Lexi Taber, New York, USA

Senior political science major at State University of New York College at Geneseo (SUNY Geneseo), in Geneseo, New York

How did you hear about the Peace and Conflict Summer Program?

I originally heard about the program through one of my professors at Geneseo. He had worked in Kosovo with Dr. (Mark) Baskin, and when he heard about the program he passed the information on to me.


What attracted you to PCSP?

From the beginning, the program seemed to be a perfect fit for me as a political science major, and I felt the experience would be different than “typical” study abroad experiences.


Had you ever traveled or studied abroad before? If so, where and when?

I’ve been outside of the U.S. before on family vacations, mostly to the Caribbean or Western Europe. But before attending the summer program, I had never really had an immersive travel experience.


What, if any, were your hesitations or concerns before coming to Kosovo?

I didn’t have any hesitations or concerns before coming to Kosovo. I knew that Kosovo had a large expatriate community and that Americans are well-liked in Pristina, so I was really just excited to experience a new country. My parents were a little anxious about me being so far from home for so long, but I think that’s a pretty normal feeling for parents to have about their child going anywhere. As soon as I got to Kosovo, they realized that I was safe and they could talk to me as often as they do when I’m living at school, which alleviated their concern.


How much did you know about Kosovo and/or the Kosovo War before you came?

Before I joined the program I had a very cursory knowledge of the Kosovo war. I had studied the Yugoslav wars before, but I was more familiar with the Bosnian War (Siege of Sarajevo/Srebrenica Massacre) than with the Kosovo War. It was eye-opening to travel to Kosovo and learn about the conflict from the people who were on the ground in 1999.


What did you expect or hope to get out of the program?

I didn’t really have rigid expectations going into the program, but I knew that I wanted to travel and experience living in a foreign country. I was also hoping that the courses I took would give me a better idea of what I was interested in pursuing post-undergrad.


What did you end up getting out of the program?

The program exceeded my expectations in every way. I travelled to eight different countries, five of which were with the RIT Kosovo group. The week-long Balkans tour we took at the beginning of the program was the best trip I’ve ever taken. I travelled with Dr. Baskin’s group to Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Serbia. The trip had a little bit of everything, which was great. One day we got to swim in the Adriatic in Montenegro, and the next day we walked through the Tunnel Spasa that allowed supplies and humanitarian aid to enter Sarajevo during the siege. It’s really no exaggeration to say that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not only was that week of travel a great introduction to the history and culture of the region, but it also taught us how to be confident navigating new places where we didn’t speak the language.

Back in Kosovo, the classes were unlike any I’ve taken in my undergraduate career. The professors are practitioners in the field, and so classroom learning was based on experience and then supplemented with concepts and theory. There was a huge focus on skill-building, which was a really exciting academic experience. Oftentimes political science and international relations can be very theoretical and therefore become detached from on-the-ground conditions. But these courses provided a real-world perspective and made career possibilities tangible. The professors took a vested interest in introducing us to careers in international development, which was valuable to me as a college senior who wants to work abroad.


What most surprised you during your time here?

What surprised me most about Kosovo, and even the Balkans more generally, was how friendly people are. I’m from New York, and I think a lot of time at home we get caught up in our own lives and we don’t really interact with strangers. It’s completely different in Kosovo, to the point where it was almost a culture shock. People always wanted to know where in the U.S. we were from, and even if they didn’t speak English, they wanted to hear what we had to say.

Everywhere we went we would hear stories from Kosovars who had lived in the U.S. during the war; I even met people who had lived near my hometown. It was amazing to build that kind of connection to people.

We were also in Pristina for Eid, and the Kosovars in the program were eager to welcome us into their celebrations. Everywhere we went, people were interested in talking to us and helping us any way they could.


Can you give an example of an experience you had with a local?

The very first interaction I had with a Kosovar was at a restaurant in Pristina, maybe an hour after my friend and I got off the plane. We had been travelling for 27 hours and were so exhausted we could barely eat. At the end of our meal, the manager walks up to our table, greeted us, and gave us limoncello as a welcome to Pristina. That kind of friendliness was present everywhere we went.


What made the biggest impact on you during your time here?

What impacted me the most were definitely the instructors. Dr. Baskin, Mike Hess, and Jock Covey were endlessly helpful to me during my time in the program. Even outside of the classroom they were always available to talk. All three instructors were happy to share their own experiences with me, and were actively interested in discussing my career goals. The insight they provided me during my time at RIT Kosovo  has helped me to shape my plans for after graduation, and I can’t thank them enough for that.


Why should students choose to study at RIT Kosovo instead of somewhere else in Europe?

There are a lot of reasons why students should study in Kosovo instead of another European country. I think the biggest reason would be that the RIT Kosovo  program offers an experience in Kosovo that is completely unlike any program you could be a part of in France or Italy or the UK.

I’ve never met anyone outside of the RIT Kosovo program that’s been to Kosovo, and people are always surprised to hear that I’ve travelled throughout the Balkans. The experience of studying abroad in a Western European country is something that can be replicated with regular travel, but there’s nothing comparable to studying peace and conflict in a post-conflict country. Part of being a young person and a college student is gaining unique experiences and putting yourself outside of your comfort zone, and Kosovo is the perfect way to do that.



Josipa Dika, 23, Croatia

Graduate of the University of Zagreb with a Bachelor’s degree in political science; currently a Master’s student studying political science–security and public policy


How did you hear about the Peace and Conflict Summer Program?

My professor recommended the Summer Program to me, and then I spent some time trying to find out more on the internet by reading other people’s impressions from previous AUK/RIT programs. After that, I contacted Dr. Baskin.

What attracted you to the program?

I was very interested in courses about the history of Kosovo, especially the conflict in the 1990s. As I come from an ex-Yugoslav county (Croatia), I saw the program as an opportunity to learn more about the common histories of our countries, and Kosovo’s path to independence. Also, spending time discovering Kosovo and the region was tempting to me in general.


Had you ever traveled or studied abroad before? If so, where and when?

This was my first time participating in this kind of program. My experience with education and traveling before the program were usually in the form of education camps or academies. This experience showed me that studying in summer can be fun as well.


What, if any, were your hesitations or concerns before coming to Kosovo?

I was really looking forward to coming to Kosovo and had no hesitations. I couldn’t say the same for people around me in Croatia: some were scared of potential conflicts in Kosovo, and some were just surprised that anyone spends summer in a country without a sea.


How much did you know about Kosovo and/or the Kosovo War before you came?

Before my trip to Kosovo, I knew just a few facts — mostly that it’s an independent country with the capital city of Pristina, and that from time to time there are some protests by local Serbs wanting to return Kosovo to Serbia. The only news I’d read about Kosovo until going there was connected to interethnic violence and poverty.


What did you expect or hope to get out of the program?

Honestly, I had big expectations for a couple reasons: First, I was aware I don’t know much, and I was very curious to learn as much as possible. Second, I’d never been to Kosovo, and didn’t know the culture or the language, so I knew the whole trip would be a big adventure.

I was also hoping to understand why Kosovo, even after the war and independence, is still a country described as problematic. My country had a similar historical path and the story of post-communist transition was familiar. I wanted to see the similarities and differences.

What did you end up getting out of the program?

I think I got much more than I expected. It was a great experience — I met people from all over the world and found great friends in local Albanians, Serbs, and Bosniaks, as well as international students. I got to hear what all those people thought about Kosovo’s past as well as their thoughts for its future, and it convinced me that Kosovo has a bright new generation that is willing to make an effort to create a prosperous Kosovo, that will overcome ethnic divisions, and that Kosovo has international support to implement that process.
The program also enabled me to develop and practice valuable skills such as public performance, critical thinking, decision making, and group work through interesting case studies of real situations from Kosovo/Yugoslav history. That kind of learning gave us practical skills and a lot of information on what it was like to work in organizations and in political structures in Kosovo. For me, that new approach to learning was very valuable; it definitely improved my studying and boosted me to work more on my professional performance.
What made the biggest impact on you during your time here?

The professors’ treatment of the students. They were very approachable, available all the time for any questions, and persistent in encouraging us to do better. Without exaggeration, they were the best professors I’ve ever met. They became our friends, but at the same time stayed very professional and demanded that we do our best.
Why should students choose to study here instead of a different European country? Kosovo is like a little undiscovered pearl. We already know a lot about France, Italy, Spain, etc., but not that much about Kosovo. This is your chance to discover it. It really is a small country, so whoever goes there for 5-6 weeks will be able to see practically everything. Another bonus is that it is cheap and offers a lot so you’ll be able to see and do everything. The only thing that you’ll be sorry about at the end of the summer is leaving your new friends.


What message do you want to share with other students and the general population about this program and about Kosovo?

I would recommend this program to every student who wants to discover some lesser-known parts of Europe. Kosovo — as the youngest European country — is ideal for that. It was also beneficial to be able to study in a multicultural environment and work as a team with other students on topics like making institutions more efficient, making politics more open to change, and contributing to the development of a country. All of these things are useful and open up opportunities to learn even more new things. The program offers interactive, well-structured, interesting lessons, as well as first-hand experiences.


Did your time here change your point of view on anything (your studies, what job you want to pursue after school, your political beliefs, other)? If so, how?

After spending time in Kosovo and hearing experience from experts and practitioners, I decided that I want to pursue activist work with refugees and focus on post-war areas and humanitarian help. My classes at RIT Kosovo gave me specific skills in strategic planning and peacekeeping operation that I find extremely useful, and considering that many of the courses were close to my current area of study, it definitely encouraged me to steer my future career in that direction.



Tanvir Hayat, New York City, USA International Relations major at SUNY Geneseo in New York


How did you hear about the Summer Program?

I was initially made aware of the program through a professor at Geneseo who had worked with Dr. Baskin in the Balkans in the 1990s in peace-building and voter registration initiatives. Dr. Baskin reached out to him regarding the program, and the professor reached out to me.


What attracted you to the program?

One of the requirements to graduate as an International Relations major is to participate in a study abroad program. I was looking for a less conventional program; I didn’t want to just study in France or Italy, for example.


Had you ever traveled or studied abroad before? If so, where and when?

I had done some traveling to see family and go on vacations in Europe and India.


What, if any, were your hesitations or concerns before coming to Kosovo?

I had few initial reservations about traveling to Kosovo. I had spoken with the professor who referred me about his time in the region, and his experiences and stories made me excited to travel to and live in Kosovo. That said, my family did have a few reservations, namely because they had only ever heard of the Balkans in the context of war and conflict. Eventually, though, with a little more research, we all agreed that Kosovo was largely a safe and stable place to visit.


How much did you know about Kosovo and/or the Kosovo War before you came?

I did not know a great deal about Kosovo before traveling there. As an International Relations major with a focus on War and Peace studies, I had a fairly extensive knowledge of the Yugoslav Wars, but everything I had learned about the conflict focused mostly on Bosnia. All I knew about Kosovo was that it was involved in the Wars, and that it had declared independence in 2008.


I eventually realized I was actually in Times Square in New York City on the day that Kosovo declared independence, which finally explained why there were so many excited people cheering and waving Albanian flags that day.


What did you expect or hope to get out of the program?

I was hoping to get two things out of the program: a unique experience studying and living in a part of the world that not many Americans can claim to have visited; and a unique academic experience learning from former and current practitioners in the field of conflict resolution and transformation.


What did you end up getting out of the program?

I ended up getting even more than I had expected from the program. In terms of travel experience, the Balkans are unparalleled. During the first week of the program, I went on the week-long trip organized through the school to Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. The trip was one of the most interesting experiences of my life. The landscapes of the Balkans alone made it worth it — we went from beautiful mountain landscapes to being able to see straight to the horizon on the Adriatic Sea.

More importantly, being able to interact with people from the Balkans was an awesome experience. In terms of academics, I think the program has given me knowledge and skills that I will now be able to apply anywhere in my life or career. I cannot speak highly enough of the instructors in the program. Everyone is genuine and eager to impart their knowledge, and it is clear that what they are teaching not from rote academia, but from real-life and hands-on experience. Particularly for Political Science or International Relations majors who are thinking about pursuing a career in international development or post-conflict work, this program provides students with invaluable insights and tools that are much needed for any kind of work in the field.


What most surprised you during your time here?

At the risk of sounding naive or cliche, I would say what I was most surprised about was how upbeat and hopeful the Kosovar people are. After years of hearing about the Balkans in the context of war and conflict, I had come to expect Kosovo to be a slightly gloomy and boring country. What I found instead was a vibrant and friendly nation, eager to move forward and join the international community.

I also found fast friends in many of the Kosovars who were in the program, all of whom spoke near perfect English, and it was inspiring to see their hope and ambition. I also formed connections with some of the local shopkeepers and restaurant owners, all of whom were always happy to see an unfamiliar face and eager to chat about Kosovo or anything at all, really. Everyone seemed to echo the same sense of hope that I found in the younger Kosovars: despite the hardships and struggles of the past, and despite the continued issue of Kosovo’s failure to achieve universal recognition as a sovereign state, the Kosovar people remain hopeful. Several people mentioned Kosovo’s recent acceptance into FIFA as a sign of growing recognition for Kosovo.


What made the biggest impact on you during your time here?

The biggest impact for me came from simply living in Kosovo. One of the fantastic parts of the RIT Kosovo Summer Program is that it really allows students to live and immerse themselves in Pristina. While not attending classes, students are free to do whatever they please. I chose to spend most of my time simply exploring and walking around Pristina. The city was surprisingly urban and modern, and walking around Mother Teresa square with a gelato in hand will always be a fond memory.


More than that, just being able to explore Pristina and meet and interact with Kosovars in a real and genuine way made a huge impact on me. While I have traveled before to visit family or go on vacation, this was the first time I have spent a significant amount of time abroad on my own. By the end of the program, I had a detailed mental map of Pristina, and I am confident that even today I would be able to navigate most of the city without a map.

Being able to have such an immersive and real experience in a place as foreign yet familiar as Pristina really made an impact on me.


Why should students choose to study here instead of a different European country?

As I mentioned before, one of the biggest draws to Kosovo for me was that it is such an unconventional and uncommon study abroad opportunity. So many American students choose to study abroad in the same places — the UK, Italy — and I believe they are doing themselves a disservice.

More “conventional” study abroad experiences are, in my opinion, rather boring. Particularly as Americans, studying abroad in Kosovo is an amazingly novel and engaging experience. For many Kosovars, my fellow students and I were the first Americans they had ever interacted with in a meaningful way. Similarly, I can confidently say that I am one of very few Americans who can claim to have lived and spent time in Kosovo. That alone, I think, makes Kosovo a far superior study abroad destination.

Kosovo is not lacking for anything — Pristina is a surprisingly urban and vibrant city, and the rest of Kosovo is made of idyllic villages and stunning landscapes. The Balkans are a great place to be able to experience a lot of things without spending too much money — the American dollar is consistently stronger than most Balkan currencies, and even though Kosovo uses the Euro, its lower cost of living ultimately gives the dollar a greater purchasing power. Meanwhile, most people spend thousands of dollars to experience nothing all that new in more conventional study abroad programs.


What message do you want to share with other students and the general population about this program and about Kosovo?

I cannot recommend and encourage traveling to Kosovo enough. I think everyone, regardless of their background, would benefit from a trip to the country. It is amazing and inspiring to see how far the country has come since the Yugoslav Wars and even since declaring independence in 2008.

The Kosovar people are friendly and hospitable, and I can honestly say that I did not meet a single Kosovar who was not eager to learn more about my experiences and share their own. Kosovo provides the perfect cross section of a safe and stable location that still provides travelers with a novel and unique experience.

As for the program, I also cannot recommend it highly enough. The initial week-long trip through the Balkans was an awesome experience. Traveling to places like Sarajevo and Belgrade were unique and enriching experiences that not many Americans have the opportunity to take.

The academics of the program are also unparalleled: there are few study abroad programs where you will learn about the topics at hand from actual practitioners. All of the instructors had several years of experience working in their respective fields, and it was a novel experience to learn from someone who was not simply a college professor, but had actual and varied experience working on the ground in the Balkans. Our instructors ranged from high-level officials in the United Nations Mission in Kosovo to military coordinators in KFOR to on-the-ground development workers who worked to register IDPs.

All together, Kosovo and the program offer a unique and enriching experience that cannot be found in many other study abroad programs.