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  • Study abroad adventures: experiences of an American in Kosovo

    By Jordan Birnbaum
    March 16, 2012
    Section: Opinions


    I am currently on the School for International Training (SIT) Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo: Peace and Conflict Studies in the Balkans. I’ve been living in Belgrade for a little more than a month, but last week, had the amazing opportunity to spend a week in Kosovo. So my question to you is, where in the world was I?

    To be honest it depends a lot on who you ask and what country you live in. If you recognize Kosovo’s independence as a sovereign country than stick to Kosova or Republic of Kosovo, and if you don’t then you’ll use the term Kosovo or occasionally South Serbia. You see, during the war in Yugoslavia, Kosovo was annexed, then became a province, and then became an autonomous province, and in1989 was declared a part of Serbia. In 2008 Kosovo declared independence as the Republic of Kosovo. It’s a long story, for another time.

    Prishtina, the capital, was an extremely welcoming city. The people here smile on the streets, they’re friendly and they want to help. I wonder if it’s because very few tourists come to Prishtina, or if it’s because we are American. We are, after all, talking about a city with “I love USA” posters and a statue of Bill Clinton. I’m not naive; I know that that sentiment can’t be true everywhere, but it was definitely an interesting phenomenon. When you walk around Prishtina there are people everywhere, all the time. Students in school uniforms, older people sitting on park benches and students from the university wandering around. When we walk down the street people watch us. I admit, we’re a large group and we’re not quiet, but they say hi to us in English and smile as we walk past. They’re curious, I think, because we’re in Prishtina not as part of the United Nations, the European Union or the international community, but because we are curious. We represent a very small (if not nonexistent) amount of tourism that Kosovo/a will see in a year.

    During the last week we attended lectures with people from civil society in Kosovo/a including professors at the university, senior members of NGOs and others who taught us more about transitional justice and the role of the international community in Kosovo/a. We have spent a lot of time talking—sometimes in circles—about language, ethnicity and identity. Sometimes the outcomes of discussions were optimistic, other times we are left wondering what the future of Kosovo/a will be. It always seems so mind-boggling when I remember that the conflict in Yugoslavia started when I was born, and the war in Kosovo started when I was in fourth grade. I have a hard time understanding how that is possible. The only time I can remember fearing for my country was in the minutes following Sept. 11 when I was in the fifth grade. The university students here, those carefree students with the great fashion sense and a love of Rakija (the local alcohol), were born into a country that was dissolving, lived (either here or as refugees abroad) through a war, and have returned to a country whose very existence is called into question on a daily basis.

    Being in Kosovo/a, even only for a week, was an amazing experience, and I got the chance to see a country I wouldn’t have imagined visiting last year. I climbed a fort, had dinner in a rotating restaurant, attempted to learn some Albanian, tried some amazing food, went into a mosque for the first time, met with some brilliant leaders, took a photo with the Bill Clinton statue, played on the newborn sign and went to a few different cities. I learned more in just one week then I would have ever thought possible.


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