Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
A good while ago, a friend of mine suggested that I apply to the Rotary Peace Fellowship. Since I work in a context where I have to deal with war and conflict on a regular basis, and with the feeling that I lacked the necessary academic access to these issues, I applied. To my big surprise, I received the Fellowship and set out to Thailand with great happiness, many expectations and the feeling of adventure.
As a journalist working in media development projects in South Sudan, I have seen what conflict does to people and a society, and how hard it is to break the cycle of aggression. Media should help in de-escalating tensions, but often enough ends up doing the opposite. In extremely volatile post-conflicts situations, especially in border regions with high incidence of forced migration, what can media do to foster peace?
With this main question in my mind, I set out to Thailand.
The impressions of the first week as a Peace Fellow at Chulalongkorn University are too many – impossible to say what came first. Rather, I know what came at the very first: the feeling of gratitude at receiving this incredible gift, which is living in Bangkok for three months and studying topics that I’m interested in. Reading, exploring, learning – and living in a tropical country, getting to know a new culture – and eating great food!
However, I will try to bring some order into the overwhelming mix of feelings and impressions.
Things that amaze me every day:
The stunning skyline that I see out of my dorm window. The noise of crazy traffic at any time of the day. The orchids and frangipani trees on the university campus. The friendliness of total strangers: people I have never seen before in my life, but who smile at me when I pass them in the road.
There is also the contradiction to arrive in a far-away country, but being welcomed by unknown friends: from my host who picked me at the airport to the absolutely incredible staff at the Rotary Peace Center – Oy, Cartoon, and above all, Vitoon – they all did their best to make us feel at home and welcome.
In this first week, learning took place in and out of class.
There were many things to sort out; where the classroom is, where to get food, where to buy towels (suggestion to new fellows: bring your own towel and bed sheets!), where to do the washing, etc. And starting with the content of the course, last but not least…!
Week 1 was also about getting to know the other Peace Fellows. New faces, many different experiences in different continents, a variety of accents. This multicultural crowd is amazing in its openness and multi-layered experiences.
Every single day I learned something new about another culture, just by chatting with people while sharing a meal. In the breaks, I find myself googling like mad all this new information: who are the Métis in Canada? What reforms did King Chulalongkorn initiate in Thailand? What happens with refugees in Myanmar? Why don’t the Kurds have a state of their own? What is fufu, the staple dish in Western Africa? Or the tree ceremony in mystical Judaism? I came here to learn – and indeed I learn. Knowledge in all forms and colours. Wow.
It was good to find out that Peace Fellows are willing to help each other, sharing tips about Bangkok life and about classroom work, going out together in the evening and generally keeping each other company when you feel like hanging out with people.
But there is also space to retreat – in your room, to the sports area, to a park, and just wandering about in this amazing city. (Not to mention getting lost in the huge malls… I personally find them intimidating; they are too big!)
My favourite day in this first week was the day when all Peace Fellows presented their individual projects. I was aware beforehand that our group was a bunch of interesting people, but hearing about the various projects that everybody works on made me realise that I will be able to learn A LOT from all the colleagues and their work: Impressive projects about conflict and peace – or how to bring about peace and togetherness in a world torn by conflicts.
I personally refuse to believe that peace cannot happen. And here is a group of people who work along the same lines – and teachers, Ajarn, who can tell us how to turn the hope for peace into a reality.
Sheila Mysorekar – Germany
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 26