With a vast majority of classes offered in university being solely restricted to lectures in the classrooms, assignments, and slews of exams, courses that offer hands-on and engaging conversations are every student’s dream. The Peace, Conflict, and Justice program often goes above and beyond traditional learning – among the wide array of conferences, out-of-classroom opportunities, and internships offered, PCJ360 students were also invited to visit the Kingston Peace Support Training Centre (PSTC) to apply ideas learned in the classroom to real stories from members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and United Nations (UN).
Though we were given an rough itinerary of what we should expect from the day’s events, I had no idea how eye-opening the trip would be and intrigued I would become. Upon our arrival to the base, I was taken aback by the extremely welcoming atmosphere that the staff at the PSTC provided for us. Though I was not surprised – many of these men and women had been giving these academic presentations before – it was incredible to see how easy-going these people were considering the grueling jobs they have.
We began with a presentation regarding the work that the PSTC did. What I found most interesting was the fact that this training centre was not only for members of the Canadian Armed Forces, but also housed many international students: peacekeepers from countries including the United States, the Philippines, and New Zealand. Many of these UN peacekeepers had served overseas in places that we had learned about in our PCJ classes – places like Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, and South Sudan. We had been subject to the atrocities of war merely through our readings; these men and women had dealt with these conflicts on the ground.
A throat-tightening recount by a Canadian and a New Zealander peacekeeper told the story of a hostage situation in South Sudan that was widely unreported in the media. I’ve always been emotionally rattled by the stories of war where innocents and those trying to help had been subjected to violence and suffering – but it was really something else to see the personal pictures and hear the tones of the voices of those telling the stories firsthand. Over our lunch break, these peacekeepers sat down with us and had intimate conversations about their lives in the military, as well as their changing opinions on the merits of peacekeeping and peacebuilding. This was extremely interesting to listen to as it offered a new perspective on the importance of dismantling bureaucracy and ensuring ethical conduct in order to maximize proficiency abroad.
We were also lucky enough to witness various peacekeeping training exercises, including responding to
carjacking, mine awareness, and a hands-on activity that taught us (in the simplest terms) how to search for mines and other explosives. With a great sense of humour, our instructor taught us about the perils of warfare as well as the comradery associated with the CAF – something that can absolutely not be taught through books.
This trip to the Peace Support Training Centre in Kingston left me with a mountain of questions that the staff there were more than happy to answer – but it also left me wanting to conduct research of my own. I was enthralled by the work they had accomplished overseas, and by the personal attachments they had all made to their brothers and sisters in the forces, their deployment areas, and the people they had met while serving abroad. In all, I found this trip to be an extremely important part of PCJ education, and I (along with all of my peers who also were lucky enough to attend this trip) are extremely thankful for everything that the staff at the PSTC provided us with.