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Immersive Study Trip Enriches Students’ Grasp of Conflict Management in El Salvador

Group image of the study trip to El Salvador

From March 20-24, 2023, Professor Siniša Vuković led 16 Johns Hopkins SAIS students on a conflict management study trip to El Salvador—an immersive experience designed to enhance academic research and prepare the students for real-world scenarios. It was another demonstration of the emphasis on experiential learning as a fundamental aspect of the educational approach at SAIS—providing students with practical tools to foster their understanding of complex global challenges.

The trip to El Salvador was the 20th in the series of conflict management field trips, in which SAIS students previously studied conflict dynamics in many other regions, including Haiti, Kosovo, Mindanao (Philippines), Colombia, Northern Ireland, Casamance (Senegal), Sri Lanka, Korea, Tunisia, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Following the trip to El Salvador, the students shared their findings and conclusions in a trip report presentation titled “El Salvador, Exiting the Cycle of Gang-Related Violence”— that yielded an animated debate session.

“It was a fascinating study and a really fun group to work with,” said Maggie Smith, one of the student participants. "I loved being a part of this trip.” 
During the El Salvador trip, students had the unique opportunity to engage with key stakeholders and high-level officials for firsthand insights into the policy challenges related to curbing gang related violence in a post-conflict society. They met with El Salvador’s Vice President Felix Ulloa, Minister of Justice and Public Safety Gustavo Villatoro, as well as government officials in key ministries, diplomats in the embassies of the United States and the European Union, key officials from the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank, as well as people from international and local NGOs and independent experts and community leaders.

Group image, study trip to El Salvador
“The challenges of peacebuilding, state building, and nation building in post-agreement El Salvador remain an endless source of inspiration and guidance for the scholarly and policy community alike,” said Vuković, senior lecturer in Conflict Management and Global Policy at SAIS. “Yet, the ongoing situation in the country significantly defies the assumptions and conceptual underpinnings of our field. It resembles the post-conflict environments, yet it defies the classical approaches of peacebuilding that see various forms of power-sharing, policies of inclusion, and political mainstreaming of former insurgents. Instead, the emphasis is given to the state of exception, retributive justice, and concentration of power. These have become emerging trends that significantly condition conflict management approaches, and a chance to study them up-close in real time, has been of invaluable importance for our students.”
Some of the student participants from the El Salvador trip are already looking at other possibilities beyond the post-trip presentation. “Although I have completed my capstone, I plan to continue refining my paper into a publishable product,” said Cameron Vega. “I look forward to sharing my research on the state of exception in El Salvador and how it reinforces and is reinforced by the government’s securitization of gangs.”

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