A rigorous look at the realities of peace and conflict

All of the students in the Peace Scholars Program — including Annie Halloin ’18  and Gabrielle Simeck ’18 (middle row, second and third in from the right) — sit outside their dormitory, Blindern, in Oslo.

For seven weeks this summer, St. Olaf College students Annie Halloin ’18  and Gabrielle Simeck ’18 took a rigorous academic look at the realities of peace and conflict in our world.

Halloin and Simeck served as Smaby Peace Scholars, part of the Peace Scholars Program designed to expand students’ awareness of current issues relating to peace, justice, democracy, and human rights through a series of educational experiences in Norway.

The Philip C. Smaby Peace Scholars Endowed Scholarship was established in honor of the late Philip Carlyle Smaby, a Minneapolis-St. Paul philanthropist who attended St. Olaf and three of whose children are alumni.

“It’s easily the most incredible formative experience of my entire life. I’m very grateful to have had this chance,” Simeck says.

The 2017 program began with six days at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue in Lillehammer in northern Norway, where the 16 Peace Scholars met with students from Ukraine, Russia, and the Balkans, and discussed conflict in terms of foreign policy and how their different nationalities affect their perspectives.

The scholars ate meals together, went to seminars together, and talked to each other for 10 hours a day.

“It was the most intense bonding experience of my entire life, but also a real look into how important it is to have personal relationships when you’re discussing the political,” Simeck says.

All of the students from Russia, Norway, East Timor, Ukraine, the Balkans, and the United States who participated in the dialogue workshop at the Nansen Academy in Lillehammer — including Annie Halloin ’18  and Gabrielle Simeck ’18 — gather for a photo.

Halloin agrees, adding that those personal relationships have impacted how she interprets current events.

“Instead of thinking of vague places on a map whenever I hear international news, I’ll always think of the people I met. It was so special to have that time when we were all from around the world but together in one place,” Halloin says.

After the Nansen Center, the scholars moved to the University of Oslo International Summer School, where they studied for six weeks and visited some of the leading peace organizations in Norway, including the Nobel Peace Center and the Peace Research Institute. Simeck took a course in Scandinavian government and politics, while Halloin chose to study international politics. The learning was life-changing for both students.

“There can be multiple truths and multiple identities, and in talking about conflict we have to be willing to learn from other experiences and perhaps even let go of a bit of our own. It’s in that shared place that learning and communication happens,” Simeck says.

According to Simick, even though the program was thousands of miles away, the St. Olaf name was still recognizable.

“I’ve walked up to people and said ‘I go to Olaf’ and they say ‘Oh I know Olaf, it’s a really nice little liberal arts school.’ I’m in Norway, and more people know about it than in Minnesota,” she says.

Halloin says the program has already altered her worldview.

“More than anything, it profoundly convinced me that achieving peace is possible. It takes daily work of reaching out to people who disagree with you, forming deep relationships, and moving forward with common goals,” Halloin says.