Bridging oceans

NIU joins Macedonian university in promoting peace

NIU Provost Lisa Freeman joins the University of Tetovo’s Vullnet Ameti (center) and Arbër Çeliku at a 2015 dedication of the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication.
NIU Provost Lisa Freeman joins the University of Tetovo’s Vullnet Ameti (center) and Arbër Çeliku at a 2015 dedication of the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication.

Deep and influential thinkers from around the world will convene this December in Macedonia at the State University of Tetovo’s Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication.

As they share their ideas on the impact of U.S. policy in promoting democracy, the gathered ambassadors, politicians, religious leaders and educators will have NIU on their minds.

“NIU was made aware of the University of Tetovo by members of the regional Albania diaspora community – Americans of Albanian descent living around Chicago,” said NIU Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman, who traveled to Macedonia to discuss and finalize the joint venture.

“They talked to us about the history of the University of Tetovo and how the students were similar to those of NIU – committed to social justice – and how their president and provost were interested in interfaith dialogue and diversity as a means to promoting peace and prosperity.”

First introduced two summers ago through the work of Anthony Preston, director of Global Partnerships in the NIU College of Business, NIU and Tetovo are comparable in size and in goals and mission.

More importantly, though, Tetovo President Vullnet Ameti and Arbër Çeliku, the university’s vice rector and president for international relations, saw in NIU a tremendous opportunity for their country.

Could, they wondered, a partnership with NIU and a shared Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication foster “better social platforms for younger generations” and “a better society” in a country torn by nationalistic sentiments that stir hatred and war?

NIU’s logo and name join Tetovo’s on the building’s front wall.

Would open, informed and visionary conversations about peace enable Macedonia to stem the radical influence of Eastern nations that seek to divide Christian, Muslim and Orthodox Albanians?

Partnership organizers believe so.

“We want to help our country understand the issues we face now. We want to take this American way of life and plant it in our country,” Çeliku said. “Our students and faculty are very excited to have this center and the possibility to communicate with U.S. universities and government. This is like a window – a window to the United States, and to the Western world.”

Ameti and Çeliku are excited by the center’s promise to nurture and promote skills in conflict resolution and peacebuilding as well as its ability to draw viewpoints from around the globe, including North America, Africa and Asia.

“We want those ideas in our country,” Çeliku said. “They have similar problems as we do.”

December’s conference, officially titled “The Impact of U.S. Policy in Promoting Democracy, Peace, State-Building, Economic Recovery, and the Protection of National, Religious and Civic Values in the Countries of the Region,” is expected to garner national television and other media coverage in Macedonia.

Patrick Roberts and Anthony Preston
Patrick Roberts and Anthony Preston

Beyond the research presentations delivered by professors who are studying those topics of international relations, the conference also will host a panel discussion open to the public.

Meanwhile, with the goal of making the largest possible impression, conference organizers are insisting that English is the language of all presentations and discussions.

NIU faculty will participate, said Patrick Roberts, an associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. Many are interested in questions regarding peace and interfaith dialogue.

“Exchanges of ideas and experiences are a powerful part of this partnership,” said Roberts, adding that he and his NIU colleagues are eager for “what we can learn from their experiences in Tetovo, and how that can help us to think about the challenges we face in this country.”

Tetovo’s Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication also will promote overseas journeys and the resulting international knowledge of NIU students, he said. Some NIU students will attend the conference in December.

“Our center is a vehicle of faculty exchange and student exchange” said Roberts, who spent five months in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a Fulbright Scholar. “Certainly, NIU students will benefit from traveling to Macedonia.”

Vullnet Ameti and Lisa Freeman

Such exchanges began in the summer of 2015 when 15 visitors from Tetovo – a nearly equal balance of faculty and students – came to NIU for a glimpse of U.S. life and education.

Members of the group attended lectures by NIU faculty, and toured Barsema Hall and the Engineering Building. Tetovo professors, meanwhile, were matched with NIU counterparts with parallel research interests and expertise.

NIU also has hosted Festim Halili, the vice prime minister of Macedonia.

“Although this started in the College of Business, the University of Tetovo is not just a College of Business partner. Tetovo is really a strategic partner for NIU, and this partnership goes across campus,” Preston said. “We’ve done a lot together.”

“We’re very excited by the opportunities the center presents,” Roberts added, “not just for our faculty conducting international research but in its demonstration of NIU’s global impact. We are engaged in global questions in critical areas such as peace and transcultural communication. I expect great conversations.”

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