Connection is an important part of Rotary’s mission. Fellows in Class XVIII tell us what they’ve learned from each other—skills that will stay with them throughout their careers.
Sometimes, the most important things we learn come from the people around us. It sounds like a cliché, but while academic studies are useful in advancing our skills in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, interactions with people can change a life (or many). Some of the most positive changes have come from human relationships, like collaboration to achieve something wonderful, or a story that sparked people to take action.
The Rotary Peace Fellowship is one of the practical ways in which Rotary connects people to pursue peace. In 2019, ten of us came together in Uppsala from different parts of the world, but all with similar visions. Each one brings their own culture, language and perspectives to help further conflict resolution and build peaceful societies. The knowledge and experiences each fellow brings to the program is extraordinary—whether or not it’s academic. Fellows have worked in different countries in fields such as gender equality, international trade, environmental sustainability, peace education, and election monitoring. And moreover, we’ve all had different life experiences.
That’s why in this blog, we’re sharing a few things we’ve learned from each other over the past eight months. It’s not just studies that can benefit our careers and our work in peace and development, but also the connections we make with other people. Be it big or small, it’s fundamental to how Rotary is pursuing peace.
Our cohort is filled with a diverse group of individuals with varying experiences, backgrounds, cultures and nationalities. Yet we’re all unified by the same passion and purpose: to study and understand the pathways to creating and sustaining durable peace. In these short months, they have each reaffirmed to me that this diversity in our cohort is the greatest strength of the Rotary Peace Fellowship, as each person brings their own unique perspective and skillset to the field of peace and conflict research. Learning from and with each of them over these two years, I am realising again and again that the interactions I have will be one of the most transformational aspects of my experience as a Rotary Peace Fellow.
Two of Rotary’s core values are leadership and service, which fellows in my cohort have been demonstrating. Some are taking leading roles in group work and raising questions during lectures in our studies. Others are sharing information from their own experiences to help others ranging from academic knowledge to professional and life experience. Interaction and communication are the basis for peacemaking and peacebuilding and I’m learning from their spirit in that regard.
One thing I’ve learned from my cohort is that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ Peace Fellow. Everyone experiences ‘impostor syndrome’ to a certain extent when starting a new phase of their life, and my self-doubts were only heightened as I met the other Fellows and listened to them speak about their experiences and qualifications. But given how supportive and collaborative my cohort has been, I no longer question whether I deserve to be here. I didn’t take a ‘conventional’ path to get here; but neither did anyone else! We all bring different perspectives and skills, and that diversity is part of what makes this such a special group of people.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my cohort is the value of community. Although this Fellowship represents an amazing opportunity that all of us are grateful to be able to avail ourselves of, it has also entailed moving to a part of the world that most of us were unfamiliar with. While the support of both Uppsala University and the Rotary Foundation have been invaluable, it has been our bond with one another that has helped make this an experience about more than just obtaining a degree. We’ve also connected with Rotary clubs and engaged in many activities together. I am as grateful to all of the members of my cohort for being good study buddies, as I am for their company when all of us just want to kick back and relax!
Ma Dari Gap Zada habzadeh nametanam.
That’s how you say ‘I don’t speak Dari’ in Dari, which was painstakingly taught to me by my friend Maryam while I repeatedly asked her to say it again. Or if you add ‘hey!’ to the end, you get a little closer to the rhythm Samikshya and I created to remember it. Those little moments are often where I’ve learned the most from this wonderful group of fellows. Finding small differences in the way people live their lives, from study habits to the kind of food they make to make them feel like home, is inspiring to me. It’s been great to find that connecting with people doesn’t have to be difficult, and being able to do so is an important thing to build trust throughout our careers in peace and development. Despite our differences, there are many things that make people click.
Samikshya Bashishtha Bhattarai
For somebody who had never been to Europe before, living in this foreign Scandinavian land of infamous cold weather and darkness has been a very interesting learning adventure. And along this journey there has been a group of very special and encouraging teachers, collectively known as the Rotary Peace Fellows Class XVII!
The first skill I’ve learned would be getting out of my comfort zone, from trying new card games with Jonah to mastering funny poses for photos. Then there comes language. Thanks to my fellow Fellow, Maryam, now I can at least say “I don’t know Dari language” whenever I encounter Dari speakers, and thanks to Tanushree, I can deliver it in the form of a very cool rap. And there are skills in dressing for winter, navigating the cultural nuances of the West, and in making friends from around the world (which, after my mother, I would say is a skill best learned from Muyi). My cohort have been the best teachers on how to be there for each other when in need. I am so grateful to be part of this program.
Jia ‘Muyi’ Yang
Listening to my cohort’s fascinating stories about traveling and working outside their home countries I kept on wondering, using the terminology we just learned from our research methods course, what’s the temporal order in this ‘case’? Is it that we are curious about the world that propels us to go explore more, or the opportunities that fall upon us that opens a door in our heart chamber where our dormant adventurous spirit resides?
Either way, I thoroughly enjoy learning different things from my Fellows and showing them cool stuff from my own background. Seriously, some of them have mastered how to say “have you eaten yet?” in my hometown Wuhan dialect (yes, that is how we greet each other there!). So one day when their curiosity takes them to my hometown, they will at least know the dietary schedule of everyone around. Isn’t that super useful?
I’ve already learned so much from my fellow Fellows in such a short time. Some of you have been my unofficial, yet essential, guides to Sweden from the moment I arrived here. Others have taught me important life skills, like the art of leaving early when it’s necessary, what a ‘deviant case’ is, and how to say “have you eaten yet?” in a new language. Most importantly, now that I understand the artistic genius of BTS (a K-pop band Samikshya introduced me to), my world has truly expanded. I’m also privileged to have attended the Rotary District Conference in Cairo along with Jordan and Muyi, where I was able to connect with people from around the world doing important work. I am so grateful for all that my cohort has taught me and I can’t wait to see what we learn over the next year and a half.
There is something special about going through a new phase of your life with a ready-made cohort of people with similar questions, obstacles, and goals. Even though we are almost all new to Sweden, we are somehow able to guide each other through the often stressful and mundane issues of a new life in a new place. I’ve learned how to make a doctor’s appointment in Sweden, when to get to the tax agency to avoid standing in the cold, and where to get the best (erasable!) pens in Uppsala for exam time. They may seem like small things, but they add up quickly!
I believe that we learn more from the people we interact with than from books and lectures. The fellows in this program are not only representing their country of origin, but also the countries where they’ve worked. I have learned a lot from the rich experiences of my fellows. We have exchanged our individual experiences, tried to understand each other’s languages, and spoken about cultural differences and commonalities between us.
For more information on Peace Fellowships, click here. And if you’re an alumni who wants to join the Rotary Alumni Network, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.