Jonathan, University of Leicester

Peacebuilding in Colombia, 2018

Jonathan studies International Relations and History at Leicester, and tells us here about participating in the 2018 Peacebuilding course.

“I had never travelled to South America before, so this trip provided the perfect opportunity to experience a completely new culture and discover Colombia. My experience of the PeaceBuilding program offered by Red Tree Study was exciting and dynamic. The three week course has been intense but massively rewarding. Each week I was introduced to a new aspect of the Colombian Conflict, starting with a history of the Colombian Armed Conflict, then analysing the the Peace negotiation and finishing by exploring the possible challenges to building a lasting peace in a country free from armed conflict.

Studying abroad is one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had, being able to full immerse myself in a country’s culture and history has given me a context to political issues that purely class room based learning could not provide. I have become fascinated by the different cultural perspectives studying in Colombia has given me. This was extremely apparent when my view on traditional justice was really challenged by the transitional justice model that is being employed during the current peace process.

One of the main reasons I decided to travel to Colombia at this point in time was the political climate of the country. The Colombian election to decide who would be the new president took place one week into the trip. The two main presidential candidates had taken very different positions on the peace process and as a result Colombian society had become quite polarised. This added dynamic to the study of the peace process at such a pertinent time made this course even more fascinating. The academic content offered in the programme reflected this variety in opinions and featured lectures from a wide variety of fields which provided an extremely well rounded and comprehensive analyses of the conflict.

I was lucky enough to hear a talk from a Professor in the Colombian Air Force Rodrigo Mezu, when visiting the Army Central Office. Professors Mezu represented the Colombian military at the Havana peace talks and offered a unique and interesting perspective on public security. That afternoon, we had a conversation with the Presidential Communication Team, they offered a completely different view of the Government’s role in the conflict and were extremely honest, especially when discussing the Plebiscite that the administration lost in 2016. The diverse range of opinions offered during the academic content is what makes the course so unique.

Being taught by academics and people closely affected by the conflict was a privilege. The lecture presented by Professor Christian Cito on Peacebuilding and youth participation with experiences from Colombia and the Eastern Congo, was particularly insightful. As I’m planning on writing my dissertation on the Peace Process in South Africa in 1990, this comparative cases study analysis with an African country will greatly inform my future research. The course offered the perfect mixture of theoretical and practical content that meant I was always intellectually stimulated and never bored.

The coordinators were extremely friendly and approachable, never hesitating to go the extra mile to make the trip special. There was never an issue with the accommodation in fact they were modern and very comfortable, but the coordinators were always on hand and easily contactable if anything had come up. Being introduced to Colombian Culture has been a real pleasure, I had the opportunity try a little Spanish and while my Spanish is very limited these three weeks have inspired me take lesson when I return home.  One of the extra-curricular activities was a guided tour of the graffiti in Bogota. It was fascinating to see how much the street art in the city linked with issues we examined in our lecture and how much it’s become a medium for protest. I especially enjoyed a salsa lesson delivered during the first week, while my dancing skills still leave much to be desired it was a great way to get to know everyone and get out of my comfort zone.

There was no part of the trip that I did not enjoy expect the fact that it did not last long enough.”