I've had with students, that seeing it all melt away in a matter of days was fantastic. I feel really lucky to have been a part of it.

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