Nestled in the rolling hills of Tuscany, Italy, near Arezzo, is a special place for King’s students and faculty to be. King’s Social Justice and Peace Studies (SJPS) students immersed themselves at the Rondine Centre for Peace, an educational site and organization that brings youth together from conflict sites around the world. While King’s students and faculty have been going there since 2017, it’s the first time they’ve returned in person since the pandemic started. The program was run virtually for the past two years.

Rondine participants, referred to as World House students, study at the Centre while pursuing academic study in fields related to peace and conflict resolution.

“The most impactful thing about being at Rondine is the down-to-earth conversations with the World House students, telling us about their experiences within their country, what it’s like living alongside their enemy, and their perspectives,” shared Hamdi Babeker, 4th year SJPS student.

The World House participants lead the King’s students in seminar activities related to peace building and global justice issues. Discussing these topics with their peers from around the world who are directly impacted by migration issues and border conflicts was a very powerful experience for the SJPS students in Italy.

“It’s one thing to talk about it in the classroom, but talking with people who actually face crises back home in their everyday lives is a whole different scenario. This experience has 100% given me a deeper understanding of what social justice and peace studies is,” says Babeker.

By engaging in meaningful conversations that can help generate social change, SJPS students were able to apply theories learned in the classroom to real-world situations.

“Being here and connecting with the World House students and hearing their stories is the basis of social justice. Those interpersonal relationships and exchanging lived experiences are what makes this program great, both at King’s and at Rondine. It gives you a different perspective on how to listen to both sides of the story, and look at the people behind a conflict that just might be a news headline at home,” says Divya Bahri '22, SJPS and English Language & Literature.

King’s students were able to learn and implement global citizenship and responsibility through cross-cultural communication and engagement at Rondine. By being completely immersed in another culture and having conversations about difficult topics, SJPS students were able to consider different global perspectives, further enriching their understanding of issues studied in the classroom and the interconnectedness of humanity.

“The main elements of this course are rooted in exploring strategies to resolve violence and conflict, build solidarities and develop a deeper understanding of human community,” explains Dr. Allyson Larkin, Associate Professor and Chair of the SJPS Department.

“Storytelling is one of the primary strategies for peace building. Learning to tell a common story between enemies is an important step toward building a sense of relationship. Enduring peace is not possible without recognition that one's enemy is a human being; that our commonness is greater than our differences,” says Dr. Larkin.

The class also travelled to Rome and met with Yuriy Tykhovlis and Pascale Debbané, Regional Coordinators of the Migrants and Refugees Section in the Vatican offices, which is one of the largest humanitarian efforts in the world. The SJPS students learned how the Vatican helps to accompany refugees, those who are forced to migrate, and people who are victims of human trafficking.

King’s president Dr. David Malloy was also in attendance at Rondine as invited by Franco Vaccari, president and founder of Rondine Cittadella della Pace. The two presidents re-signed the memorandum of understanding (MOU) extending the five-year partnership between King’s and the Centre to continue the shared programming.  

"Our King’s at Rondine program is a special place for our students to engage in difficult conversations and create new relationships with their peers to build peace. I’m so pleased to continue this partnership and thank the Rondine Centre for Peace for creating these opportunities for King’s students,” says Dr. Malloy.

This visit also gave Dr. Malloy a first-hand account of the work done at Rondine, its global impact, and how this relationship and experience benefits King’s and our students and faculty.

This month-long experiential learning experience for King’s students is made possible in part by the generous awards, scholarships, and bursaries available to them, including International Experiential Learning Awards, valued at $1,000 each. Additionally, SJPS students are eligible to receive the Dr. Joan Mason-Grant Awards for Experiential Learning, the Dutrizac Family Student Bursary, and Sisters of St. Joseph Travel Bursaries. This academic year, a total of $71,100 was awarded to King’s students in SJPS 3211G to support costs related to experiential learning opportunities for the King’s at Rondine seminar.

This unique opportunity to study world conflicts in Europe while immersed in a global peace center will be offered again in May 2023 and applications are now open. If you are interested in applying, please send a 200-word statement of interest to Melissa.Jones@kings.uwo.ca. For more information visit the SJPS Global Experiential Course Opportunities page on our website. You can also follow King’s at Rondine on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.