Peacebuilding Through Dialogue at Nansen Academy

We have arrived in Lillehammer, Norway! As the sun rose this morning, the beautiful scenery unfolded before our eyes. Fresh snow covered the streets, buildings, and mountains in the distance. The trees are draped with white, sparkly frost, spiky upon close inspection but velvet to the touch. They glistened against the cotton candy colored sky of streaked pinks and purples. The cool winter wind brushed our faces as we walked down to Nansenskolen, where we were to spend the day.

Nansen Academy is a Norwegian Folk High School founded in 1938 and opened in 1939 to counter fascism in Europe. Students typically spend one year at the school before many either work or attend university. The program is interdisciplinary where students take different courses in the social and humanistic sciences. They also choose to either be in the creative writing, art or general humanistic theory program. There is no homework or exams but students are required to write a paper on their topic of choice and attend class. Dialogue is also a key portion of the school’s curriculum. As Ingrid described to me, it is a "learning year" where students get a break from rigorous testing and exams but get to engage in discussion and reflection. I wish I would have had access to a program like Nansen in the states. It seems to be a really neat "gap year" opportunity, where students still get credit for their work and time at the school because it goes toward their GPA for attending university. 

During our visit, we met with Steinar Bryn, one of the heads of Nansen Academy, who has worked on the Nansen Dialogue Network specifically in the Balkans. He is a renowned expert on dialogue facilitation, working to establish peace and reconciliation in war-torn societies. Dialogue is a means to improve understanding between groups of people in conflict. Steinar Bryn explained it is about learning through listening to other people's realities. People often believe their perception of reality is right and the other is wrong. Talking about one's personal experience is a bridge to seeing the different perceptions of reality. Bryn describes how dialogue is about movement, visibility, and relations; Movement where individuals are free to change their position and are encouraged to be more open minded. Visibility is an aspect of dialogue because by sharing your story, view, lens, you make yourself visible to others and allow others to become visible to you. Lastly, dialogue is mending and strengthening relations between people in conflict. Bryn explained that in the beginning of his work facilitating dialogue sessions it was initially hard to not share his own viewpoint. Through experience, he has learned that being neutral is ultimately easier in creating a peaceful discussion because he does not anger a portion of the people in the session. It is not just a learning experience for those in the different groups, it is also one for him in the process of how peaceful resolutions can begin to be created.

The power of dialogue is absent in much of the world because often times it is easier to make distinctions, create separation, and live and interact with people who are most similar to oneself. To make it "us" versus "them" is in all societies but intensifies conflict and contributes to racism and hate. As Christiana described to us, "We all live in our own bubbles." Through discussion today with everyone at Nansen Academy and in accordance with recent political activities all over the world, it has become quite clear that dialogue should be the next means to creating a more peaceful world. I believe that in order to decrease hate and prejudice, comprehension of others and their lives and views can only occur through openness, acceptance, and communication.

Cotton candy skies and frosty trees
Nansen Academy
Steinar Bryn talking to us about dialogue