Transformational Leadership Program - Scholarships and Partnerships

Scholars Transcend Ethnic Stereotypes In Scholarship Program

He remembered his first impression of the American landscape.

“I was expecting the Rocky Mountains because they are so close but…I don’t know if you’ve been to Denver but it’s all flat!”

Besart Lumi is a graduate student from Kosovo at the University of DenverJosef Korbel School of International Studies on scholarship with the Transformational Leadership Program – Scholarships and Partnerships (TLP-SP).

His first sight of Colorado – and the USA – was in August 2014 at Denver International Airport, and there were no mountains to be seen.

But Besart has seen the Rockies since then, and now he calls Denver home.

Although the War between Serbia and Kosovoended 15 years ago, peace and ethnic harmony is slowly but surely coming to Kosovo.

Some might still find it ironic, however, that one of Besart’s closest friends at Josef Korbel is his compatriot and fellow TLP-SP scholar Jovana Radosavljevic, a Serb from North Kosovo.

While she was completing her undergraduate degree in Belgrade and working for the EU Election Observation Mission for Kosovo, Besart split his time between Prishtina and Belgrade for Youth Initiative for Human rights (YIHR), an organization that promotes regional reconciliation between youth of different ethnicities.

“I lived in a city where there are no Serbs since the war…besides when I brought my friends,” said Besart. It’s not extraordinary then, he said, that he and Jovana should be friends.

Like her countryman, Jovana grew up in small town and is studying conflict resolution (and international development) at Josef Korbel.

“I never looked at Besart in that way, of him being an Albanian and me being a Serbian,” said Jovana. “We had the opportunity to get to know each other really well, and we became friends which is what I value the most from everything.”

Image The University of Denver campus after expected renovations. Image courtesy Josef Korbel School Communications. ...

Dr. Tamra d’Estree has taught at the University of Denver since 2002 where she is currently a professor at Josef Korbel and co-director of the Conflict Resolution Institute. She interacts with Besart and Jovana in and outside of class, and she said the School is lucky to have them.

“Having Jovana and Besart in class is a real resource,” said Dr. d’Estree. “It has been an eye-opener for people that don’t come from conflict contexts…People who haven’t lived in conflict don’t have a sense of its depth and its emotional content.”

The duo will also serve as members of the Josef Korbel student government beginning this fall and in numerous other activities pertaining to their interests and fields of study.

But—as Dr. d’Estree, Besart and Jovana all agree—they aren’t just contributing, they are also learning.

“While Besart and Jovana bring their insights from Kosovo, we’ve had people in the same class who have insights into the Palestinian conflict, or into race-related conflicts in the US,” said Dr. d’Estree.

“It was really important for me to see different perspectives,” said Jovana, who will intern with Building Bridges this year, a Denver and Jersualem-based non-profit that promotes interaction between young Israeli and Palestinian women and started working with Colorado students from segregated high schools last year.

And for Besart, who deems Josef Korbel “a hot spot for international relations”, his hands on-practicum in conflict mediation in local courts and a new job opportunity in public policy facilitation complement the exchange of perspective.

“It is always interesting to discuss how conflict is perceived differently at home than in Atlanta or New York,” he said.

Image The scholars at Josef Korbel in a class simulation:Besart as Israel's prime minister and Jovana as an UN representative.

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The program sponsoring Besart and Jovana is supported by USAID, World Learning, and the Government of Kosovo, and has several aims, one of which is to develop a well-trained cadre of leaders who will return to Kosovo to drive development and reform in key-need areas.

The Program stipulates scholars must stay in Kosovo for at least two years to contribute to society as members of a Citizen Corps after graduation. Besart and Jovana, who will graduate next June, plan to stay much longer.

“Definitely I’m going to come back!” said Jovana, who eventually sees herself working in policy. “I think I’ll have a purpose in life more to be here and to be doing things beneficial for my community.”

Besart is also excited at the prospect of collaboration with his peers, especially after watching friends in the United States adjust after Peace Corps missions.

“I know what my friends have done [in the Peace Corps]…and now the [TLP Scholars] are slowly coming back,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it”.

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