Still energized by the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication’s first-ever international conference, held in Macedonia, organizers already are gearing up for this fall’s second installment in DeKalb.
NIU and the State University of Tetovo are partners in the center, which was launched to foster “better social platforms for younger generations” and “a better society” in a country torn by nationalistic sentiments that stir hatred and war.
December’s gathering explored of “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.”
Around 225 people, including presenters, professors, students and interested stakeholders of the region, attended.
Patrick Roberts, an associate professor in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, says the conference facilitated “a sharing of ideas” and “stimulated an understanding, and a conversation, about what are some pretty difficult issues.”
It also provided a mirror of sorts for the NIU contingent.
“Being there really opened up for us a better understanding of the complexities of that region,” said Roberts, who served on the conference organizing committee. “Macedonia recently had an election, and they are still sorting through the issues, anxieties and concerns. They were just as anxious and unclear about the outcomes.”
Uncertainty is familiar ground for the University of Tetovo, which provides access to higher education to ethnic Albanians.
Tetovo is the only school in Macedonia where the language of instruction is Albanian rather than Macedonian, Roberts says. Its students, who are Muslim, also must deal with religious, ethnic and language tensions in their homeland.
“For a number of years, the university was not recognized by Macedonia. It was operating illegally. Over time, it grew – and became officially recognized,” he says. “That really speaks to the power of education. A lot of people in the world have had to struggle for access to higher education.”
Roberts delivered a keynote address on “Cultural Heritage Preservation as a Strategy of U.S.-Foreign Relations in the Balkan Region.”
Colleagues on the trip included Teresa Wasonga, presented on “Philanthropy in the U.S. and Education of Indigent in a Developing Country.”
Andrew Otieno, a professor in the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, spoke on “The Role of NGOs in Sustainable Development: A Case Study of Engineers Without Borders Increasing Energy Capacity in a Rural School in Tanzania.”
Laura Heideman, an assistant professor in the NIU Department of Sociology, addressed “Tocqueville in Croatia: USAID and the Promotion of Associational Civil Society.”
Graduate School Dean Brad Bond delivered the conference’s opening remarks.
“It was important for us to meet as collaborators from the two universities to develop a common understanding of the purposes of the center, mutual responsibilities and mutual benefits,” says Wasonga, an associate professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.
“Tetovo as a university has a very unique and difficult history, and its success – that we were only able to comprehend through experience visiting the various historical sites – is inspiring,” she adds. “This put into perspective the significance of this conference and the need for collaboration.”
Roberts left with a call to action.
“For me, the takeaway was that there’s a lot going on here, and that access to higher education is a pivotal point of addressing tensions – political, economic, linguistic, geographical,” he says. “It underlined the need for transcultural communication. In the United States, sometimes we can overlook the complexities of countries overseas.”
He is grateful for the collaboration – and the hospitality that made the NIU delegation comfortable.
“Dr. Vullnet Ameti, the rector, was a gracious host. He truly believes in and values his university’s partnership with NIU. He delivered some welcoming remarks, and he presented both me and Brad Bond with a lovely token of appreciation,” Roberts says. “Artina Kamberi, who is the director of the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, did an extraordinary job of organizing the conference.”
Organizers of the October conference at NIU will choose a theme later this spring, he says. They also are exploring the possibility of exhibiting University of Tetovo artifacts at the Blackwell History of Education Museum in Gabel Hall.