2015 Peace Scholars Reflect on Time in Norway

2015 Augustana Peace Scholars Christian Einertson and Kofi Gunu

TOP LEFT: 2015 Augustana Peace Scholars Kofi Gunu and Christian Einertson at a reception at Oslo City Hall. TOP CENTER: Gunu at On Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, the narrowest street in Stockholm's Old Town. TOP RIGHT: Einertson at the Heddal stave church in Telemark. BOTTOM ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT: Gunu and Einertson near the Stave Church at Maihugen in Lillehammer; Einertson visiting Risør, the town where the Einertson family came from; Gunu atop the Oslo Opera House overlooking the harbor; Einertson on a hike on one of the islands of the Oslo Fjord; Gunu at the Closing Ceremony.

This summer, Augustana senior Christian Einertson (Marietta, Georgia) and junior Kofi Gunu (Tamale, Ghana) spent seven weeks in Norway as members of the Peace Scholars coalition.

Along with students from Augsburg College, Concordia College (Moorhead), Luther College, Pacific Lutheran University and St. Olaf College, Einertson and Gunu studied the causes of armed conflicts, peace building, peacemaking, humanitarian interventions and aid, peacekeeping operations, gender, civil society and nonviolence, and peace movements at the Nansen Dialogue Network in Lillehammer and at the University of Oslo International Summer School.

The Peace Scholar experience is designed to deepen students' understanding of the central issues and theories related to peace, justice, democracy and human rights.

Back on campus for fall semester, we caught up with Gunu and Einertson to learn more about their Peace Scholar experiences.

Q. What was your biggest takeaway from your Peace Scholar experience?

"The seven weeks we spent in Norway have imbued me with a strong sense that I have a responsibility to help make the world the kind of place it ought to be."
— Kofi Gunu
2015 Augustana Peace Scholar

Kofi: The bulk of our experiences as Peace Scholars revolved around the International Summer School (ISS) at the University of Oslo. ISS fosters an eclectic community of leaders of all ages and walks of life. This year, ISS attracted 598 students from 89 countries—an extraordinarily intelligent group of scholars who were already making a difference in their communities as activists, scientists, filmmakers, etc. One of these students in particular, a classmate of mine named Kyi Pyar, is a source of great inspiration for me. Kyi left ISS abruptly in the middle of the summer because the authoritarian government in Burma, where she is from, had just announced new elections, the first in 25 years, and she departed to go back home in order to run for office. Kyi’s actions are even more remarkable when you consider that she was only 25 years old and had spent the last three years in exile abroad.

In an environment like that, I often felt tiny compared to the giants I met. I looked about me and wondered to myself: how did I get here? But being surrounded by these change-makers also made me realize how much I can do with the knowledge and experience I was gaining. I was filled with a palpable sense that I too am called to dedicate my energies and talents to meeting the multitude of challenges facing humanity today. In the meantime, I have formed global connections that I can draw on throughout my life.

Christian: It is terribly difficult to choose only one from all of the lessons I brought back from Norway, but I would say that one of the most poignant was the importance of asking good questions. As an illustration, I will use an example from the week we spent in Lillehammer at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue.

The three main groups present at the Nansen Center were the Peace Scholars, the Rotary Young Friends from the Balkans, and a group from the Ukraine. One of the memories that really sticks out to me happened during a dialogue session between the three groups. Each group was given an hour and a half to decide on five questions to ask to the other groups. Despite what we may have thought, arriving at five questions for each group in an hour and a half was a nearly impossible task. When we came together, each group had ten minutes to read over the questions from the other two, and then we asked and answered each other’s questions.

One of the questions from the Balkan students to the Ukrainian students surprised me in a multitude of ways. The question was quite simply, “What is actually happening in your country right now?” Such a straightforward question was not what any of the American students had expected to hear, and it was answered by an explanation from the Ukrainian students of exactly what they had experienced and what they had heard about the current conflict raging in their country. By the end of their answer, most of us were sitting forward in our chairs scribbling furiously in our notebooks and asking a plethora of follow-up questions to make sure that we understood what they meant to say.

This is only one of the many experiences that I had during my time in Norway that taught me in a new way the importance of asking good, honest questions in learning. Many times in our communication and education, we are tempted to ask questions to which we think we know the answers or questions that we think will score us some sort of rhetorical points.

"From my experience in Norway, I learned that we must also remember in dialogue the necessity of asking the honest questions to which we do not expect a particular answer and approaching these questions and situations as humbly and openly as possible. It is in this way that we are able to learn things that we never expected to hear."
— Christian Einertson
2015 Augustana Peace Scholar

Q. What surprised you the most?

Kofi: The Peace Scholars program is itself a wonderful box of surprises. The program is designed to get scholars to conceive of a world different from the ones they grew up in. I encountered many people and situations that now make me more appreciative of perspectives I had not considered before.

I was most surprised, however, by how difficult it was to balance the social and academic demands on my time in Norway. I was often torn between a desire to enjoy this wondrously beautiful country and a need to attend to my school work. Oslo bursts with groundbreaking architecture, art and cuisine, and above all, courteous citizens, some of the most diverse and optimistic people I’ve ever met. From strolls through the Royal Palace grounds and Vigeland Sculpture Park to island-hopping cruises on the fjord, I came to greatly cherish the occasional chance to soak in the sights and sounds of the capital. I will also never forget the satisfaction I felt when I completed a seven-hour hike across the mountains that encircle the port city of Bergen. On many of these adventures, I was grateful for the companionship of Augustana students and alumni living in Norway.

But the Peace Scholars program is anything but a Scandinavian vacation; it is anchored in a rigorous academic experience. I took two intensive courses at the International Summer School — "Scandinavian Government and Politics" and a "Peace Seminar" — with my fellow Peace Scholars. It was not unusual for me to have 150 pages of dense reading to complete each night, a fact that forced me to cancel many a social engagement. Nevertheless, the texture of class discussions coupled with excursions to organizations and access to Norwegian political and thought leaders made the academic aspect of the program a catalytic experience for me.

Christian: What surprised me the most was the amount and depth of the connections that I made during my time in Norway. I was expecting to meet new people during my time in Norway, of course, but I never thought that I would come home with friendships that will likely last a lifetime. In the words of a Serbian friend I met in Lillehammer, “there is not a single person from the Nansen center I wouldn’t gladly invite into my home.”

"While in Norway, I formed deep and lasting relationships with many students from all over the United States and the world."
— Christian Einertson

As wonderful as these relationships from Norway are for me personally, I think that they are also much more than a personal benefit. While in Norway, I had the chance to connect with people with similar interests to my own from around the world, all of whom were dedicated in some way to international goodwill. I have already called upon some of them and their experiences and expertises to help me in different endeavors since coming back to the United States, and it is my hope and expectation that we will be able to be resources to each other moving into the future, even as we keep up with our personal relationships. This is a huge benefit that I never expected.

Q. How has the experience changed you or influenced your future plans?

"The Peace Scholar experience has made me more determined than ever before to pursue my childhood dream: a chance to impact public policy in my native Ghana through a career in government service."
— Kofi Gunu

Kofi: Peace Scholars had the opportunity to visit with two of Norway’s most illustrious politicians, former Foreign Minister Knut Vollebæk and former UN Under-Secretary-General Jan Egeland. Both gentlemen invoked the words of Lord Tweedsmuir, the Scottish diplomat: “Public life is the crown of a career, and to young men it is the worthiest ambition.” They convinced me that it is possible to align my political aspirations with a yearning to work with the people I'd grown up with to banish the scourge of poverty that robs too many of our countrymen and women of the chance to attain their full potential. My time in Norway also made me more aware of the role small nations like Ghana could and should play in global affairs. Although a country of only 5 million people, Norway has had an outsized impact on the world stage, wielding the mantle of “moral superpower” to fight for peace and human rights around the globe. I will continue to seek out opportunities like the Peace Scholars program that prepare me to be a broader, more consequential public servant tomorrow.

Christian: As before, I am still planning on going to seminary after my time at Augie and working in the church. While in Norway, I had the pleasure of attending the Messiaskirken (Christ Church) in Oslo, a congregation of Den Lutherske Kirke i Norge (The Lutheran Church in Norway). Den Lutherske Kirke i Norge is in fellowship with my own Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and I was glad to have a church home during my time in Norway. Though I am not yet entirely sure how, I do know that my connection with the Norwegian church will continue to be meaningful to me in the future and may possibly influence my future direction in church work.

Q. Best memory from the experience?

Kofi: When I think of Norway today, I invariably think of the International Cultural Evening. This highlight of ISS is an annual affair, entirely student-led, that showcases splendid cultural performances, art and cuisine from all the nations gathered at the summer school. As a representative on the Student Council at ISS, I was intimately involved in the planning process leading up to this year’s celebration.

On a whim, I auditioned to be one of the three emcees for the night. I landed the role, and the experience turned out to be the most unforgettable from my entire summer. One moment in particular from that evening stands out in my mind. I had the singular honor of introducing a group of students who for me best represent the values of understanding and international goodwill that undergird ISS. They were the 15 young leaders from the Balkans that Christian and I had first met in Lillehammer. I was fascinated by the strong bonds these students formed, not only with Peace Scholars, but also among themselves. Their geniality is especially improbable considering that the countries they hail from—Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia—until very recently were locked in violent conflict. Seeing them all up on stage, arms locked together, singing and dancing to folk-songs from their native lands filled me with so much hope and admiration that I cried.

Christian: Some of my favorite memories in Norway took place outside of the classrooms and official events that we attended. I love to travel, and I cherished the ability to travel within Scandinavia a bit during my time as a Peace Scholar. I will share two of my favorite travelling experiences.

One of my favorite trips was a weekend trip to Risør, a town about four hours south of Oslo in Aust-Agder. Risør is the town where the Einertson family lived before coming to the United States in the 1860s. Though much has changed in Risør and in Norway more generally in the past 150 years, much of the old town in Risør appears much as it did when my family left. It was fascinating to me to learn a bit about the history and culture of the hometown of the Einertson family and to be able to explore it on my own. To be able to walk into the Hellig Ånd Kirke (Holy Spirit Church), where many of my ancestors heard the Word of God was a particularly powerful experience for me. It was a blessing to me to be able to learn a little bit more about my own history in a way that many Americans of European ancestry are not always able.

Another of my favorite trips was a cruise to Copenhagen that I took over the long weekend at the University. I travelled with Kofi and about two dozen other summer school students from a variety of different countries, and we managed to get our round-trip tickets for about $15. Though seeing Copenhagen was certainly a treat, even more memorable was the time spent with the other summer school students. Most people on the ship were surprised to see such a large group of young people from so many different countries talking together, laughing together, even dancing together, and all of this like old friends. I think it served to show both them and us how much we all really do have in common with each other.

Q. Other things to add from the experience?

Kofi: Christian and I are leveraging some of our connections from Norway in a way that we hope will benefit the Augustana community. Plans are far advanced for us to welcome to Augustana this November the distinguished Dr. Steinar Bryn. Dr. Bryn is the architect of the Nansen Dialogue Network, which has done an outstanding job in the Balkans and elsewhere to help divided communities create coexistence and integration and has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. We had the privilege of spending our initial week in Lillehammer learning about his model with 27 other young leaders from Norway, Ukraine and the Balkans. His visit forms part of a larger conversation about peace and justice that we want to ignite here in our community. We have started the Augustana Peace Club, and we hope to use that as a vehicle to create awareness about pertinent challenges facing the world today.

Christian: In addition to what Kofi said about the Peace Club and our distinguished guest, Dr. Bryn, I would simply like to encourage current Augustana students to consider applying to the Peace Scholar program. It is a really valuable experience for any student, and it is a wonderful opportunity to study issues relating to peace and how they fit into areas of personal interest. Perhaps even more important, however, is the opportunity to make global connections that will last a lifetime!