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Where Worlds Gather – Castellón in the Spotlight

It was the middle of summer time, and I was enjoying the sun, the beach, hanging out with friends. I was ready to start a Peace Master abroad, where I was going to spend the next two years. When I arrived at my new place it was a very cold and cloudy day. I did not know a single person in the city, which also seemed very empty, as I did not see anyone on the streets on that Sunday. Did I not think of these things before coming? How could my excitement fool me so bad? Where did I end up?!

I was about to discover this only a couple days later when the International Master in Peace, Conflict and Development Studies at Universitat Jaume I in Castellón de la Plana, Spain resumed the academic year in their second semester. Though a little afraid, on my first day of classes I discovered, a beautiful crowd of people from all parts of the world. There, I saw a multitude of diverse, hybrid and intercultural understandings of peace in dialogue. This Master’s program has admitted people from over 100 countries in its 20 years. That makes Castellón a delightfully rich and queer environment that really challenges mainstream understandings of peace and conflict studies and  offers a conviviality of different perspectives.

Once I became part of this unique group of people, I could see the vibrancy of their activities and how they connected with the university, the city communities and the world outside themselves. A month had not even passed,  and I was already participating in an incredible initiative to support Haiti’s displaced people after the earthquake in 2010. I saw all the students of the program and alumni organize a solidarity event together called Comidas del Mundo. This brought all the university to its Agora square which is located at the center of the University. I saw people dancing to different rhythms from their different cultures and also got to try traditional and homemade food from where the peace students came from. This was just one of the many initiatives taken in which I participated as an MA student.

Activities such as Dance for Peace, Theater, Yoga and Meditation are held as equal and relevant as presentations on banking and its relation to the industry of arms.

An activist spirit characterizes the Peace Master in Castellón, engaging people to not only think and but also act peace. In my first year I saw a manifestation against violence in Mexico and an event to support fellow students in need. I helped my colleagues paint the walls of Castellón with billboard-sized pictures with the faces of their own inhabitants in order to demonstrate its interculturality. Also in my first year, my friends created an event in supporting the tsunami victims in Thailand, a recent group created a support network for Syrian refugees and students from many years have been supporting a Roma community in the outskirts of the city. This is only a glimpse of what the peace students promote in the city.

Another great feature of the program is its structure. Organized in four terms, the first term focuses on Peace and Culture, the second on Peace and Conflict and the third on Peace and Development. Each has a specific focus, while remaining multidisciplinary throughout. The fourth term offers the students two possibilities:

  • A professional track in which students carry out internships in International Organizations, NGOs and Institutions and present a memoir of these practices, assessing the relevance of the work they carried out and its connection to the MA.
  • An academic track in which students can write and defend a Master of Arts thesis, opening up the possibility to pursue a PhD Program.

While these tracks speak to two different personalities in Peace Studies – either a more practical or a more theoretical – the focus of the program is that both are important. Theory and praxis are inseparable domains and this is reflected in both tracks.

In summary, during the first three semesters in Castellón we have courses that last one month each. These courses are structured in three hours of classes per day, during three weeks in total. After those three hours and after doing all the reading homework, there still is plenty of time for other activities. When the three weeks of classes finish, students have one week to write their course paper which allows for a full immersion into their paper research.

Castellón also has a particular course that takes place every Wednesday afternoon during the entire semester: The Intercultural Seminars offer a space in which students from the English and Spanish tracks get together in one multilingual course to propose dynamics, reflections and presentations on diverse topics according to their interest and relation to peace studies. Often, an external specialist facilitates these spaces. Activities such as Dance for Peace, Theater, Yoga and Meditation are held as equal and relevant as presentations on banking and its relation to the industry of arms. In this space, educational tools and methods for peace and debates on specific conflicts have the same importance and the Intercultural Seminars present a wide array of learning possibilities by the students and their networks for the students themselves.

Therefore, I found in this Master a great environment for higher learning, because students bring to classroom their reflections on life and the experiences from their different backgrounds. Also, because they form a beautiful intercultural community within the city and the university, they put classroom reflection to practice in the multiple environments in which they might find themselves. This generates a great sense of community within a community. Located on campus, the Peace Master is able to offer the students an incredible variety of extracurricular activities, from movie screenings to theater plays, from learning new languages to field excursions, and several other sports.

Being an average-sized town, it is funny to see locals smile when they ask how I ended up in here and I say: “I am in the peace master’s program”. Our fame precedes us here. In fact, I have felt so welcomed here I ended up staying longer. In Castellón I decided I wanted to become a peace scholar, and I was happy to be able to do so here. The Postgraduate Program offers not only an International Master of Arts in Peace, Conflict and Development but also a Doctorate (PhD) on the same area. I am happy to know that the program I am part of has been awarded the Mention of Excellence by the National Agency for Quality Evaluation and Accreditation and the Spanish Ministry.

Castellón is no doubt a leading Peace Studies Program, and it has formed a large part of Innsbruck’s core team of professors either on the MA or PhD level, like Josefina Echavarría, Norbert Koppensteiner, Jennifer Murphy, Fabian Mayr and others. The Postgraduate Program in Peace Studies in Castellón offers a unique opportunity for students to live by the Valencian Coast of the Mediterranean. This means that my initial negative impressions were bound to pass very soon, I was just hung-over from having left my Brazilian summer… to discover an incredible weather in which I can carry out outdoor activities all year round. Now I can go hiking in the mountains, swimming in rivers, visiting nearby small villages or simply enjoy the sun by the beach as if I were home…