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Travels in Europe: Updated Tues 7/26

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A Liveblog by Stephanie South and Libbey Davis

7/26: New entry! With Stephanie and Libbey back in the United States, El Pomar prepares for three European graduate students who will arrive in America at the end of August.

Stephanie
Tuesday, July 26

With Libbey and I back stateside, the outbound exchange portion of this year’s Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellowship Program comes to a close. We will now turn our attention to preparing for the arrival of the three European graduate students who will be making their way to America a little over a month from now. The students were selected from varied fields of study and different universities across the continent by our three European partners. They were chosen  for their outstanding achievements at their respective universities and desire  to glimpse Tocqueville’s America—the theme for this year’s five-week tour of the American political and social systems (named after 19th-century French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville, who made a similar exploratory trip to the United States).

After their arrival in late August, we encourage you to check back for updates about the European students and their adventures in Colorado and Washington, D.C. Until then, we offer you some information about the three Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellows coming to join us at El Pomar Foundation.

Arkadiusz Marchewka hails from Poland and has spent his academic career studying international relations and politics at the University of Szczecin and Westpomeranian University of Technology. Arkadiusz is the founder of the Commission for Community Initiatives in Szczecin, which aims to support activities initiated by the city's inhabitants and promote cooperation with associations and foundations. He hopes his participation in the 2011 Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellowship Program will expand his knowledge about the activities and functions of local public administration, and solutions involved in supporting the activities of NGOs and their cooperation with state agencies. He also has an interest in the American system of higher education, specifically regarding study abroad and foreign exchange.

Edvard Glücksman is Swedish and has studied at Pembroke College at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Quite different from the interests and studies of the other two Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellows, Edvard’s academic background includes environmental biology and zoology, although he has also studied sociology and psychology. During his time in America, Edvard hopes to learn more about nature conservation and the management of natural resources, particularly in a place like Colorado where the sights provided by the natural environment are world-renowned. He is also an avid sports fan and wishes to take in a baseball game or two before he returns to Europe.

Juha Roppola is a professional journalist from Finland with a strong academic background and a passion for learning. He holds a master's degree from the University of Helsinki in political history and has spent time researching corporate history, trans-Atlantic relations, and high technology trade while writing his dissertation. He currently works as a reporter for the Finnish Business Daily and is looking to the Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellowship Program to enhance his academic experience and provide him with the opportunity to meet and converse with a wide range of individuals.

Libbey
Wednesday, July 20

Photo: The Estoril Political Forum

The vision of the Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellowship is to foster international political understanding between future leaders in America and Europe. My experience in Estoril solidified for me the importance of that vision. In two short weeks I learned incredible amounts about the economic and political challenges facing Europe today and even more about the people who will tackle these issues in the future. The opportunity I had to interact with Europe’s current and future leaders was invaluable in how it prepared me to be a better leader in an increasingly connected international community.

I spoke with a graduate student from Poland about the situation for women in Eastern Europe and how that affects domestic issues like education and teen pregnancy. I heard from a Spanish student about the high dropout rates in public high schools and the skyrocketing unemployment numbers among young adults. I heard from many Portuguese about their financial and employment worries, supporting the statement made by a Portuguese professor that “in ten years, half of you in this conference room will no longer be living in this country.”

During one of the few breaks we had between sessions, I spoke with a young Portuguese man who did not disagree. He of course spoke English, like the vast majority of the 150 Portuguese students in attendance. More surprisingly, however, despite his deep Portuguese pride and loyalty, he was certain that he would leave Portugal in the next few years. As a well-educated young adult he thought he could earn twice as much if he were able to get a job in Spain, and even more in other European countries. He had already studied in the US, and returning there to work also presented a strong draw. I have often heard about “increasing globalization” and our “shrinking world,” but it was impressive to see firsthand how that affects many young European students in their location choices and career trajectories.

The personal connections and the global connections intertwined during my time in Europe. The continent is a collection of unique nations – an obvious statement. I’m well aware of the different cuisines, languages, and historic landmarks associated with these different countries. I can spout off some dates of famous battles that pitted European nations against each other. And I’ve watched World Cup matches fought to the bitter end with similar competitive intensity. In our very recent past, figurative and literal walls have split the continent in two.

But just how split, or how unified, should these closely connected countries be? I listened  to many people discuss this idea, and as I sat at various panels and speaker sessions at the Estoril Political Forum, the question was clearly at the forefront of current European-level political debate.

The question of economic and monetary unity has been debated in Europe since the first incarnation of the modern-day EU in 1950. On this topic, I heard Larry White, of George Mason University, argue against the euro as a fiat currency that does not allow adjustable interest rates or cater to differing fiscal policies. He instead advocated for free-market policies backed by the gold standard. In contrast, I heard Antonio Borges, director of the European Department at the IMF, speak on the value of the euro, though imperfect, as a currency that could compete with the dollar.

Borges carefully separated responsibility for the current economic crisis from the euro, linking it instead with market failure due to financial herd mentality, asymmetries of information in the banking world, and other factors unrelated to policy. A united Europe, argued Borges, meant strength on a global scale, an argument that others used to support political unity as well. With unified foreign policy, through which Europe could coordinate united responses to outside events like the ongoing Arab revolts, it could become a larger contender on the international stage. Others at the conference vehemently disagreed, stressing the importance of political individuality.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the extent to which nations coordinate economic and foreign policy has sweeping affects on the international community. The economic crisis beginning in 2008 made the truth of that statement all too real to people across the globe. More recently, a revolt in Tunisia set off similar movements in other countries in the region, potentially changing the political makeup of the Arab world for good. The current Greek debt crisis is just the next event in a line of economic failures that could drastically affect European and world economies.

Similar issues face both sides of the Atlantic – unemployment, public education, health care, social services, and competition with emerging markets. It is crucial for young leaders to have these discussions comparing the EU to the US and weigh the merits of different European strategies to move forward. It remains to be seen how each side of the Atlantic will address these issues in the upcoming years, but these Western nations can learn from each other. I knew this in theory before I left for Europe, but the practical experience of interacting with my peers, sitting together in one room, hearing the same words, brought that notion to life as much more than a nice idea.

Libbey
Monday, July 11

Photos: The news station in Lisbon, Portugal. Below: Miguel Monjardino being prepped for his television interview.

Day two of the conference ended with a dinner entitled "My Years with Margaret Thatcher at Number 10." John O'Sullivan, executive editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, spoke humorously about his time as senior policywriter and speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher during her years as prime minister.

As his speech was winding down, one of the professors at the conference came by my table. “I’m going to talk to the press; would you like to come watch? Meet in the lobby at 10:00 p.m. sharp.” Although in Portugal “sharp” often seems to mean “within fifteen minutes,” I had the sense that this was a real deadline. I wasn’t sure if there was a type of press conference outside the hotel or just an interview of some sort, but I didn’t see any media when I arrived. It turned out I was in for a bit more of an adventure.

Miguel Monjardino is a professor of International Security and Grand Strategy at the Institute for Political Studies – Catholic University of Portugal, the host university of the conference. Due to his topic of study, he is often called in by news stations to speak as an expert and shed some light onto global issues. When that occurred this time, he was gracious enough to invite a few students to accompany him.

Two students from Poland and I got into a car sent by the news station, and were whisked away to nearby Lisbon. During the ride, Professor Monjardino shared insights that he’s learned through his television experience. I learned a few important life lessons:

  • Be succinct and to the point. Never say in five sentences what you can convey in one.
  • Along those lines: don’t appear on television too frequently – people will soon grow tired of hearing from you.
  • Be careful not to become too self-important. The day after appearing on television, it is astonishing how many people will remember that they saw you, but have no recollection of anything you said.

Upon arriving at the station, everything continued at a hurried pace. Despite the late hour, more than a dozen employees remained diligently at work. We poked around the station as Monjardino somewhat bashfully received his pre-shoot makeup. Within five minutes, he was prepped and in the studio, ready to go on air. The interview lasted about ten minutes, (“an eternity in the world of TV news”), while we watched excitedly from the station’s command center.

Although unable to understand most of the words of his Portuguese commentary on the Greek  economic crisis, I felt like I learned a lot from the experience as a whole. Despite the stressful timeline of events that night, Professor Monjardino took the time to invite us in to witness a small sliver of what he does. His excitement about his work and his genuine interest in our education and development made the evening’s excursion worthwhile.

Libbey
Thursday, July 7

Photo: The view of Estoril, Portugal from Libbey’s window.

After an informative London segment with visits to several think tanks and meetings with a variety of people involved in British politics, we began the third and final portion of the trip. On June 26, we arrived in the beautiful seaside town of Estoril, Portugal for the 2011 Estoril Political Forum.

The lectures, discussions, and dinners all took place at the historic Palacio Hotel. Since its opening in 1930, this establishment has hosted heads of state, European nobility, and various world-renowned artists, athletes, and political icons. During World War II, due to Portugal's neutrality, Estoril and this hotel hosted royal families from Italy, Spain, Hungary, and Bulgaria, in addition to English and German spies.

The conference, ambitiously themed “The Future of the Free World,” brought together top political thinkers and almost 200 students from Europe and around the world. The conference opened with a discussion on the common challenges that face Europe and America today and the different paths they may take to address them. The primary speakers were Marian Tupy of the Legatum Institute in London and Matthew Spalding, V.P. for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

The atmosphere of the first day—contemporary politics and today’s experts combined with old-world charm and tomorrow's political leaders—set the tone for the rest of what was an amazing conference.

Stephanie
Wednesday, June 30

Photo: Big Ben at night.

 

On my last night in London, Stephanie, Libbey, and Alex made their way to the River Thames to see the city lit up and hear Big Ben strike midnight. I had to return to the States for other commitments, but keep checking back--Libbey will pick up where I left off.

 

Stephanie
Tuesday, June 28

For a small-town girl from Colorado, sharing a meal with a Baroness at the House of Lords in London was a very special, if not a once-in-a-lifetime, experience. I could have predicted feeling that way before the trip even began. What I never could have imagined, however, was the impact that this one lunch would have. The uniqueness of the meal may have been derived from the setting, but the pleasure came almost entirely from our hostess Baroness Shreelah Flather, the first and only Asian in the House of Lords when she took her seat in 1990.

During my stint in Europe I knew I would be learning about foreign policy and familiarizing myself with English politics and the European Union, but I did not expect to pick up many everyday leadership practices that could daily be applied to my life. However, if you were to meet Baroness Flather, you would understand how nearly impossible it is to sit through a two-hour lunch with her and leave unchanged. From a walk to the toilets to hearing her speak with the manager of the restaurant, the Baroness unintentionally managed to weave several tangible takeaways into our time together.

Baroness Flather is an older woman who stands at what I would estimate to be just a hair over five feet. She speaks with a soft Indian accent and often reaches across the table to pat your hand, much like a grandmother would do. She has kind, deep eyes and is humble to the point where she seems to be both slightly annoyed and amused every time someone refers to her as "My Lady.” Several times during the meal, she even told my colleague Alex—a UCCS student who plans to go into the army and for whom respect is a priority—to stop “ma’am”-ing her.

But her height, motherly intuition, and humility are not to be deceiving. She can hold her own with the many tall Englishmen who stride through the red halls, and is stopped frequently to share a laugh with the gentlemen. More impressive than Baroness Flather’s camaraderie with her colleagues, both male and female, is her reputation with those on staff in the House of Lords. From those who clean the toilets to those who escort her into the chambers, she not only knows their names but knows things about their lives. No matter whom she is with or where she is headed, she always stops to look people in the eye and offer a pleasant greeting and word of encouragement.

“People are people,” she said. “They deserve to be treated as nothing less.”

While we ate our lunch (my meal—roast beef—was ordered by the Baroness herself because of her insistence I try a traditional English dish), I noticed her cock her head several times at our waitress who seemed deeply unhappy to be at work. When the manager of the restaurant came over to check on our experience while we were finishing our desserts, the Baroness shared with her that she thought it might kill our waitress to crack a smile.

“She acts as though this job is constantly beneath her,” she told the woman. “If she can't smile while serving bread, then perhaps she should find a better job. I’m sure there are lots of them.”

It was such an odd thing to hear the Baroness, even while she offered a bit of criticism, err on the side of potential. She did not suggest that the waitress was less of a person, but rather that if she thought herself more, she should aim higher than serving meals to those in the House of Lords.

Baroness Flather is someone who will remain a very intact memory from my time in London. Her interest in development regarding women and family planning in countries across the world (and the book she has written about it) was most engaging to hear about, but what will continually resonate are her simple beliefs—about people, and about the honor it is not to be a baroness but to be person.

Stephanie
Tuesday, June 28

Photo: Stephanie, Libbey, and Alex with the young people, ages 16-21, at the Stowe Youth Centre in London on the night of Wednesday, June 22. During two to three hour sessions on Wednesday nights, these youth create all the content and photography for a magazine called The Cut.

Probably the coolest experience I had during the trip was our visit to the Stowe Youth Centre in London following our return from the Brussels Policy-Making Seminar. Despite having had several sessions at the conference, the “Lobbying at the EU” simulation, and a two-hour train ride back to England, we could not help but get jazzed up once we arrived at the centre and met director Michael Dipple and other staff members Nendi Pinto-Duschinsky and Nina Manandhar.

The Stowe Youth Centre, which has developed a partnership with an amazing charitable trust called the Paddington Development Trust, is similar to a Boys and Girls Club here in the United States. They offer a wide range of services—everything from sports and healthcare to counseling and job training—for disadvantaged young people from inner-city London. Although Westminster has very affluent suburbs and is where Parliament is based, north Westminster, where the Stowe Youth Centre is located, is one of the poorest boroughs in the country and where gangs still pose a common problem.

One of the most unique things about the Stowe Youth Centre is its commitment to enhancing the passions of the young people that walk through the door. Whether it is cooking, fashion, dance, art, or journalism, there is a good chance there is a program or class offered at the centre to help young people continue to build their skills and stay off the streets. In fact, The Cut, which is described as one of the hippest magazines in the United Kingdom and circulates 20,000 copies of each issue in London quarterly, is created out of the centre by those students who have an interest in media and the arts.

It is a rare thing, to find yourself sitting in the lounge and studios of this centre where up-and-coming musicians, artists, and actors are walking in and out of the doors to be interviewed and photographed by people so close to your age. But what’s even better than that is actually sitting down with the young men and women who are holding the digital voice recorders and the cameras. To be honest, I was both incredibly intimidated and inspired by the people that surrounded us.

In the end, I cannot say enough about my experience that night or what a huge asset the Stowe Youth Centre must be to the community. But what I can say is that change is pending—in policy; in attitude; and in how we view each other, our problems, and the world. With so much potential still coming of age and having not yet made their mark on the world, there is no way that great things are not ahead.

To go behind the scenes of The Cut, check out this short film by BBC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeWoSEd8P1U

Stephanie
Monday, June 27

Upon our arrival in London, we stuffed ourselves and our three very large suitcases into a cab and headed to the hotel. As we rode in the back seat of the black car, our driver (who had a bit of the tour guide in him) offered us practical advice for our stint in London. He spoke to us of pickpockets, directed us away from certain parts of the city, and explained at length how one goes about becoming a taxi driver. The driver boasted of his education and lengthy experience in the profession and paused to make mention of, and not highly I might add, “those Arab taxi drivers.” According to the driver, Arabic-speaking individuals are allowed to shortcut their education because there is such a need in London for those who know the language.

I was quite taken aback by this bit of anti-Arab sentiment, especially considering the content of our upcoming educational exchange. I have always been engrossed in the politics and culture of the Middle East and find the dichotomy of the Arab and Western worlds to be fascinating, but I have only encountered the subject in the context of America. It occurred to me then that my time in Europe, in particular at the policy-making seminar in Brussels, would be the opportunity to come at the subject from a different angle—a European one.

On Monday morning, in one of the European Parliament buildings in Brussels, 30 students from universities in Portugal, the Czech Republic, Italy, and the United States gathered to hear panel discussions by experts on revolts in the Arab world. “Arab Spring” and the European Union’s relationship to and knowledge of the uprisings were the primary subjects, and the view from Europe was fascinating.

Bichara Khader, a professor of political, economic, and social sciences; and the Director of the Arab Study and Research Center at Catholic University of Louvain; provided students and El Pomar Fellows with an excellent academic overview of Arab Spring and offered three myths about the Arab world that were effectively shattered because of it: 1) the stability of EU policy toward the region, 2) the concept of Arab exceptionalism (the idea that Arabs are immune to modernity), and 3) the idea that closed political systems can foster economic growth. However, the idea I found most enlightening in Khader’s talk was his take on the young people that called for change in places like Egypt. He said that they chanted for liberty, freedom, and dignity. They did not simply call for the black color of dictatorship or the green color of Islam, but rather they called for a country of many colors. And Khader is certain their demands will not be silenced any time soon; the youth will remain vigilant.

Rosa Balfour, senior policy analyst for the European Policy Centre, directed her time more toward tangible EU policy in the Middle East and what current and future practices must and should include. Balfour said that the EU must practice differentiation, meaning that they should see the Arab world not as a region but as individual countries that will each require something different from EU policy. She also said these countries are in need of the 3 M’s—market access for goods produced, more mobility partnerships (referring to the free flow of migrants), and more money.

Roel Von Meijenfeldt, who sits on the board of directors for the European Partnership for Democracy, discussed the need for the EU to truly develop a strategy for its policy regarding the Arab world, especially following Arab Spring. He identified four problems the EU does and will encounter throughout the process of trying to develop collective opinion and establish strategic policies for the member states: 1) Getting the member states of the EU to actually follow through on the 3 M’s, 2) instituting standards for how the EU will address the different situations that arise within each of the individual Arab countries, 3) engaging not only the EU representatives but the governments of the member states in developing policy and taking initiative with processes, and 4) determining what kind of relationships the EU actually wants and with which countries these relationships need to occur.

Overall, what was most surprising to hear from the panelists was that the revolts in the Arab world took place while Europe was largely disengaged from the scene. They all agreed that the United States was much more aware of the current situation in the Middle East than was the EU, despite the EU’s proximity to it. Upon realizing that I did actually agree with this statement, which was counterintuitive to what I expected, I began to discover my own assumptions. And at the end of the conference, I realized I had learned four concrete things regarding revolts in the Arab world:

  1. Through various interactions with European students, I have come to think that indeed Americans are less globally aware than the average European citizen. With that in mind, I was led to believe that we might have the same deficit in foreign policy. However, regarding Arab Spring, it was in fact on our radar before Europe began to seriously consider its impact.
  2. There is a generational gap between the youth and the leaders in the Arab world. However, this is not a problem that is specific to the Arab world, but perhaps felt across America and Europe as well.
  3. Revolts and revolutions are two different things. In the Arab world, you have revolts because the countries function separately from each other. You cannot have a revolution without unification and a cohesive aim.
  4. Regarding the Arab Spring, internet by itself was not a factor of change. Connectivity as a result of technological innovation and social networking did not cause the uprisings by themselves, but rather gave them resonating power.

It has been interesting to hear about foreign policy from another continent’s perspective, and I am eager to learn more about the European Union, its leaders, and its take on American politics.

Stephanie
Wednesday, June 22

Photo: Students from different European and American universities wander downtown Brussels during an afternoon break at their policy-making seminar.

Train ticket from London to Brussels…69 Euros.

Lunch at the European Parliament cafeteria…14 Euros.

A “Lobbying the European Union” simulation at an international conference on politics where university students who speak five different primary languages pretend to be “consumers,” “farmers,” “supermarket owners,” and “policy makers” who are trying to reach consensus…Priceless.

 

Stephanie
Wednesday, June 22

Photo: Big Ben in London, England.

Stephanie South, Libbey Davis, and Alex Wilkening, a senior at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, arrived in London for the first leg of the Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellowship outbound exchange. Despite less than fair weather for the trip thus far, the three made their way down puddled cobblestone streets to see Big Ben and tour the Houses of Parliament. Katie Parry, an Oxford student who participated in last year's Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellowship program in the States, acted as their impromptu tour guide and accompanied them.

Stephanie
Friday, June 17

As an exceptionally bad flyer, I am terrified to the extreme every time I have to travel by air. However, as Libbey Davis and I found ourselves about to be 35,000 feet off the ground en route to London, I was unusually calm. Maybe the concept of flying to Europe for business, a sure sign of adulthood, convinced me to take a more mature approach to air travel.

Shortly after takeoff I realized that the five-year-old who lives inside of me and is scared to death of flying was indeed alive and well. Despite the paralyzingly fearful climb to altitude, I couldn't help but be excited about the incredible opportunities that lay ahead.

A few years ago, our CEO and Chairman Bill Hybl sat in the back of a bus discussing public diplomacy with an old colleague from England. During their conversation, these two men began to envision the possibility of a trans-Atlantic exchange program between their respective organizations and networks. The idea was to bring students from Europe to the United States--Colorado specifically--for a political tour and introduction to the nonprofit sector. Additionally, El Pomar Fellows would travel to Europe for the same sort of program.

In 2008, the program kicked off with three European graduate students traveling to Colorado Springs. Last fall, after a one-year hiatus, three more Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellows made their way to Colorado to take part in an expanded version of the inbound exchange program. Over a five-week period, they participated in a variety of meetings with elected officials and policy analysts; made site visits to a wide range of nonprofit organizations; and traveled across the country to Washington, D.C. to get a glimpse of American political and civic life.

This fall the Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellowship program will take place again, and this year it boasts not only a new partner, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS), but an outbound exchange as well. Three students, hailing from Finland, Sweden, and Poland, will arrive in Colorado Springs in mid-August. Before they do, two El Pomar Fellows, Libbey Davis and I, along with a senior at UCCS, are traveling to Europe.

In our time across the pond, we will meet with political officials and think tanks in London; train to Brussels, Belgium for a policy-making seminar; and end in Estoril, Portugal for a graduate debate on the future of the market economy and democracy. The conferences in Brussels and Estoril are a part of the XIX International Meeting in Political Studies and Summer School. Along the way, we will encounter a few opportunities for sightseeing and a chance to meet with organizations that align with some of our personal interests.

As we hit the ground running in London, we invite you to stay tuned to our adventures and insights in our special ON LOCATION: Europe series. Consider it a chance to see public diplomacy in action on a microlevel and to catch a glimpse through our eyes of the future of the free world and the young people who will be leading it.


Stephanie South is the director of the 2011 Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellowship program, and Libbey Davis serves as the Senior Fellow. The UCCS student, Alex Wilkening, was selected through an independent process conducted by university leadership.