A Final Note from the EU Study Abroad Program

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We are in the homestretch of our ten-week program and one of the many highlights this year is the sheer number of anniversary events that we marked as well as a few “firsts” for the EU program: the centennial of the Treaty of Versailles and as our first update mentioned, our group participated in the commemorations at the Palace of Versailles on June 28th. It was a “first” for us to make the local press while in Versailles as two of our students got to employ their French skills while interviewed by a TV crew. Two other students had the honor of laying a wreath at the Pershing and La Fayette statues alongside the mayor and other political dignitaries. This year was also NATO’s 70th birthday and the 75th anniversary of D-day in Normandy where we headed after our two days at Versailles to visit Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery, an important backdrop for our study of the changing role of the U.S. in the world and the current challenges facing the transatlantic relationship. Another first for the program was spending the night on the Mont Saint Michel, which was a perfect way to cap off our two days of study and reflection about the meaning of the past. Back for the final week of the Brussels stint, students welcomed a bit of levity and were lucky to enjoy all of the festivities around the Tour de France, which for the first time ever kicked off from Brussels to honor cycling hero Eddy Merckx and the 100th year tradition of the maillot jaune. We left Belgium after celebrating the 4th of July with host families and a few GT alumni. This year marked the100th anniversary of Romanian nationhood and the first time Romania held the rotating presidency of the EU, which in part motivated our decision to visit Bucharest, another first for the program! Incidentally, 2019 is the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and Christopher Street Day and the Pride parade took place while we were in Munich! Our final week in Paris started out with a bang as we arrived on Bastille Day and enjoyed a dinner cruise on the Seine and a spectacular firework show at the foot of the Eiffel tower!

Tapping into Nunn School Lecurer Eliza Markley’s professional network and 18- year career serving in the Romanian military, we next visited Romania, a NATO frontline country with a younger democracy who held the EU Council presidency from January to June 2019. We had, therefore, high hopes in terms of first, getting a sense of how Romania views its security challenges, second, examining issues related to transition, and last, but not least, getting behind the diplomatic curtain and understanding the goals and achievements of Romanian Council presidency.

From the security perspective, our study abroad in Romania started with a high level meeting with Major General Iulian Berdila, the chief of J5 (strategic planning) in the Ministry of National Defense (MoD). His impeccable English, honest and direct responses (of course, under Chatham House rules), and the fact that the General spent 45 minutes over the scheduled time to answer students’ questions created an instant personal connection with our group. This connection grew even stronger when we found out, at the end of the meeting, that General Berdila works closely with our own General Breedlove, who still provides advising to the Romanian MoD. General Berdila discussed genuinely and candidly the position of Romanian military within NATO as a frontline country and within the geostrategic space of the Balkans and Black Sea that. Two other presentations of former National Security Advisers and current members of the Research Institute of Bucharest University touched upon the threat of Russia and the civil-military relations in the context of transition from communism to democracy. 

Another aspect of transition discussed in Romania was a human rights issue: discrimination of Roma, an ethnic group that has been the subject of unjust prejudicial treatment in Romania, and in fact all over Europe, for centuries. Three researchers from the National Research Institute for Quality of Life presented how governmental policies have changed from forced assimilation during communism to integration, affirmative action and preservation of culture during democratic years of Romania. The researchers stressed the role of NGOs as the initial engine for change in the early 2000s and emphasized that governmental policies ensued only as a result of EU requirements. One sad note, however, was that although policies exist at governmental level, at individual and local levels, negative attitudes and prejudice against the Roma still exist.

Regarding Romania’s presidency of the EU Council, we received most of our answers from two sources: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department for Policies and Strategies within the Ministry of National Defense. One theme stood out: Romania’s goal throughout its presidency was to build cohesion among the EU member countries, regions, and people. The speakers largely evaluated the presidency as a success and Politico agreed.

After two days of official meetings, that followed days of getting to know Romania and Romania’s culture, we were off to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the little German village that hosts a unique institution - the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies (MC). Bob Kennedy, a professor emeritus in the Nunn School, who was the director of this Center between 1997 and 2002 would be very happy to know that students were amazed not only by the stunning beauty of the surrounding mountains but by the mission, cultural diversity, and achievements of this Center! Thursday, July 11th, we had a full day of presentations and discussions at the MC! And wow…students got to experience accommodation on a military base and taking the cable car to the highest pick in Germany – Zugspitze!

From Garmisch, the group travelled to Munich for two days. The first stop was at the Dachau concentration camp memorial site. The Center for European and Transatlantic Studies Post-Doctoral Fellow Claire Greenstein joined us to help contextualize the experience with her research on Germany’s handling of the war and its atrocities. This sobering experience allowed all of us to see the depths of evil of mankind, further demonstrating the need for international institutions to ensure “never again” is not only said but also enforced by the international community. After Dachau, the students went on a walking tour around Munich covering the rise of the Third Reich. It is a hotly debated topic as to whether the city has done enough to shine a light on its history in World War II, and the tour showcased why that is. The day ended with a dinner at the famous Hofbrauhaus in the city center. The next day was left open for the students to explore the city and enjoy the festivities and atmosphere of the Pride Parade.

The morning before leaving for Paris, the students took part in an EU-US Summit simulation that they have been preparing for most of the summer. They debated issues such as trade protectionism, the economic and security risks posed by China, and the Iran Nuclear Deal. This exercise provided the students with insight as to how negotiations between these two parties would go and how difficult it can be to find compromise in today’s political climate.

Here in Paris we have visited both the Senate and the National Assembly as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to expose students to French perspectives on European and transatlantic affairs and today’s foreign policy challenges. Giving students an opportunity for professional development through discussions with policy makers as well as meeting career diplomats are important features of our program and this year was particularly interesting as the students had two different briefers at the US Embassy with Middle East and African experiences and expertise. They also got to meet two Nunn School graduates who are both working at the OECD ,Colby Mangels and Ted Bryan, bringing to life the Nunn School slogan “Shaping Global Policy Makers for the 21st Century”!

Please see our blog and Instagram for more student reflections and photos.


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: jpalacios9
  • Created: 07/25/2019
  • Modified By: jpalacios9
  • Modified: 07/25/2019

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