The French Senate

In the very last site visit of our program, we went to the French Senate located in Luxembourg Place where we learned more about the French government and the history of the building. The visit was bittersweet because we got to see the grandeur of the palace and amazing sights such as Napoleon’s throne and Victor Hugo’s senate seat, it also meant that our time together was coming to an end as shortly after, people started heading to the airport.

While we waited on the tour to begin, we were given a brief civics lesson on how the senate in France works; it is interesting to see how similar yet how different this Senate is to the one at home. The Senate is the upper house of the Parliament; they review bills and monitor the government. Unlike the National Assembly, they can not be dissolved and act as a guarantee of institutional stability. Senators are elected for 6-year terms through indirect elections carried out by population-proportionate districts. 

After this, we got to walk through the palace, starting in the west wing, which is the original building built by Queen Marie de’ Medici. Here we learned about the many historical aspects of the building. 

We started our visit in the famous Salle du Livre d’Or which is the only part that remains the same from Queen Marie de’ Medici original palace.

After the French Revolution, the Palace was converted into a legislature and was briefly the first residence of Napoleon Bonaparte since he was the first consul of the Republic. From this comes some of the palaces most interesting artifacts. The Salle des Conférences was commissioned during the second Empire and thus holds mainly that stye but it also includes Napoleon’s Throne which was used both by Napoleon and Napoleon III. 

After we walked through here we went into the main Senate chamber where we learned about the Senate’s procedures, and we got the rare honor of being able to sit in their seats; we are able to literally see everything from their positions. We saw the seats of previous notable senators such as Victor Hugo. 

Then we made our way to the Library where we were able to look in, the Senate holds many copies very old and rare books including some that in Napoleon’s collections. After that we walked out through the grand main entrance into the Luxembourg Gardens, It truly was a memorable end to an amazing summer. 

Versailles – Symposium for the Treaty of Versailles

Hello everyone, my name is Cole. Recently, our EU Study Abroad Program had the amazing opportunity to travel to the Palace of Versailles. However, we were not on any normal visit to the chateau; we were attending the symposium to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Attending this event was absolutely one of the highlights of our program, and we were extraordinarily grateful to be invited.

While traveling from Brussels the day before the symposium, we made a quick stop in the French town of Compiègne. This city is home to the Armistice Memorial, which is what brought an end to the conflict on the western front during World War I. In 1918, on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, members from both sides of the conflict convened in a railcar, and agreed to halt the hostilities. However, it would be approximately seven months before the Treaty of Versailles actually was signed. Unfortunately, the original railcar was destroyed during the second world war, but an exact replica exists in its place.

Later that day we reached Versailles. This was my first time at the palace, and I was awestruck at the magnitude and ornateness of the entire building. It was clear that tourists had traveled from all across the world to see the structure. We had the afternoon to explore the chateau and surrounding areas. Walking from room to room, it is hard to take in the extreme historical significance of the location, especially considering how many world-changing events took place there. From the absolute monarchs such as Louis XIV, the siege from the mobs during the French Revolution, the crowning of the German Emperor, and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, this space was the backdrop of world history. After touring the palace and the gardens, we ate a much appreciated three course meal to end of our day.

The next morning on the 100-year anniversary, we changed into our formalwear, and prepared for the symposium. While this event is not a celebration of the Treaty of Versailles, it is a commemoration of the long-lasting effects and new world order the treaty created. The first speaker we heard from was Monique Seefried, who we had met a few months earlier in Atlanta. She was there to welcome us all to Versailles and to explain the significance of the event. Prior to leaving Brussels, our program read “The Treaty of Versailles: A Very Short Introduction” which was a not-so-short book detailing the politics surrounding the treaty. This was a great way to prepare for our day, and we got to hear from the author himself, Dr. Michael Neiberg.

While we were at the symposium, some students had the opportunity to ask questions to the speakers. One of our program participants, Ellie Wagnerin, asked about the American view of being a world power. One hundred years ago, the United States was still very concerned about being an isolationist nation. Congress blocked our participation in the League of Nations, and we refrained from joining most multilateral organizations. Today however, the United States is the clear global leader, but it is interesting that some of the isolationist trends are reemerging. After the first half of the day, we grabbed our picnic bags and went out to the gardens to eat lunch.

For the rest of the day, we had speakers that discussed American Humanitarian aid and Philanthropy during the first World War. I found this particularly interesting as it is a large part of history that is seldom talked about. Both of our speakers on these subjects gave amazing presentations on the significance of American participation during the war, and how these actions still affect the world today.

After the conclusion of the symposium, our program travelled over to the Pershing-Lafayette Monument on the outskirts of the city. This monument was built to represent the long lasting friendship between France and the United States. Lafayette was known as one of the most important generals during the American Revolution as without his help, the United States would likely have not achieved independence. French aid was crucial to American victory, and we own Lafayette a great deal of gratitude. It was not until World War I, when General Pershing led an army to Europe to help save France, was this debt finally repaid. Although these two men lived hundreds of years apart from each other, they are an excellent example of the strong Franco-American alliance, which has existed throughout our entire history. 

Before the festivities began here, a news outlet covering the event asked if any students would be interested in answering a few questions on French news. Some of our best French speaking students, Grace Fanson and Jack Sheldon, were asked about their time here in France, and how they felt the alliance is still strong today. 

At the monument, there was a ceremony celebrating the steadfast alliance. Important individuals, including the Mayor of Versailles, spoke on the importance of this relationship, and it’s role in the modern world. A wreath was laid at the base of both statues of Lafayette and Pershing. Two of our students, Hannah Kitzmiller and Kyle Smith, were chosen to lay the wreath at the base of Lafayette. This event concluded with the playing of The Star Spangled banner and La Marseillaise. 

While we may have had a long day, it wasn’t quite over yet. In fact, we were in for a huge surprise at our next location. After the ceremony, we then traveled to the old building of foreign affairs from the time of the French monarchy. After the Revolution, this location had been converted into a library, and now holds a large collection of extremely old and valuable books. While this alone is fascinating, one of the guides said he had a book that would be very important to us. He returned with an original typed copy of the United States Constitution that was sent to King Louis XVI in 1789. To have such an important document sitting only a few feet from us was an awesome experience, one that we felt we could not get even in the United States. 

After some light refreshments, we were made aware that there was a piano in the library. Our program director, Dr. Birchfield, was recently joined by her husband who we all call Steve. Steve has a career in music, and likes to put on a small concert once every year for the summer program. We gathered into one room for the performance of some excellent blues music. The last song played was Georgia on My Mind. If we weren’t missing home a little already, we certainly are now. 

After such an epic day, we finally made it back to the hotel. There we all ate pizza together and watched the United States Women’s Soccer Team be victorious and advance to the semifinals. We were all very appreciative of the historic events we witnessed earlier that day.

George C. Marshall Center, US Embassy, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Le Quai d’Orsay)

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Yesterday we visited the George C. Marshall Center in Hôtel de Talleyrand, the US Embassy, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Our first stop was my favorite of the day. The Hôtel was built in 1767 for the comte de Saint-Florentin, however the building bears the name of famous French diplomat Charles-Maurice Talleyrand who lived and died there. This building is not open to the public except for on heritage day in France when they greet thousands of guests. I can imagine people standing shoulder to shoulder trying to get a glimpse of the intricate panels and fireplaces in each tiny room. I feel very privileged to have visited this building in such a private circumstance. The Talleyrand Hôtel is unique in that it holds multiple rich histories. We learned about Talleyrand’s life and activities at the same time as we imagined desks packed into a room while people worked on the Marshall plan.

Our guide explained that when the Hôtel was built, it w as on the outskirts of the city. If you had a lot of money, it was better to build your mansion far away from the overcrowded and dirty city center. One of the first rooms we saw had an Asian theme to the wall paper. Our guide explained that it was very fashionable to display this style at the time as trade between France and Asia had just opened. Then, we saw a room with big green curtains called the grand reception room. From the window we could see the obelisk which our guide told us was either a gift to Napoleon or a stolen good depending on who you talk to. The guillotine stood in that square during the Reign of Terror and it is also marks the beginning of the French Revolution. The next room was the State Office where the most important people were received by Talleyrand. This room had the most gold leaf on the walls and ceiling and was where the most important people worked during the creation of the Marshall Plan. The next room we saw was an addition by the Rothchild family who lived there for one hundred years. While the Hôtel was being renovated, one of the last Rothchilds recounted having breakfast in that room with his nanny. He also remembered a secret staircase he used to climb down from his room to get to the lower levels of the house. I was able to find the door to the staircase 

when I ducked back into the other room. (This is very exciting as I have dreamed of secret passageways since I was a little girl) Finally, we saw the room where many talks and speeches were given during the Marshall plan. After a few words from Dr. Birchfield about the significance of George C.  Marshall and what he meant to the reconstruction of Europe and its relationship to the US, we headed to the US embassy. 

The US embassy security made airport security look like a walk in the park. We were relieved of our passports, phones, headphones, chargers etc. and shuttled through two metal detectors. We arrived in a beautiful conference room where we sat in comfy chairs around a big table. We learned that this is the oldest US Embassy that was specifically built to be a US embassy. We could even see the letters USA woven into the original wallpaper. There, we met Kevin O’Connor from Strategic Communication and Phaedra Gwyn from African Regional Services. They gave us a glimpse into the life of a foreign service officer. Both of them spoke several languages and have lived all over the world. Ms. Gwyn, who currently works for African Regional Services, used to live in South Sudan in a “tricked out storage container.” She told us about her experience in Turkey being a black woman speaking Turkish. She said that she was able to get a lot of people to listen to her just because of who she was.

We learned about their paths and what it takes to become a foreign service officer. There is a test called the Foreign Service test which consists of a general knowledge section and a practical understanding section. After you pass this portion, there is an oral and IQ exam in DC. Both Mr. O’Connor and Ms. Gwyn failed some part or all of this exam before eventually passing. Their stories were the perfect mix of exciting and practical. I think we got a good understanding of what it is like to work in this part of government: usually not glamorous but certainly exciting and fulfilling.

After regaining possession of our passports and electronics, we took a break for lunch. A group of us stopped at a take-away restaurant where we got sandwiches and other goodies. We had a picnic in the garden in between the Seine and Hôtel des Invalides. Dr. Birchfield told us a little about the historic buildings surrounding us and we took a group picture with Hôtel des Invalides in the background.

After a short walk across the street we entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We were greeted by the friendliest little cat who wanted as much attention as it could get. We originally planned on visiting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs two days ago but I thought this was much better timing. It was interesting to learn the French perspective on topics we have been studying for the past ten weeks just after hearing from the US embassy. It seems that our countries agree on many things but still have important differences. Both the Embassy and the Ministry taught us how important it is to work past these differences in order to preserve a strong alliance. Our speaker talked a little about the difference between an ally and a partner and symbology of each word. He told us an ally is someone who agrees on most foreign policy while a partner has major differences. Some countries who share similar foreign policy, like Morocco, are only partners because of historical reasons that need to be respected. I found this anecdote to be particularly symbolic of the work of diplomats. Word choice and interpersonal communication is everything. 

Today’s site visits taught us about the world of diplomacy in the nineteenth century, after World War II and now. Though government buildings are often dazzling, diplomacy is more than appearances. It takes a great deal of interpersonal skills, knowledge of the world, and nuance to affect change.  It was a great privilege to visit some places most Parisians have never seen and hear from people on the front lines of diplomacy.

Asemblee Nationale

Our visit to the National Assembly started at 8:10 AM when we departed. After going through security we were immediately greeted by our friendly guide that would teach us how the legislative branch of France works as well as some of the history behind the building. Our very first event was a short but compact six minute movie about the functions of the Assembly and Senate. The National Assembly is made up of 577 deputes that represent the different regions of France. These M.P.s will separate into different political groups and proposes different legislation. This legislation is passed between the senate and national assembly, but the national assembly has the final say.

After the movie we looked at some art on the outside of the room that depicted some of France’s history. On one side of the wall it showed 200 years of history after the revolution such as World War One, the right for women to vote, and the Treaty of Rome. On the other side there was a very controversial painting that depicted the slavery past of France. It depicts some black characters with exaggerated features that are classically seen as racist. The artist defends his work by talking about his experiences in many African countries and by saying that he paints all of his characters with the same faces.

In the large parliament room we saw were all of the M.P.s sit to vote on legislation and question the twenty ministers. This questioning is limited to fifteen questions and only two minutes for responses. Above the ministers the public may come and observe the sessions, and above that the press are invited to report on the events. In the center of the room there is the original speakers desk with a painting of ancient Greece on top to represent their founding principle: democracy. The seats are numbered, and each M.P. has a designated chair to record their vote without a doubt. They are also seated based on political party rather than region. The last change added some seats in the 1980s, but now there is a desire to reduce the number of seats for the sake of streamlining the national assembly.

Next was the largest reception room which was the ballroom. This was originally made by the daughter of King Louis XIV 300 years ago in order to accommodate her friend that she wanted to see. Outside there was an English style garden and on the other side there was a gallery that was made in order to show off paintings, but they were sold many years ago and replaced with tapestries.

The next interesting landmark was the Tribunes de la Presse. This is where the press had their own special elevator to go up to where they could observe the ongoing discussions. Afterwords we also saw the room of lost footsteps where press often had to wait for interviews with the M.P.s. This room was defined by the idea that peace is associated with technological progress. So the railway was depicted along with a steam engine. There was also a banner in this room that spoke about the early stance that France had come to in condemning other countries such as the United States in their continued segregation even during times of war.

The beautiful gardens outside were not only for the enjoyment of nature, but as a reminder to the important figures that have given their life for the democracy of France. There was a memorial for the thirty congressman that died in World War One and fifteen that died in World War Two. There was also a statue of Montesquieu who gave not only France but the United States the idea of balance of powers within the government.  Finally there was a statue to represent the first time that women got to exercise their right to vote in 1945.

Next up was the Salle Delacroix. This beautiful room was painted by Delacroix and it showed all of France’s economy. On the ceiling there were the four main sources of wealth: agriculture, justice, industry, and war. The 5 main rivers of France were also painted here with a floor that was made with marble from all over France to represent the different regions of France. This room was originally the kings throne room which is why it is so focused on the wealth and power of France.

The main entrance was composed of some very important and meaningful art. Over the entrance was a painting which represented inefficiency and hostility. This meant to leave these things at the door and prepare for a productive and positive outlook which is what was painted on the opposite side. Under this a bronze sculpture was displayed that showed the start of the assembly as a celebration of the 100 years it had been standing.

Finally we ended in the conference room and library. These two rooms are the main place that M.P.s can get their work and research done. The library had a very extensive collection that was ten times the size of what books were visible at the top. The collection included some very important pieces such as one of ten original copies of the Joan of Arc trial and a 1000 year old copy of the bible. with such resources available to the M.P.s lets hope that they can keep serving their country and people with pride and efficiency.

 

Our Trip to Munich

Upon our arrival to Munich, our study abroad group was given background on our two main visits that would occur within our couple of days in this historical city. Our visit to Munich was in order to supplement our understanding of the creation and duration of Nazi Germany, as well as learning how this state resulted in the beginning of World War II. We began our journey to further understanding of Nazism with our visit to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, which was the pilot concentration camp that formed the method of how individuals would be treated at concentration camps during the Final Solution. This site is also a memorial to the 41,500 lives lost at this concentration camp.

Our study abroad group, accompanied by Dr. Claire Greenstein, a professor at Georgia Tech with a background in German history, began our visit with the film offered at the memorial site. This film gave an inside look as to how Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany, followed by his dictatorship that created the Dachau Concentration Camp as one of its first projects. This concentration camp was first intended for political prisoners, which consisted of politicians and activists that held ideals that differed from the National Socialist Party. The identities expanded to include Jewish people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay men, and other minority populations in Germany by 1935 in order to promote a pure Germany. This film detailed the terrible conditions in which the prisoners were forced to endure and conveyed the feelings of hopelessness of all who were sent to Dachau. Following this film, we were given the opportunity to explore the memorial site and educate ourselves on the events that took place at this concentration camp, as well as the lessons learned from Germany after World War II.

Later in our visit to Munich, we attended a walking tour of the Third Reich. This tour supplemented our knowledge of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany with historical sight-seeing and an engaging tour guide to lead us around Munich. We began in the center of Munich, where we were given some background information on Hitler’s political career before he became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933. We learned that the well-known book, Mein Kampf, was written during his time in jail, where he had been imprisoned for his political views. This book contained the anti-Semitic ideology that Hitler later used as a tool to convince the German people that he held the solution to their economic crisis following World War I. We also visited a hotel that was the site in which a group of Hitler’s followers decided to dedicate their lives to protecting the Chancellor; these men were later known as Hitler’s secret service. The tour ended by the tour guide leading us to the location where the Nazi Party derived its origin story from. At this location, several Nazis were in armed conflict with other policemen that resulted in the death of six Nazi politicians. In order to honor the lives of these politicians, it was necessary to salute to their memorial as one would walk past this specific location. The photo below shows where this memorial was once placed.

This memorial had unintentionally created Dodger’s Alley, where those who did not wish to salute at this memorial would take an alternate route, which became very unsafe as the Nazi Regime took a stronger hold in Germany. Today, this site is often used as a place events that would have never been condoned under Nazi Germany, such as Munich Pride. This tour gave us an important understanding of what the Third Reich looked like for those who lived in Germany during that time, as well as an understanding of how present-day Munich addresses its past.

Trip to Garmisch!

After an incredibly early departure from our hotel in Bucharest at 5:30 am to make it to our next destination- Garmisch, I enjoyed a nice nap on the bus ride over to the city where I woke up to the most beautiful landscape. We were surrounded by mountains from every side. I was awestruck at the scenery of the place.

Upon our arrival, we took a gondola up to the highest peak of Germany, Zugispteze. A few of us climbed to the very top of the mountain, while others enjoyed some nice German food with an incredible view. We also went to down to Lake Eibsee afterwards, which had the most crystal clear water with another beautiful view of the mountains enclosing the lake from every side. I had never witnessed so much natural beauty in front of my eyes.

The next day we heard from a few of the folks from the George C. Marshall Center. Dr. Pál Dunay spoke to us about the way security as a whole is changing in concept. We learned about the challenge of China with the rising power it has in the political and economic spheres in terms of the growth of Chinese businesses and the 5G network of Huawei. Russia was another major point of conversation. Our speaker described Russia to be on defense since the Cold War. Their opposing values from the western countries have led them to disrupt many other nations, where small states generally suffer the consequences. He explained that the west continues to grow when it acts in the name of values, norms, and interest of people rather than regimes. 

Dr. Matthew Rhodes spoke to us about the US-German relationship. The Marshall Center is in essence a symbol of the German-American friendship that we have built over the years. We have been partners in leadership for some time now. However, Dr. Rhodes did express some concern with our new administration threatening this strong relationship we have built over time. With the straining relationship between Merkel and Trump due to differing opinions on climate change and approaches towards funding for NATO, the Germans are hoping for a new US administration to smooth tensions out. 

We also had the Dean of the college speak to us about security as a whole. As a realist, his views made many of us challenge our own ideas, and, in my opinion, understand the way we think. His world view came from a policymaker’s perspective, which meant he had many different ideas than those we were accustomed to. He came from an angle of someone who deals with security issues at a policy level. All of these briefings left us with a lot to think about.

Our bus ride leaving Garmisch was where everything fell into place. Our professor Dr. Markley started by telling us that it was harder for her to leave Garmisch than it was leaving Bucharest, Romania, the place where she was born and raised. Garmisch held a very special place in her heart, since it was where she was challenged to become the incredible woman and professor she is today. This is where she discovered what it meant to think for herself and to have her own opinions. It was the first time she was ever asked what she thought about the readings that they were assigned. From growing up in a communist country to coming to a place where they cared about what she thought, she experienced a major cultural shock- one that came to change her life as she later explained. The program she first attended at the Marshall Center was one where each person was from a different nation. Hearing different people’s opinions about topics they discussed showed her the importance of diversity in thought. The Marshall Center specifically chooses people of all different nationalities to encourage this flow of different ideas from various backgrounds coming together. It is part of what makes this center we visited so special. This experience shaped the way that Dr. Markley styles her classroom structure today. She is a professor who engages in discussion with her students. Rather than a strict lecture-based style of teaching, she makes it a point to ask students what they think about the readings to foster that same growth and development she got from the Marshall Center early on. She emphasizes the value of being an active and critical thinker, which are concepts she so drastically developed in Garmisch at the George C. Marshall Center, the very place where we were able to stay and learn from. 

Her experiences made us put into perspective the privilege we have as students in America where we are allowed to think freely, and people care about what we have to say. The free society we have should never be taken for granted, because it is so fragile but also so rewarding. We live in this dynamic world of democracy where we really must appreciate what it means to be free and to be a critical thinker. These are privileges Dr. Markley did not always have growing up in communist Romania, but we, so fortunately, do. What does it mean to be in our free society? It means we can enjoy making our own choices. It also means we have a responsibility to utilize this incredible privilege we have. We were lucky enough to be born in a society that believes in us, and we must take a step up to make use of this advantage. 

We also all shared our opinions about the briefings from the day before. As we heard from many different perspectives that challenged our own, it made some of us question our identities. One student spoke about the theories of international affairs and how realism, one of the theories of international affairs, seemed so binary. He questioned the mutual exclusiveness of the theories. In the real world, many different ideas and concepts seem to intertwine and being defined by one school of thought may not seem as clear. When reflecting upon the issues regarding China, many concerns were brought up. Many of us had a difficult time swallowing the mentioning of China’s respect to human rights. As mentioned by one of our briefers, there is ‘no hope’ left for the Chinese in terms of human rights. Many of us felt strongly about this statement. However, as another concerned student from our group mentioned during our bus ride discussion, the mere existence of liberal institutions were created to protect people from the violations of human rights. We cannot give up on serious issues like these. My two cents on this: we cannot lose hope and the importance of ideas. Yes, realists understand the value of rules and the practicality of the real world, but there is always something better to believe in and work towards. It sobered me to hear our other professor, Dr. Birchfield, say that she sometimes feels like a fool for believing and having so much faith in the world, but I admire her for the strength she continues to have through the reality we live in. A hint of naivety and optimism may be seen as my weakness by many, but I believe it to be some of my greatest strengths. I believe it is necessary to have hope and work towards a better future, where we can protect basic needs, such as human rights, and build upon the values of a free society. Garmisch put a lot into perspective for us. Many heavy security issues were discussed, and the state of the world as we understand it was put into question as well. I cherished every moment I spent in that city, whether it was climbing to the peak of Germany on day one or hearing Dr. Markley’s insightful stories as we left. I could not have imagined a better few days at a place like this, and I feel so blessed to have had such an incredible opportunity. 

Research Institute for Quality of Life and Romanian Ministry of Defense

We began our Monday morning with a visit to the Research Institute for Quality of Life at the Romanian Academy, which is one of the largest research institutes in Romania. Established in 1990, the Institute for Quality of Life conducts research spanning many different areas, such as quality of life, standard of living, social policy, and social problems. Our specific presentations were focused largely on the socioeconomic situation and health status of the Roma population in and around Romania. I was really excited to learn more about the Roma, after hearing about just a small portion of the discrimination and struggles they face during a lecture at the beginning of our program. One of the key points that was brought up at the start of the briefing is the complicated question of who is a Roma. According to a 2011 census, it is estimated that there are 12 million Roma around the world, with 8 million spread across Europe and an estimated 1.2 to 2.5 million living in Romania. We quickly learned that the accuracy of these numbers is right to be questioned and that the idea of who is a Roma has varied across time, location, and political spheres and even varies in terms of language and race. 

The Romanian Academy

I really enjoyed learning about how Romanian policies concerning the Roma have changed and evolved over the past decades. Assimilation policies during socialism included forced settlement and proletarization, which mostly incorporated unskilled or semi-skilled workers. One point that I found really interesting was the fact that many socialist policies did actually manage to improve the socioeconomic well-being of the Roma; however, local authorities were not very eager to implement these policies. On top of this, socialist policies also unfortunately destroyed most traditional Roma craftswork. Post-socialism found the Roma in a place of economic restructuring, with mass unemployment and NGOs taking the largest role in addressing the Roma plight until the 2000s. In the 1990s, NGOs implemented several policies aimed at improving the situation of the Roma that are still utilized today, including providing school mediators, health mediators, and job fairs. On top of this history of oppression and discrimination, there are still many major unresolved problems that the Roma people continue to face. Discrimination of Roma takes various forms, including school segregation of Roma across Romania. There is also a lack of medical services and insurance, and Roma children often don’t benefit from mandatory vaccines. 

Learning about the Roma at the Research Institute for Quality of Life

It was heartbreaking to learn that there is an estimated 70 percent of the Roma population either in or at risk of poverty. There has also been an increase in settlements of Roma type ghettos, ethnic neighborhoods where Roma are forced to stay in one location either by police or because they quite literally have no where else to go. Issues in these ghettos include everything from overcrowding and extreme poverty to floods, industrial hazards, and landslides. One of the stories told that stuck with me the most is about a Roma family living in a small room in one of the ghettos, where on top of all there other struggles, has to cover their faces at night with anything they can find to avoid rats chewing at them as they try to sleep. It was difficult to hear about stories like these, but it really made me understand how incredibly important the work that the Institute for Quality of Life is doing to raise awareness about the struggles and discrimination that the Roma people experience everyday.  

Fellow students at the Research Institute for Quality of Life

         Later that day, we had the incredible opportunity of visiting the Ministry of National Defense and hearing an outstanding briefing from Major General Iulian Berdillo, the head of the Strategic Planning Directorate. He began by explaining to us some of the basics of the Romanian armed forces, which were established in 1859 but have significantly evolved since then. One point that was made that I found interesting is that despite the seemingly smaller size of the Romanian armed forces, they are still very strong in the region. Romania also has a strong commitment to NATO, participating in NATO operations in Africa, the Middle East, and beyond. Another really interesting point that Major General Berdillo made was the strong ties between Romania and the United States. The United States recognizes the important strategic role that Romania plays in the area with both the Balkans and the Black Sea region. Romania and the United States have a relatively recent but strong history as allies, with just a couple examples being the Alabama National Guard State Partnership Program, a US led battle group in Poland, and the Aegis Ashore facility in Deveselu. Major General Berdillo did an excellent job answering all of our many questions, and I really appreciated how much he emphasized the role us students have in the future of international relations and security. 

The whole group with Major General Berdillo!

Following Major General Berdillo’s briefing, we also had the wonderful opportunity of hearing about a broader view of Romania in the EU, NATO, and defense planning. During this, we heard a lot about the importance of Romania’s opportunity to hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU. When talking about the Presidency, it was stated that Romania tried to be both realistic and ambitious in their goals. Although Romania faced some struggles during their six month presidency, I was really impressed to hear that they were able to achieve many of their initial goals, one of which being making significant progress with PESCO. Having the presidency for the first time and being largely successful with it, was of incredible importance for Romania and their relationship within the European Union. 

Dr. Markley gifting Major General Berdillo with some Georgia Tech goodies!

         One aspect of our stay that really made the visit so much more special was having our professor Dr. Markley there with us. The excitement she had for sharing the country she grew up in and cares so much about made all the difference when it came to really taking full opportunity of this once in a lifetime visit. I know all of the students are incredibly grateful for the unique perspective her background in Romania and experience with the Romanian Military has given her in teaching our classes and how our visits in Romania wouldn’t have been possible without her. Thank you Dr. Markley!

First Days in Romania!

This past Friday morning, we flew from Brussels to Bucharest. Upon our arrival, we took the scenic route to our hotel during which Alina Opreanu, an Atlanta staff member for Georgia Tech Lorraine who was born in Romania, pointed out some of the major landmarks in Bucharest.  As the sixth largest metropole in the European Union and the capital of Romania, Bucharest has a lot to offer including Herăstrău Park, Piața Victoriei (Victory Plaza), and Piața Revoluției (Revolution Plaza).  One thing that I found really interesting during our tour was when Alina Opreanu explained the French influences in Bucharest which is sometimes referred to as “Little Paris”.  We saw the Arc de Triumph, similar to the one in Paris, and the Piața de Charles de Gaulle, named after the former French president.

Route of our bus tour

After touring the city and stopping by the hotel, we went out to dinner at a restaurant called Caru’ cu bere.  We got to try traditional Romanian food such as mititei (skinless sausages), sarmale (stuffed cabbages), and mămăligă (a type of polenta).  It was all delicious!  Like the food, the atmosphere of the restaurant was also amazing with live dance performances which I really enjoyed.  After dinner, we walked around downtown Bucharest and got to enjoy a light and fountain show.  It was a nice welcome and perfect ending to our first day in Romania.

Traditional Romanian food!

The next day, we visited the Palace of the Parliament.  Finished in 1997, it is the second largest administrative building besides the Pentagon in the United States and is larger than 60,000 square meters in size.  We took an hour tour, walked about one kilometer, and still only saw about 5% of the building; it truly is a massive building!  The inside was just as impressive as the size with beautiful chandeliers, marble staircases, and spacious conferences rooms.

Walking into the Palace of the Parliament

Tour in the Palace of the Parliament

After our tour of the Palace of the Parliament, we went to the “Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum where we got to see and walk inside some of the actual houses from villages around Romania.  It was interesting to see how the style of housing changed based on the time period and the location it was built in.  My favorite house was the Half-Buried House, as shown below, which was built in the early 19th century in southwest Romania.

Walking into the Village Museum

The Half-Buried House!

Later that day, we visited the National Museum of Contemporary Art which is located in the Palace of Parliament.  Started in 2001, this museum displays around 30,000 Romanian and international artworks in all different styles and time periods from the 1920s to the present.  One of my favorite exhibits was called “Seeing History-1947-2007” which includes artworks that celebrate the history of contemporary artwork in Romania.

Contemplating contemporary art with Dr. Markley 

Our next day in Romania was a free day.  A group of students decided to travel to the Transylvania region to go on two castle tours.  First of all, we went to Bran Castle which was built in 1377.  This castle is referred to as Dracula’s Castle because it was possibly the source of inspiration of the novel, Dracula.  It was fascinating to hear about this legend while enjoying the beautiful views from the castle. Next, we went to Peles Castle which was built in the late 19th century by King Carol I of Romania.  It was the first castle to have electricity in Europe, has a central heating system, and an opening stain glass roof.  The interior is magnificently decorated with impressive wood, mirror, and silk detailing in its 160 rooms.  Our daytrip to see the castles was a nice break from the busy city and a great chance to explore the beautiful countryside of Romania!

At Peles Castle!

Overall, during our first days in Romania, we’ve done a lot to explore the city of Bucharest and its surrounding areas.  With our program’s focus on the European Union, it is very appropriate to be visiting Romania at this time.  In earlier lectures, we learned that the Council of the European Union has a rotating presidency that lasts six months, and Romania just recently finished their term.  We’ve been able to see all of the remnants of their presidency still around Bucharest including signs on buildings and in the Palace of the Parliament.  One of my favorite things about this study abroad program is how we connect what we learn in a classroom to the real world, and our experience in Romania is another example of that wonderful opportunity.

The signs for the Romanian Presidency can be seen everywhere!

There are even signs in the Palace of the Parliament

The US Mission to the EU

For our last site visit in Brussels, we visited the US Mission to the European Union to get an American perspective on the transatlantic relationship that we have been studying throughout the program’s duration. While expecting to discuss issues like Iran, China, and trade, the briefer, who was an intellectual property and copyright lawyer in the embassy, discussed his work fighting copyright infringement. Even though we were not able to ask about general, large-scale diplomatic questions, his talk on the complexities of international copyright law was an interesting change of pace to the more technical, everyday work of personnel at the embassies.

The crew was waiting anxiously in the lobby!

Dr. Birchfield, ready to go!

He began his talk describing how the embassy is set up and the day-to-day challenges faced by those who work there. The larger embassy is broken into subsections that correspond to departments in the US. For example, the section he worked in was the US Commercial Service, which corresponds to the US Department of Commerce. He described the complexities of intellectual property (IP) law. IP touches other areas of law and is therefore not an isolated practice within the US Embassy. The briefer has to interact daily with other organizations and agencies within and outside the embassy when working. The US Embassy has to work especially close to Washington to make sure that there is a complete, cohesive position within the EU when it comes to IP law and policy. The IP office also has to work with American companies and all parties involved to get a comprehensive view for what is best for the US, its people, and its economy.

A case study examined at the briefing was the recent directive passed in March concerning copyright and IP rules for the Internet. He started off with the creative content on YouTube. Since there are many different aspects that go into a work, multiple parties have to contribute to the conversation in the US embassy to make sure the best policy for the US is pursued. As a group, we went over the interests the US had in that specific case compared to the EU. The US was mostly concerned about how the new law affects major US corporations and companies operating within the European Union while the EU was attempting to engage all sectors involved in the copyright process, giving a little bit to everyone while protecting the interests of the EU. The main takeaways that can be drawn from the briefing are that US interests are diverse, positions taken need to benefit the transatlantic economy, the day-to-day operations at the US embassy are complex, and various offices need to be flexible with different sectors of the economy to be successful.

Kyle Smith for President

After the official briefing, we were able to ask questions to the interns, Lizzy and Sam, who were working at the embassy. This was particularly interesting and insightful for me because I have a strong interest in working for the government, either for an internship or as a career. Some notable insights offered by the interns were that the day-to-day at an embassy is less lofty and theory focused and more in the weeds, the operations are more dynamic than initially was expected by them, and in working for the government, you are working for your country, not an administration.

Marc and Grace enjoying Lizzy’s company!

After our Q&A with the interns, we had a presentation by the Fulbright director for the Belgium, Luxembourg, and Schuman programs. This speaker was particularly dynamic and engaging as she regaled us with the story of her time as an intern with the state department and her surprise meeting with Hugo Chavez. The Fulbright program for students and professionals is an amazing opportunity to pursue what you are passionate about and get a global perspective while conducting research. After speaking to multiple people on the program, the general consensus from the group was that the presentation was eye-opening and the opportunity presented was an exciting one. Personally, I would be interested in pursuing the Fulbright Scholarship in the future, and I got the feeling that many others in the group would as well.

What a crazy Hugo Chavez story!

Fulbright Swag!

Our visit to the US Mission to the EU was a great way to finish off our leg of the trip in Brussels on a really positive note. The presentations not only covered concrete issues that are dealt with daily in the embassy, but also future career and research opportunities. Au revoir/Vaarwel to Brussels and Bună ziua Romania!

Normandy and Mont-Saint-Michel

On Friday and Saturday, after a very valuable but exhausting experience at Versailles, we travelled to Normandy and Mont-Saint-Michel.

I myself am a world war two history enthusiast. On a free weekend earlier in our stay in Brussels, I went to Bastogne on my own to see sites of the Battle of the Bulge. My grandfather took part in it, so it was incredible to stand on the very ground where he walked some 75 years ago. I not only visited the war museum, but also was able to walk in the Ardennes forest overlooking the town of Foy, passing by preserved fox holes that the men of the 101stairborne, the subjects of the book and miniseries Band of Brothers, would have shared in in -30-degree Celsius temperature. It was a very moving experience, and since our program did not have such a trip planned, I was incredibly grateful I could go on my own. Therefore, I was very excited to see Normandy on our weekend itinerary.

Although I was frustrated that we could only spend about an hour in Normandy, it was still incredible. We visited the American cemetery and museum at Omaha Beach. Of all the five beaches stormed on D-Day, soldiers on Omaha by far faced the fiercest resistance. Because bombing runs the previous night had largely missed their inland targets, German artillery overlooking Omaha was still relatively intact. That, combined with the fact that Americans would have to run across upwards of 300 yards of open beach, was a major factor contributing to the 3,000 casualties on Omaha alone.

I think Americans today generally see D-Day as a strictly American operation, with films like Saving Private Ryan, while an incredible depiction of the battle, overlook the contributions and suffering of others. The museum really highlighted how the invasion was truly an allied effort.

The British, dropping paratroopers the night before and landing at Sword and Gold Beaches, had over 62,000 troops participate in the invasion, suffering over 1,600 casualties. The Canadians suffered approximately 1,000 casualties from the 21,000 who landed at and captured Juno Beach. Even outside of the military operations, the civilian sacrifices were massive. In one Allied aerial bombardment of Caen, a city crucial to the Allied advance, almost 3,000 French civilians lost their lives. As the Allies moved further inland, the French resistance was also important, providing information on German movements and encampments

The museum as a whole was fantastic. It laid out in great detail the specific operations of the invasion, had timelines to show how the day unfolded, and told personal stories of individual sacrifice. It displayed many artifacts, including uniforms and an old transport jeep, but perhaps what was most powerful was the last item before exiting into the cemetery. In a glass case by itself, light shining from above, was a rifle dug into sand, a helmet rested on top. When bodies were buried on the battle fields during the war, these were used to mark their graves. From there, we could walk through the cemetery where over 9,000 Americans are buried. On a hill overlooking Omaha beach, it was an incredibly moving sight. The national anthem was played and there was a ceremony that appeared to be honoring several veterans who were visiting. It was hard to imagine that many of those men buried were just a few years older, if not the same age, as I am now.

Omaha Beach

Reflecting pool at the cemetery

After about fifteen minutes walking in the scorching heat, it was time to hop back on the bus for about two more hours, finally reaching Mont-Saint-Michel around 6:00 pm. We arrived at a perfect time: all the tourists were starting to leave. After getting off our coach bus and taking the shuttle to the gates of the island, we were led to our rooms, which were spread between four different hotels. My room was a bit more of a hike, but that meant it had an excellent view! After a delicious three course dinner, many of us took a walk on the muddy beach at dusk, enjoying some Frank Sinatra as the light at the top of the abbey shone through the growing darkness.

The next morning before we departed, many of us also led ourselves through a tour of the Abbey, able to see where the monks would have eaten, studied, and prayed, in addition to having even more breathtaking views of the surroundings. Back in Brussels, before we left for the weekend, my host family was incredibly jealous when I said we were spending the night on the island. I understand that reaction now, it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

View from the beach at night

View from the abbey garden

Our nine-hour bus ride back to Brussels allowed for some reflection on the weekend as the whole. Normandy and Mont-Saint-Michel painted very different pictures of humanity, yet both brought me back to this same idea of peace

Looking over the seemingly endless rows of white crosses at Normandy is really intense. Of course, everyone in the United States knows about D-Day, but I don’t think anyone can really come to terms with a sacrifice and suffering on such a tremendous scale without visiting for themselves. At least I hadn’t experienced it the same way before. And this was just onebattle in a six-year war.

When visiting Verdun several weeks ago, overlooking an even larger cemetery, I asked myself, what was all this for?Learning more about the futile nature of the first world war and the failure of Versailles this summer invoked many similar questions. The tremendous effort that went into rebuilding a collective Europe after the second world war, however, meant that, when looking at thousands of American tombstones in Normandy and thousands of German ones in Bastogne, the answer to that question is clearer. Although it was a war to that needed to be fought, it is still hard to fathom that we are capable of such devastation. It is a sight that will make you much more appreciative of the relatively peaceful world we live in today.

Spending time at Mont-Saint-Michel right after Normandy was really interesting. The first sanctuary on the island was built in 708, it resisted siege during the Hundred Years War, and during the French Revolution was used as a prison until 1863. Its history, obviously, is very diverse. To the people of the Middle Ages, however, it was paradise. Although now parts of it are quite touristy, I shared that feeling of paradise. I can only dream of what life as a 10thcentury monk here would have been like, yet I imagine it as incredibly peaceful and fulfilling.

I was reminded of this in particular in a small garden on the top of the abbey. The destruction of the second World War, the pain and suffering of Normandy and Bastogne, was a fight to preserve a life of and world of peace. The inhabitants of the abbey and many soldiers during the war, at their cores I believe, had similar hopes for the world: one of harmony.

When aweing at the tranquil and bare French coast from this garden, I thought of the final line of Dwight Eisenhower’s letter to soldiers right before they left for the invasion of the very land I was standing on.

“Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” A noble undertaking indeed.