I came to the Rotary Peace Fellowship from a human rights and conflict resolution background, similar to everything else, this wonderful experience has led to another endeavor in my life. While at the Duke-UNC Center for Slavic, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies (CSEEEC), I started learning more about nationalism and ethnic conflict. Being born in a war zone and having witnessed the collapse of the world’s largest superpower, this was a natural quest for me.
During my second semester I designed a course with one of my instructors, i.e. an independent research study class. This was a wonderful opportunity to write my own syllabus and bibliography. My goal was to explore underlying reasons behind ethnic conflict by conducting a theoretical and empirical study of this phenomenon.
I narrowed down my research scope geographically by analyzing case studies in the former Soviet Union states only. Furthermore, I noticed that many theories did not provide exhaustive, or fully comprehensive, explanations of why people of different ethnicity, religion, and race engage in violent atrocities that gradually escalate to a full scale interstate or civil war.
Therefore, I decided to think about my own theory that could answer why inter-communal violence turns into ethno-political conflict. I was specifically looking into rational choice theories with an ultimate goal to blend those schools of thought with other existing theories.
When it came time to apply for an Applied Field Experience, I did not procrastinate and contemplate a lot about how and where to spend my summer. By that time, I knew what I wanted to do next. I envisioned myself in a type of professional environment that would let me work further on my research.
My first choice was Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, where one professor was working on a similar project, but applying a quantitative approach to his research. In mid-April, my paperwork with Harvard was processed and I was ready to begin a new chapter in my Rotary Fellowship experience.
Boston is strikingly different from the Chapel Hill-Durham area in North Carolina. Harvard, similarly, is offbeat compared to UNC or Duke University. In mid-June, after covering 3,200 miles by car in a cross-country road trip from Seattle, WA to Boston, MA, I have found myself in a big city on the east coast with a fast paced lifestyle and urban culture that I had not experienced before. Everything, from driving habits and urban planning to human interactions and cost of living, was simply divergent.
Harvard, too, came with a lot of surprises. Being used to a typical campus culture at UNC and Duke University, here, except of its historical old part, campus was practically non-existent, with heavy traffic and large hordes of tourists passing through the school.
However, the challenges, most of which were imaginary, soon vanished and I started to enjoy my experience. On a regular day, I wake up in the morning and head over to Harvard’s recreational facility at Malkin Athletic Center. After running on a treadmill and swimming in the pool, I show up at the Widener’s Library to check out books and other essential reading materials. Later, I grab lunch somewhere on Harvard Square and spend the rest of my day at the Center for Government and International Studies (CGIS), where I work on my research project.
I devote my evenings to networking events with other graduate students in an area that hosts some of the best colleges in the nation, such as MIT, Boston University, Harvard, and Tufts. The great thing about this place is that you meet a lot of talented people from all over the world who are on top of their fields no matter what they do.
Some of these young professionals had never heard about my scholarship program. I gladly share with them information about the Rotary Peace Fellowship and the opportunities it offers to individuals willing to commit themselves to peace and conflict resolution.