Those three weeks in Colombia have absolutely been one of the greatest times in my life. The course itself, while intense, spans almost every imaginable academic discipline there is to study conflicts and peace processes from political science to history, economics, sociology, law and international relations, all delivered by world-class academics from the university as well as other institutions. We covered the conflict's long history (early 20th century to the present), its political economy, the role of narcotics, the social impact on women and children, the Colombian political system, the centrality of land distribution, the content of the peace accord, the transitional justice system, the social challenges activists still face in the country... We also got the chance to talk to the UN and government agencies such as the victims reparation unit and the JEP to learn firsthand from them both the work they do for peace building as well as the challenges they face. Furthermore, by hearing the emotional story from an excombatant and from an environmental activist as well as visiting a photographic exhibition of the war, we moved beyond the "ivory tower" of academia and reminded us just how impactful conflict can be for all and of the urgency to work for peace.
Even though the course started with students who had a range of knowledge, from Colombians studying abroad who decided to participate, to Latin American enthusiasts and even to those who had no prior knowledge whatsoever, by the end of the three weeks there was almost no distinction. We all had learned so much that we could all engage in an educated manner about the topic and draw our own conclusions. What was further very pleasing to me was just how much I, as a Colombian, got challenged to confront and critically evaluate the views I had been cultivating throughout my life. When you grow up hearing your friends and relatives passionately talking about the conflict it can be difficult to effectively challenge your biases, yet I believe this course was able to do just that.
Beyond academia this brilliant course offered a healthy and perfect balance by having us engage with social activities to immerse ourselves in the Colombian culture. We had a salsa class, a movie night (watching an engaging and thought provoking Colombian film of course), and a bike tour of the city. We got to play a traditional Colombian game of tejo, ate at traditional restaurants as well as Colombian fast food chains and even trekked to a waterfall on a weekend. Local students from the University also helped the participants integrate by bringing us to their favourite bars and even night clubs (entirely optional I may add). All in all it was, I repeat some of the best three weeks of my life. If you are passionate about history, wars and peace building, love to travel, discover a new culture (or appreciate your own surrounded by foreign friends) and learn about the challenges and hopes at implementing one of the best most ambitious peace deals in the world, then this course is absolutely for you.