Exploring the beauty of post-conflict Kosovo through the Balkan Peace Program

UAlberta students take on a life-changing experience abroad in Europe's newest country

Over the last two decades, the Western Balkan countries have inspired headlines in newspapers, journals, magazines, television shows, and more. This international attention has been drawn mainly from the unrest, wars, and conflicts that have engulfed the region for years. Among all these countries, Kosovo is special. It provoked NATO's first ever military intervention in 1999, was placed under UN administration until 2008, and became the newest country in Europe on February 17, 2008.

Today, the Western Balkan region has turned into a calm and developing area. Since resolving the last piece of puzzle in the break-up process of former Yugoslavia (namely the international recognition of Kosovo , albeit partial), countries of the region have more united ambitions–all targeting eventual accession to the European Union and NATO. Several of the region's countries have made important progress in the Euro-Atlantic integration process. 

The Balkans Peace Program on Post-Conflict Development

Kosovo's present and future are quite promising, despite its troubled past. Home to the youngest population demographic in Europe, Kosovo offers stunning geography that beautifully combines mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, and summer and winter attractions.

In an effort to provide international students with a unique opportunity to learn about Kosovo and the Balkans, as well as experience the region’s culture and beauty, the Bislimi Group Foundation created the Balkans Peace Program on Post-Conflict Development in Kosovo in 2012.

The Balkans Peace Program on Post-Conflict Development, available to UAlberta students, offers the opportunity to spend three weeks in Kosovo studying and learning about development in practice in a post-conflict area right in the middle of Europe. Key components of the program include: an academic course on post-conflict development (consisting of daily lectures, seminars, and guest speakers); cultural immersion; a tour of Kosovo and three of its neighbouring countries; and a publication opportunity.

In addition to touring Kosovo, participants visit three other Balkan countries: Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Coupled with strong academics, the program provides a wonderful cultural immersion experience. During of their stay in Kosovo, participants are placed with local peers from Gjilan University and their families.

The program, which has been recognized by UAlberta as a credit-earning summer program, has also been spoken highly of by many important leaders in Kosovo, including the President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, who sees the program as a great way of “building cultural, academic, and societal bridges between the young people of Kosova and their peers abroad.”

BPP participants visit the Adem Jashari Memorial Complex in Kosovo

BPP participants in the classroom 
This program also has a special connection to UAlberta. One of the UAlberta’s own doctoral students, Faton Tony Bislimi, is the founder of TBG Foundation and this program. Bislimi, who was born and raised in Kosovo, came to UAlberta in 2012 to pursue his PhD in political science (focusing on state-building and international interventions), after having earned an MA in international relations from Dalhousie, an MSc in international development from Harvard Kennedy School, and honors BSc/BA degrees in computer science and math.

Bislimi, who believes in quality education as a key pillar upon which a peaceful and prosperous society can be built, has combined his education and work experience (which includes university teaching in Canada, the US, and Kosovo, as well as managerial positions with international and intergovernmental organizations such as the UN Development Program) to deliver a program that gives students a truly life-long educational experience.

“Kosovo is a great place to see, especially if you are interested in studying post-conflict development, interethnic relations, democratization, or related topics.
 It is located in Europe; it is safe, welcoming, and developing,” said Bislimi, who runs the program and his foundation on a volunteer basis. “The program educates people. It gives them a new, well-rounded understanding of life in a post-conflict society. It helps our students appreciate more the things they take for granted in this country.”

Student experiences from Summer 2015

Most recently, a group of UAlberta students made the trip to Kosovo to participate in the Balkans Peace Program in May 2015. The experience went far beyond their highest expectations, with participants describing it as an “awesome” and “life-changing” experience. 

Participants felt that they had benefited tremendously in terms of academic and cultural enrichment by having been part of this three-week program.  

 A BPP student outing

"Participating in the program was truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” said Brett Karperien, a UAlberta student. “All day every day, you were positive that there was an incredible group of people looking out for you…The way the locals acted to each other and us international students spoke volumes of their true character, and I know that Kosovo is on my short list of places to return. I have nothing but good things to say about the program.”

Another UAlberta student, Carly Manning, added "The program, in short, was an eye-opening experience. The Balkan Peace Program gave, in my opinion, a chance to see the real effects of the area's history and the on-the-ground challenges of rebuilding a state; something you cannot gain simply through an academic course. By living with local residents, it allowed me to understand the culture, and the grief and anger many still feel, which showed how far the reconciliation process has come, and how far it still needs to go. All in all, it was amazing opportunity, in a beautiful country, where it allowed me to learn more than I ever could from a book or a class."