A journey from Serbia to UGRAD to Kosovo

By Marija Gavrilov, 2012-2013 UGRAD alumna from Serbia

I first discovered Prishtina, Kosovo in 2013, when I participated in the A.U.K. Peace Building Post-Conflict Transformation and Development Program, a summer program organized by American University in Kosovo (AUK). Having grown up in Serbia in the ’90s, during the decade of intense conflicts in the Balkans, I witnessed war, international intervention, and changes in regional politics. However, it wasn’t until I spent a year studying at American University (AU) in Washington, D.C. as a UGRAD student that I became truly interested in visiting Kosovo. I wanted to go there to see what post-conflict development and transition look like in that area of the Balkans, the area I had only heard about in the news. This is a great example of how international exchange and study abroad programs can influence one’s line of thought. I definitely became more open-minded about exploring for myself the part of the world that was presented to me as hostile back in my home country. I didn’t want to rely on the image in the media anymore and so I decided to travel to Kosovo after finishing the UGRAD year at AU.

Last Page Photo 2
Marija Gavrilov (second from right) with her UGRAD friends at AU in 2013

I learned about the program through a friend of mine who connected me to staff at AUK, who in turn helped me apply and complete necessary steps. The participants from the Balkans could receive scholarships from program sponsors such as the U.S. Embassy, British Embassy, and Norwegian Embassy. The scholarship covered accommodation and food, tuition and fees, and a week-long educational trip through few countries in the region. This made it fairly attractive to the students from my region, who often come back either for work or research. At first, my parents and friends weren’t too excited when I announced I would spend a month in the capital of Kosovo, a tiny state that is still not recognized as independent by my country. But I knew that I wanted to learn about peace building first-hand.

Despite continuous ethnic tensions, Kosovo is much better off today than it was ten years ago. The AUK peace building program itself is a proof that the situation has improved. That was the fifth year of more than 50 students from around the world coming to Prishtina to learn about post-conflict transformation in the Balkans from renowned foreign and regional experts and diplomats who worked in the area during the 90s crisis. Not only does this program provide an opportunity for students from the U.S., Europe, Asia and elsewhere to come and learn about peace building in the region, it also connects youth from the Balkans and gives them a space for dialogue. They find themselves discussing political issues, history, and the consequences of our recent wars openly and with understanding.

Last summer, I returned to the program, but this time as a student coordinator. I found this to be a great way of giving back to both American University and the Summer Program. As a coordinator, I helped faculty and students with their courses, after-class activities, and educational events. I found myself falling in love with Prishtina, its people, but most of all the opportunities this city and its surroundings provide to those who strive to make a change. There are still many things to be improved here, and it’s not the international organizations who will do all the work. Through empowering young people from the region, which is one of the program’s priorities, there is a better chance of building strong local institutions that will be run by those who live here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *