GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: June 2014 (Page 1 of 4)

CoaR- Paris Round-Up

Paris is indeed a city of lights and inspiration, and within two days we realized that we needed to discuss culture once more. This time, the discussion centered around the balance between a region’s culture and its economy. Does culture inhibit or enhance a region’s economic viability, and how does one balance these two essential characteristics against each other?

After the site visit to ifri, security was one of the biggest issues on our minds. A half-hour discussion on the effectiveness of security alliances and institutions lead to another discussion on the European defense arrangement, specifically on the topic of resource pooling.

In the Pursuit of Cooperation

International institutions are established to facilitate cooperation and enable multilateral agreements to the benefit of the community as a whole. In the 21st-century we had supposedly transcended the brutish world of Hobbesian anarchy, making of it a place socially constructed from iterated games and a development of trust. Through continued efforts over time, we have been steadily approaching a cosmopolitan, Kantian world.

Yet in the EU and NATO, there is a growing dichotomy between normative trust and the pursuit of selfish interests. In the meeting rooms of the European Union, commissioners dance around the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” while the Greek parliament champions self determination for all. In the halls of the UN, representatives find solidarity in supporting the principles of sovereign territory in Ukraine, even as Turkish troops patrol their hard earned half of Cyprus. In press conferences, the heads of NATO condemn Russia’s violations of human rights as the centennial anniversary of the Armenian genocide approaches in a silent Turkey. In the conference rooms of SHAPE, officers discuss the importance of contributing their shares to defense funding, while Greece continues to spend inordinate amounts to defend against the threat of a fellow NATO member.

Admittedly, these bitter ironies are not enough to overshadow the feats of these institutions. For the past 60 years, the benefits of economic integration have prevented lethal conflict across the continent, and the power of collective defense has been one of the primary means of preventing nuclear warfare. This is promising, because as the world becomes increasingly interconnected and realizes full globalization, international institutions will be the primary instrument of peace and cooperation. Yet the pursuit of complex multilateral agreements can not overshadow the importance of resolving bilateral conflicts and local issues, a multitude of which have been immediately obvious in Greece alone. The importance of the smaller resolutions are especially important if these international agreements base their legitimacy in their moralistic values and leadership; after all, hypocrisy within institutions dangerously undermines their normative capabilities. These institutions have been successful so far, but it is vital that they not overlook the trees in their grand ambitions for the forest.

Greek Hospitality v. American Hospitality

As an optimist (I am a glass half-full person, and I am also a self-proclaimed cliché lover), I believe that by treating others respectfully, individuals can greatly improve their outlook on life. Moreover, by recognizing the importance of genuine compassion, individuals can help connect to others while truly impacting their own happiness. Now, I acknowledge that I may have spent way too much time perusing Wayne Dyer books, but I honestly believe my aforementioned claims. Now, one may wonder how my belief in a positive mental attitude relates specifically to this GT-EU study abroad? And I may surprise some people by claiming that my time in Greece truly solidified my beliefs in the importance of friendliness.

Honestly, before visiting the country, my preconceived image of Greece was generally negative as I imagined a country currently in turmoil resulting from the Eurozone crisis. I understand that the turmoil still remains (I did witness a protest during my visit), but the press fails to reflect the sincere nature of the Greek people. From saying hi every time we got a two Euro gyro to laying out a delicious spread of food and drinks at site visits, the Greek people genuinely seemed to care about our wellbeing taking the hospitability concept to a whole new level. After all, the word “hospitality” is derived from two Greek words; the first Greek word means “love” while the second means “strangers.”

I will acknowledge that the tourism industry in Greece is extremely important as the Greek economy remains a consumption based model (we learned during one briefing that this actually helped contribute to the downfall of their economy), so I understand why others may believe that the Greek staff solely seem caring because they seek a profit. But the amazing part was that the Greek people seemed to genuinely care. Not just the “fake” version of caring seemingly prevalent in the business world.

I feel the American version of hospitality greatly reflects Max Beerbohm’s insightful statement: “When hospitality becomes an art it loses its very soul.” In my daily life back in the States, I am constantly surrounded by individuals disregarding the universal dimensions of their actions. Furthermore, people tend to undervalue the importance niceties especially in today’s fast-paced globalizing world. Although the Greek people’s standard of living may not even compare to my living situation (at least measured quantitatively in economic terms), I felt that they still seemed more sincere in their manner than most Americans.

After Dr. Hayes’s curious question as to why I believed the Greeks prioritized hospitality, I began to research Greek culture to determine the reasoning behind this notion. In general, Greeks tend to emphasize the importance of family and the formation of social bonds. By understanding this fact, I felt the Greek focus on building relationships in family life might carry over to building relationships in daily life as well. This answer is purely speculative, and I also believe that numerous other reasons contribute to the honorable hospitability I was privy to.

As a strong advocate of self-growth, I, ultimately, felt my experience in Greece helped put into perspective the way I interact with others. By being on the receiving end of such hospitable treatment, I became more consciously aware of my interactions with other individuals. In conclusion, I reaffirmed my vow to treat others how I want to be treated (I warned you that I liked clichés). Ultimately, I can sum up my experience in Greece in one word: refreshing.

I couldn’t end my post without posting this oh-so-wonderful selfie (courtesy of Despina) on the top of Greek Mount Lycabettus.


Fun in the sun: study abroad visits Athens

As the recent blog posts attest, last week the program made its first ever visit to Athens, Greece.  Greece currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union and has suffered through some of the worst economic conditions in Europe for the past 6 years, so it was a great opportunity for the students to get a different perspective on Europe.


The group was greeted by 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) and sun when we arrived, certainly a dramatic break with the cooler and cloudier climate of Brussels.  The students had the first afternoon free, but many tagged along with Professors Birchfield, Hayes, and Knox-Hayes for a traditional Greek dinner on a charming side street not far from the hotel.  The next day, the students were in full intercultural learning mode as they took a tour of Athens’ legendary Acropolis and heard about the important role Athens played in the development of modern political systems. After the tour the students and faculty visited the new Acropolis museum to see some of the artifacts recovered and restored from ancient Greece.  Later in the week, the group also visited the Benaki museum, housed in the impressive former home of Emmanuel Benakis.  On display the students saw 8,000 years of Greek arts, from metal work to ceramics to traditional Greek clothing.  The group also toured the Ministry of Defence’s National War Museum, and were treated to an extraordinary tour hosted in part by the director of the museum itself!  The museum’s collections and displays covered a massive range of combat, and included a donated private collection with some very interesting weapons, including ornate dueling pistols.

As with the rest of the program, the students were in Athens to do serious work.  On Tuesday they engaged in a question and answer session at the Hellenic Parliament with the chairman of the Parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, followed by a tour of the Parliament:

They also took briefings from a range of scholars at the Hellenic Foundation on issues ranging from Greece’s economic crisis to foreign and security policy.  Toward the end of the week, the students had four hours of intense interaction with policymakers and advisers at the Foreign Ministry, where as usual our students asked very insightful and probing questions addressing some of the biggest challenges facing Greece and the EU.

As the recent appearance of podcasts on the blog shows, the students didn’t leave these issues in the briefing room.  They took it upon themselves to organize group discussions on the rooftop of our hotel (with a lovely view of the Acropolis)

on the issues and themes they have been wresting with in Athens and throughout the program.  Dr. Hayes had a chance to see one of these discussions in progress, and had this reaction on Twitter:

The week ended with a trip to the remains of Poseidon’s temple, where the students enjoyed a brief swim before a seaside dinner followed by sunset and moonrise at the temple.

The group ended their time in Greece with a free day on Saturday, and a number of the students took advantage of the time to see parts of the city they had not yet experienced, and more than a few sought out the storied turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea.

All around a work hard, play hard experience for everyone…just the kind of extraordinary education the students have come to expect!



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