Rethinking Education – Newsletter Online Extra

June 23, 2015

Delila Bikic, who recently graduated from the undergraduate degree program in Political Science, has penned a special reflection for News.Politics that discusses how her studies with the Department extended beyond the limits of the classroom. We hope you enjoy her narrative.

You can follow her on Twitter at: @db_inspire.

Please check back here in the coming weeks for additional special features on our students, faculty, and staff.

My time at the University of Toronto has defined my personal development as a scholar and a difference maker. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I have gained a deep appreciation for the ways in which my academic work has challenged me to think beyond the scope of university life.

My belief in academia as the most effective tool of turning ideas into action encouraged me to look for opportunities that would allow me to expand my learning beyond the parameters of the classroom. In February 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia to conduct field research on Georgia’s path towards integration with the European Union. This was facilitated by the Faculty of Arts and Science’s International Course Module (ICM) Program for POL359Y1 – Enlarging Europe.

My research examined Georgia’s neighbourhood relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan, and explored the potential for the European Union’s model of integration based on regionalism to succeed in the Caucasus. Conducting interviews and participating in meetings with a variety of stakeholders in the country, including representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), State Ministries, and senior officials from EU delegation, was a profoundly eye-opening experience. Specifically, it showed me how academic research can have real-world applications in policy-making. As an undergraduate student, I found that being able to engage with actors who are involved in day-to-day political developments on the ground was a worthwhile experience. The ability to supplement scholarly secondary research with first-hand, direct interaction, added another dimension to my project. In short, I was struck by how I felt that scholarly work would be used to serve a higher purpose – to propose new ideas, transform conventional views, and pave way for trailblazing research that will have long-term implications for the future of Georgia’s changing political landscape.

This experience also reaffirmed for me the potential for young and emerging scholars to make a positive contribution to the real world. Professor Robert Austin ensured that we arrived in Tbilisi as experts on the region, equipped with knowledge and critical analysis skills to produce original research. Working with eight other like-minded peers, it was inspiring to observe the ways in which our interactions with stakeholders in the country facilitated high-level, stimulating conversations.

My ICM experience introduced me to a new way of thinking about the European Union, as an incentive for cooperation in regions affected by conflict. With a renewed sense of confidence and skill, I decided to embark upon an extensive independent study project under the supervision of former Canadian Ambassador to NATO, Professor David Wright. In February 2015, I travelled to Sarajevo during reading week to conduct fieldwork for my senior thesis which examined Bosnia and Herzegovina under the twenty-year legacy of Dayton Peace Accords through a post-conflict lens. My visits to Sarajevo and the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial during commemorative ceremonies showed me that a history, when riddled by conflict, endures as a powerful instrument in shaping the beliefs and attitudes of new generations. Meeting with numerous NGOs during this trip also encouraged me to think about the role of civil society actors in the politics of transitioning countries. Being able to directly interact with civilians who have taken active roles in their communities made me realize how valuable their testimony was to my research. My time in Georgia deepened my understanding of the problems facing the region and showed me that when it comes to the every day struggle of ordinary citizens to lead a better life, the Georgian case evokes important parallels to the present realities facing the Bosnian people.

I was very pleased with the reception I received as a young researcher writing on the twenty-year legacy of Dayton. Prior to the trip, I wondered how my unique position as both a Canadian and a Sarajevan native would affect the responses I received. Overall, the stakeholders recognized the importance of taking time to reflect on the post-conflict situation in Bosnia, and most important, were open to evaluate the legacies of wartime diplomacy and international community involvement in the twenty years since the war’s end.