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BA History and Politics graduate Tallulah Byrne recounts her recent experiences in Kosovo

Tuesday, 12 December, 2023

UCD's BA Humanities History and Politics trains students to work in the changing world of international diplomacy and conflict. Ireland plays an important role globally both in peacekeeping and through using the ongoing peace process on the island of Ireland. These offer a source of learning for other countries which share a history of conflict, peace and reconciliation with Ireland.

During her degree in UCD, Tallulah studied modules including Law, Politics, and Human Rights; Gender and Politics; and International Justice. She brought this skillset to bear during her time in Kosovo engaging with an international and interdisciplinary team of young scholars earlier this year.

Kosovo Summer Academy- My Summer Trip to the Youngest Balkan Country

Tallulah Byrne: Summer 2023
Peace Building in Post Conflict Areas

This past summer, I was lucky enough to travel to Kosovo with the Kosovo Summer Academy with a focus in ‘Peace Building in Post-Conflict Areas: Diplomacy, Leadership and Negotiations.’ It was something I applied for during the uncertain period near the end of my degree where I was applying for a range of opportunities and had no expectations for. I was accepted and in August, with only a brief overview of knowledge of the former Yugoslavia and my suitcase, I boarded my flight to Kosovo.

From the very first meeting, I knew I had made the right choice. The organisers Judita and Labinot give you the warmest Kosovar welcome and their interest in Kosovo and its peaceful future, is instantly infectious. The talks are a very important aspect as you will hear from people you would otherwise never get to hear the perspective of in your life. I heard speeches from people at the top of their fields from the KFOR Commander to two former presidents including one of the most impressive women alive today. President Jahjaga who certainly broke the glass ceiling when she became the first female president of the Balkans and the first leader to give a voice to survivors of the sexual violence that occurred to an estimated 20000 women and men during the war in Kosovo. She spoke of how her male cabinet tried to oppose her on many levels but how she persevered and never let the patriarchal political norms defeat her spirit and belief in change. Many of us were left teary eyed through pure inspiration and that is a meeting I will never forget. Then there was Ambassador McMullen. From the US, Ambassador Ronald McMullen is probably one of the highest-ranking diplomats in the world and has visited over 170 countries. He gave one formal talk and then proceeded to stay with us for a few more days to see the sights and give us informal career counselling. No classroom education could ever compete with his anecdotes about being in the middle of a coup in Figi or how he learnt what not to do by watching his senior diplomats during a meeting with Nelson Mandela he attended as a junior.

One of the most impactful aspects is of course, the people. Like-minded, young, hopeful students who see themselves righting the wrongs of their respective countries who we spent time educating each other about. I went to Kosovo unsure what my future would look like post-bachelor and I left knowing that International Relations, although not an easy path, was the path we all wanted to take and after seeing what has been achieved in Kosovo in such a small time, we collectively felt a new hope towards achieving.

I came home inspired by those I spent my 10 days with whether old and experienced or young and driven knowing that I could now create my own path as they had all done. The situation in Kosovo is complex and getting an inside look at how each department operates and their hopes - as well as the professor we had who told us there was absolutely no hope for EU integration- is an amazing exercise if you’re looking to do anything in international relations but also other fields including law and social science. Seeing that no two journeys are the same was beneficial as it is sometimes easy to dismiss your own journey as not being fast enough or good enough, it’s not true. I am now moving to Leiden in January to complete my masters in International Relations at Leiden University, where I will find some of my fellow KSAers also living and studying. The KSA community has given me the experience of a lifetime and also lifelong friends who I stay in regular contact with as we navigate our futures hundreds of miles from each other.