Every year in June, the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue is filled with lively participants at the summer school, in collaboration with the University of Oslo. This year, the offer was online due to the Coronavirus.
It’s quiet in the spacious course room at the Nansen Center. On a table, a bullet-shaped webcam is placed on a tripod. Three dialogue advisors are coming through the door and sit down in front of the camera. They are preparing for today’s online session with dialogue and peaceful conflict management.
As the silence characterizes the dialogue room at the Nansen Center, course participants in the United States are close to riots and turmoil in the streets. One of them lives in Minneapolis, a block away from the spot where George Floyd was killed by a police officer a few weeks prior.
-I wish we could bring our participants here and meet them face to face, and really get the opportunity to listen to how they experience the situation in their home country. Sometimes people have to move out of context because it is too overwhelming to be able to reflect in the best way. And removing oneself from the conflict physically is important to be able to get through with the message of peaceful solutions, says Christiane Seehausen, senior advisor at the Nansen Center.
Created a safe space over Internet
She has created a digital teaching program together with her colleagues Siri Syverud Thorsen and Anita Rapp-Ødegaard. They were unsure if they would be able to convey the Nansen Center’s core messages over the internet, but the feedback afterwards has been surprisingly good.
-Many participants have had a-ha-experiences and say they have learned a lot. Several have discovered the value of listening and seized the opportunity to practise, says Siri.
-We are indeed pleased that the Summer School was effective despite the limitations of the digital space. We have succeeded in creating a safe place, according to student feedback. In this safe space several have shared strong and personal stories. They have felt like part of a community. For us, this nice to hear when we at the same time see some digital barriers, says Anita.
Last year at the same time, the rooms and the green garden outside were filled with youth and adults from 13 countries. The conversations were lively, not least during the breaks. Several of them talked about great discoveries and useful learning:
Moses Ray Ogwang holds a leadership position in health care in Uganda. He wanted to promote dialogue among colleagues because it increases the opportunities to use the resources in the best possible ways. Other discoveries were the value of diversity, different opinions and perspectives.
Yodunika Seneviratne works at a university in Sri Lanka. She understood in a deeper way the importance of active listening, and thus being able to make more wise decisions. Seinn Seinn Min from Myanmar works for Doctors Without Borders. She appreciated the teaching of opening up to understanding the other, rather than defending one’s own positions.
The question is, has it been possible to provide similar experiences this year over the Internet?
-My impression is yes, but they probably don’t have it integrated in the body the same way. This year’s participants may not feel as confident in how they can take the lesson further, Anita believes.
Learning from each other
-We have sown seeds in the form of a solid introduction to dialogical perspectives and methods. But there is a difference between online teaching and a physical experience, says Siri.
-We had to cut some elements from the program, like role-play with dialogue, which we know contributes to the deeper experiences. Unfortunately, we have not been able to achieve this with a web solution, says Christiane.
Difficult situations require blowouts ahead
This year’s Summer School had 11 participants from three countries, affiliated with various universities in the United States and the program «Peace Scholars». Most of the participants conducted the course in the context of the riots, and several participated directly in the protests.
Is there an opportunity for dialogue in such a challenging situation that characterizes the United States?
-Yes, but blow-outs ahead would be absolutely necessary. One solution could be dialogue inside both camps first, so they later could be ready for dialogue together, says Christiane.
-We see some of the same among minorities in Norway. There is so much justified anger and frustration, that bringing both groups together too quickly will not work. Then you easily end up with attack and defense, she says.
The International Summer School (ISS) at the University of Oslo has roots back to 1947. It is a learning community of diverse students who come together to study, interact and increase understanding and good will between nations.
The Nansen Dialogue Summer School (NDSS) is a cooperation between the University of Oslo, the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue and 7 colleges in USA. NDSS is a week with experiences in dialogue and training in conflict transformation. NDSS 2020 was coordinated by Siri Syverud Thorsen, Christiane Seehausen and Anita Rapp-Ødegaard.
Read also about the participants Rahel Ambachew and Ezra McNair who live close to the riots and turmoil in the US.
Text and photo: Kai Nygaard. Published: July 8th 2020.