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Norway in a Nutshell: Lessons learned from a summer in Oslo September 10, 2011

Posted by Elyse Leonard in Individual Fellowship, Norway, Undergraduate.
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My summer as a research assistant at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo has given me a world’s worth

Elyse at the harbor of Bergen

Elyse at the picturesque harbor of Bergen in Western Norway.

of knowledge. Figuratively, I learned a lot. Literally, I learned a lot about the world by working with researchers from around the globe, meeting Norwegians and others, and living through the tragedy of the Oslo attacks.

My most important achievement was learning to interact professionally on an international level. Traveling as a tourist and meeting people from different cultures is fun. Attending conferences with Indian ambassadors or Q&A sessions with leaders of the Libyan transitional council is a totally different ballgame. At first the conversation flow at these conference dinners or Q&A coffee breaks eluded me. My transitions between “Hi, my name is Elyse” and debating South Asian hydro-politics were shaky. But slowly I picked up the diplomatic lingo.

Elyse at Sognefjord

A breathtaking cruise along Sognefjord, Norway's longest and deepest fjord.

With a simple introduction, a few well-informed opinion statements, a couple of smart questions, and a dash of charming smile and funny anecdotes, you are ready to roll. By the end of my internship, my conversations could smoothly run their course from “How’s the soup today?” to Japanese dating traditions to trends in Iraqi refugee remittances.

While I learned to fly solo in my international, professional conversations, I learned to be more dependent in my research work.  At U-M, most of my courses call for individual research papers or presentations. I work very independently at the university and thought I should continue like this at PRIO. Yet some of my PRIO assignments used unfamiliar programs or concepts; so sometimes I struggled for longer than necessary because I wanted to be independent. When I would finally decide to ask a colleague, I gained insights into my research topic and could complete the job faster. At an interdisciplinary institute like PRIO, I benefited from having political theorists, anthropologists, statisticians, geographers, and historians look at my work.

Elyse at the Myrdal train station

Elyse at the Myrdal train station en route from Oslo to Bergen. The train passed farmland, mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers, and fjords.

Overall, I absolutely recommend this experience to others. Stepping outside of my university bubble taught me so much about conflict studies methodology and the real-life applications of conflict studies research. After this summer I understand how my academic and career interests fit into the larger global context. That is a very gratifying feeling.

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