“I always wished there would be something I could do to improve relations and cooperation in the diverse and challenging multicultural contexts that I come from. I found an answer to this problem in a land thousands of kilometers away from home.”
-Seinn Seinn Min, from Myanmar
Seinn Seinn Min works for Doctors Without Borders, and this article is about her experiences as a student at the Nansen Dialogue Summer School 2019.
Have you ever had the conversations filled with tensions in the air and you wished you were somewhere else? There might be times you thought you were right, but you do not want to offend the others by saying no to their opinions?
I remember many such discussions about political topics with friends and colleagues. We belong to different ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultures and we always thought that others will never understand our side of the story. We would always conclude the discussion with “it is easy for you to say since you have never been in our shoes and you will never understand what we have been through”.
“There are a lot of differences, tensions and violence between people”
I was born and raised in Myanmar/Burma as a part of the Burmese ethnicity. The country is ethnically diverse with more than 100 ethnic groups and there are a lot of differences, tensions and violence between people who belong to the minorities and those who belong to the majority group.
I realized the challenges of our differences when I started working for the displaced ethnic groups along the Thai-Myanmar border. I am a humanitarian in the health care sector, and there were times I felt that my ethnic identity restricted my ability to build relationships within the community.
I always wished there would be something I could do to improve relations and cooperation in the diverse and challenging multicultural contexts that I come from. I found an answer to this problem in a land thousands of kilometers away from home. I learned from the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue in Lillehammer, Norway that dialogue is the way to understanding.
“Little did I know that the dialogue training would take all of my energy and leave me feeling drained”
I did not know what to expect from a dialogue center in a lovely small city called Lillehammer, but I took a chance and decided to apply because of the testimonies written by the former participants. I told myself, at least it will be a little vacation for me before I started summer school in Oslo and my future work in Pakistan.
Little did I know that the dialogue training would take all of my energy and leave me feeling drained. But it was such a life changing experience and I want to share it with the world.
“We were so different, but we had so much in common”
The backgrounds of the participants were so diverse. The participants ranged from an 18-year-old American student to the director of local NGO education in Ukraine and other participants from all over the world (Africa, America, Europe, Asia). We were so different, but we had so much in common. We argued a lot in group discussions, but we learned how to show our sympathy and put ourselves in someone else’s position.
We sat for 9 to 10 hours a day and just talked and talked. That was what made dialogue and Nansen Center stand unique from other seminars I have been to. We were there to learn from each other’s experiences while the rest of the programs focused on learning from a specific lecturer or topic. We were so intrigued with all the dialogue tools and facilitation methods taught by the experienced and skillful trainers and guest lecturers.
“I have always been open to sharing, but I considered myself rather stubborn”
To me, dialogue can take place in many forms and it is needed in everywhere, for instance, conflict at work, political dialogue, discussing family issues etc. It encourages you to be more open minded and think in a different perspective.
This is different to the debates we arrange at schools. In debates, we were always there defending our point of views and we failed to open up and learn from different perspectives.
I have always been open to sharing, but I considered myself rather stubborn. I hesitate to listen to others and always stick to my side of the truth. However, throughout the one-week course at the Nansen Center, I greatly sharpened my listening and critical analysis skills. Instead of focusing on my opinion, I have learned to continuously ask “why and how” on many different levels to have a deeper understanding of their decision and respect their freedom of choice.
“Days have passed, and our friendships grow stronger”
We were given time to share our personal stories, get to know each other, evaluate our self and enjoy our silence. We bonded so quickly, and it felt like we knew each other forever. We enjoyed each other’s company so much that we invited others to our homes and promised to host reunions in our countries every year.
As of now, we are in the midst of our 6 weeks summer school in Oslo and every time we meet Nansen group members, we are doing dialogue. The topics can be varied from academics to choosing the attraction to visit.
Days have passed, and our friendships grow stronger as we listen to each other’s point of view and talk openly. Now we see ourselves building a center called “Friendship Without Borders” in the future and promoting peace and dialogue across the world. This could be a silly joke now, but you never know it could become reality.
“We can start with something as small as communication in our daily lives”
We may not be facilitating interethnic dialogue in the war zones on ending political violence and reconciliation or doing a very big change in the community, but certainly we can use dialogue to address the challenges in our communities. We can dialogue about religious differences, cultural differences, and environmental issues.
We can start with something as small as communication in our daily lives. I strongly believe that knowing how to do dialogue can also help career growth. For example, working and communicating with colleagues will be a lot easier if we know how to listen, speak diplomatically, honestly, and show empathy to a person in need.
Dialogue is simply a different kind of communication and it aims to build trust and relationships by sharing common concerns and listening to each other. I believe searching for coexistence in a non-violent way and finding the potential for peace is extremely hard but possible with the right dialogue.
Written by: Seinn Seinn Min
All photos by: Kai Eldøy Nygaard
Would you like to read more about the Nansen Dialogue Summer School 2019? See the article “A world of dialogue”.
The Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue has more than 20 years of experience in developing methodologies, and supporting dialogue projects in the Western Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya, Ukraina, Norway, Poland and other countries. The Nansen Center provides capacity building on dialogue, with trainings, seminars and workshops. The Nansen Dialogue Summer School is in partnership with the International Summer School at the University of Oslo.