The world first heard about this country called Kosovo in late 1990s when a war broke and there was a massive genocide and it was reported that many people fled the country or were forcefully driven in other neighboring countries. In the year 1999, U.S and UK armed forces intervened into liberating this province in the Balkans peninsula.The reason I give this short introduction about my country is because this is the only narrative that is associated with Kosovo or else there is no awareness of its existence. Growing up, aside from seeing foreign soldiers in the streets or watching American TV shows, we were not in contact with other cultures and therefore there was always this social exclusion from the rest of the world. Our devastating history contributes to this social detachment from the EU as not being relatable to the struggles faced by people in Kosovo. Our country is much more than war-torn, it has a rich culture with a beaming entrepreneurial spirit and hospitality that fills the void of our shortcomings of not offering experiences of metropolitan cities of Europe.
As I reached my teenage years, I had the opportunity to travel across Europe with my parents, and aside from being in awe of beautiful cities and seeing people from all ethnicities and cultures, it was then that I became aware of a different kind of lifestyle. Here children my age spoke different languages, had many extracurricular activities and possessed more skills that provided them many opportunities to become successful. Moreover, I could not acknowledge the fact that any of the people I had a conversation with did not know about Kosovo or I had to repeat myself and now it has become this habit of providing a short introduction of Kosovo’s history. Whenever I would come back from a trip, I was left feeling empty and the feeling of never being good enough and conclusively how isolated we were from opportunities and new experiences.
After the war, I lived in an impoverished neighborhood and I was in contact with people who had dreams of a better future and better education, but the feeling of hopelessness was inescapable. For many families, education was the source that would lead them to a better living, so children were encouraged to excel in school as that was the only way we could access and connect with the rest of Europe. It was inspiring to see children from low income families be the best students as the classroom was the only place they could escape their reality.
When I first heard about the Erasmus +, was when a friend of mine was offered a full scholarship to study in various European institutions for a year. We both lived in the same building and she was by far one of the brightest and hardest working person I knew, she would frequently come over at our apartment and help me and my siblings with our school subjects. Both of her parents worked long hours only to survive so she had to take care of her younger siblings, do house chores and prepare meals and having to walk long distances to school every day. She excelled in school and was also offered to fill in for her professors when they were absent. She was one of the most optimistic person and always willing to help people around her. When she was offered to study abroad, it was one of the most unforgettable experiences for everyone who knew her, and we would sit for hour and we couldn’t have anticipated how her life was going to change in a few months. And it really did, she recently got her degree and had the opportunity of studying in accredited institutions all over Europe, and continues to bring awareness of the Erasmus program across educational institutions in my home town.
To an average European student, the Erasmus experience is an opportunity of personal growth that is entirely goal oriented, but in isolated country where the only window of western countries was seeing it through a television screen. In Kosovo, the Erasmus experience has the effect of impacting entire communities and bringing purpose and motivation that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the understanding that we are capable of rising above hatred and poverty through education to become successful.
There are thousands of Kosovo’s students studying in prestigious institutions all over the world, but one thing we all have in common is no matter how successful we become, the history of our country is deeply ingrained in our being and it always holds a special place in our hearts and a burning desire to see it become the country it is intended to be. This is only one of more stories the deeply appreciated impact an education program like Erasmus continues to have on the other part of Europe.