In 2014 Jana Arsovska was named one of the Top 25 criminal justice professors in the US by the leading forensic sciences website ForensicsColleges.com noting that “the professors on this list have gone above and beyond in terms of leadership and professional contributions.” On the 2nd of July, she is returning to her Alma Mater to deliver this year’s ACT Commencement Speech, and to share with the graduating students some valuable lessons learned in life.
Jana Arsovska ACT ’03, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Sociology and from Fall 2019 she will be the co-director of the International Criminal Justice BA Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York. She teaches International Criminology, Crime & Justice in the Balkans, Transnational Crime, Qualitative Research Methods, and other courses. Her most recent award-winning book Decoding Albanian Organized Crime: Culture, Politics, and Globalization (University of California Press, 2015) examines some of the most widespread myths about the so-called Albanian Mafia. She is also the recipient of the 2015 Outstanding Book Award, Division of International Criminology, American Society of Criminology; 2015 Best Publication Award, International Association for the Study of Organized Crime; 2016 Outstanding Book Award, International Section, Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.
You have achieved an acclaimed academic career in International Criminal Justice. Which factors played a key role in developing your interest in this field?
Two main factors: the socio-political context in which I grew up, and my studies in International Relations at ACT. I come from a country in which crime is a topic that dominates news headlines on a daily basis. I was eleven years old when the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was drawn into highly destructive conflict. By March of 1998, the situation in Kosovo become highly unstable. At that time, the international press labeled North Macedonia, my native country, the Balkan “oasis of peace” because it wasn’t as affected by the regional wars as the other republics. Once the conflict spread to Kosovo, however, it became clear that regional conflict would have serious consequences for North Macedonia as well. In July of 1998, against the backdrop of a rising fear among the population in North Macedonia, my parents sent me to Tennessee as an exchange student. The TV news regularly reported on incidents of kidnappings and torture in parts of my country. In 1999, I came back, and I remember the government advising residents not to leave our cities and to avoid traveling on specific roads.
I studied international relations at ACT, and my studies contributed significantly to my desire to better understand how countries, as well as international organizations, cooperate in order to fight injustices around the world, and how countries learn from each other’s experiences in order to improve domestic and international policies and laws. My studies enabled me to become a global citizen of this world and to gain knowledge about global politics, public policy, international relations, and global security. Years later, I still tell my students that it is not enough to only look at what is happening in your own backyard. To know if something will work in your country, you need to know what works, or doesn’t work, in other countries. Also, when studying transnational or international crimes, it is impossible to talk about effective policies without talking about politics, corruption, cooperation between countries (or lack thereof), bilateral agreements, and diplomatic relations. Finally, it goes without saying that studying abroad (in Greece, the U.S., and later in Belgium) gave me the confidence to embark on new challenges, throw myself outside of my comfort zone, and think through problems in a critical manner.
How would you describe your overall experience at ACT and in Thessaloniki and/or Greece? What do you remember fondly of those days? One of the best times of my life. I have great memories from my days at ACT. There was such a great sense of community. I remember having so many friends from so many different countries with whom I socialized in the school cafeteria on a daily basis. Some lifelong friendships were made there! I also remember working on various projects together with classmates while having so much fun. I remember Dr. Wisner’s classes and the engaging (often funny!) videos/documentaries he shared with us. The teaching styles of the professors, their open-mindedness and critical thinking skills, their encouragement and support, their ability to connect (and stay connected) with the students...those are some things I will never forget. Some of the best classes happened at ACT because the professors listened to what we, the students, had to say and encouraged an atmosphere where we all learned from each other. I believe that doing so sparks tolerance for different points of view. Being a teacher myself now, I try to replicate some of those teaching styles I appreciated so much while being a student at ACT. Teaching should be about learning right alongside the students in your classroom while having fun. If you have the passion and are having fun, then your students will catch your passion and share the fun. And most importantly, teaching is about enabling someone to be a critical thinker rather than a passive information processor.
Being a teacher myself now, I try to replicate some of those teaching styles I appreciated so much while being a student at ACT.
Prior to becoming an educator, you worked as a consultant on Albanian/Balkan organized crime for several organizations, including the World Bank, U.N., and DCAF, and the European Forum for Restorative Justice. How did your professional experiences shape your approach to the classroom? I bring my practical experience to all of my classes and to all of my research projects. Even when I teach theory, I try to give practical examples as often as I can. There is no good policy without a good theory; the two are closely connected. I tell students stories from my field work in the Balkan region, my interviews with victims and offenders, and my training at Interpol, as well as from my work done at various international organizations. Students always tend to remember my practical examples. And there’s nothing better than seeing the light bulbs go off during a lesson, or seeing students experience the “aha” moment as I relate something they learned in the classroom to real-life scenarios. I always tell students that they must take as many internships as they can while they are studying. It is essential to bridge the gap between theory and practice. If you have practical experiences and are able to make connections between the materials that you study and real-life, then you are truly learning. In life, we must rely on a combination of both practical (metis) and technical (techne) knowledge.
As this year’s Commencement Speaker at ACT, what would you advise your young audience? Some lessons in life I learned the hard way, through trial and error followed by the humility that comes from overcoming those mistakes. Other lessons I learned through observing those whom I consider great role models. So, this is my modest advice: - Know your values and the rules you will abide by, regardless of the circumstances you face. Communicate your values openly to others in an effort to create an atmosphere of certainty and trust. Basically, know who you are and what you stand for. - Have integrity and live by example. Be able to say “do as I do” rather than just “do as I say.” - Listen without being condescending. Always be willing to hear what others have to say without rushing to judgment. - Don’t say “no” to opportunities because they often open doors. - Try to be as independent as possible. When you depend on other people your choices will be limited. - Find your strengths and passions. Think: what are some things happening in this world that I hate so much? Is it animal abuse, wars, financial crisis, polluted water, crime and corruption, genocide, the rise of an unhealthy society, child abuse...? Once you’ve established what your passions are allow those passions to drive you to success. - Use your time wisely. That doesn’t mean don’t have fun, it simply means do your best not to waste the time you have. Stay focused on your goal and pick your fights wisely. - Learn from your mistakes and improve your game each time. Sometimes there is no “blueprint” to follow, and there is also no time to wait for the perfect plan to be dropped at your feet. - Delay gratification. The longer you wait for something, the more you will appreciate it when you get it. What we know for sure is that constantly getting things instantaneously makes people less patient. And patience is necessary for one of the most important aspects of our lives: social interaction and relationships. - Limit the use of smartphones and social media. Go out and socialize in the real world. Make real friends. Have a cup of coffee. There is no doubt that the mobile phone is a very useful tool and today mobile phones are a major part of society. But every technology that provides benefits comes with a consequent price. Think about the irony of how social media actually makes us anti-social.
Thank you for your time You are welcome. And thank you, too.