Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Studying at Chula is very different to my time at Auckland University in New Zealand, where I did both my undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. In Bangkok we live on the 24th floor of an International Student housing complex. Looking from my balcony gives me vertigo but also a vast view of much of the city. The campus itself is beautiful with lots of trees, green open spaces and some beautiful old buildings. Some cafés on campus are themed, with big teddy bear mascots, sugary deserts and bubble tea. My university days in New Zealand often ended by reflecting with friends over a few pints at the end of the day. It took some adjustment to realize that on or near Chula campus you will not find such an establishment. What you will find (a few blocks away) are quaint little side streets with local food vendors, children playing, men pondering over a game of chess and plastic table roadside restaurants.
We were often reminded that we have come to Bangkok at an opportune time to be partaking in peace studies and conflict resolution. As you might imagine, this is a particularly interesting and opportune time – or one might say ironic topic – to be studying given the current political instability in Thailand. Often the classroom simulations and the instability outside made it feel like we were in a real life peace and conflict version of Big Brother. The content of the classes was often a combination of intense, overwhelming, confronting, educational, inspirational, heart warming, hopeful, listening and practicing, a balance and contradiction between the heart and the mind. Like any good show, participants have come from different countries, backgrounds, belief systems and not to forget professions. We have a spectrum of personalities and roles we play. Some are louder while some are quieter with varying perspectives but all with an array of colorful contributions.
Everyday we were given security updates. At times we had to limit our movement around the city and for a while were working in a half closed university in a state of semi-lock down. Learning about the world’s most harrowing conflicts amid these circumstances has been indeed a unique stage for the act of class 16. As a bunch of go-getting practioners, we helped and supported each other’s projects to come into fruition or to develop further. Collectively we have formed a unique eco system, one where much talk, discussion and role-playing can turn into lasting action and change.
In a short amount of time the door will open and the show will be over. We will return to our ‘normal’ lives carrying with us a new found and earned tool kit to use. Surely, we all take home different useful things to add but at the same time something collective that quite likely no one else will be able to fully understand and imagine. When I look at my individual tool belt over the past few months I will remember and value everyone’s additions and hope that I have contributed in some way to others. I look forward to the sequel and to hear how we individually and collectively go from here.
Iona Proebst, New Zealand/Germany/Thailand
Rotary Peace Fellow