GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Angelica Wagner

A Free Day in Berlin!

Just like European politics and the current world order, the agenda of the EU Study Abroad Program is ever-changing. We voted as a group to change the date of the simulation, that was originally scheduled for today, to take place in Paris. The postponement allows for us to have a free day in Berlin. The day, however, would remain just as busy and educational. Since we only have a week in Berlin there is so much to do. My advice to anyone trying to see as much of a city in a certain amount go time is to look up an itinerary online according to how long you have. It will create an efficient schedule based on proximity, high-traffic times, and importance. Since rain looms in tomorrow’s forecast, I wanted to do all of the outside attractions. 

First up on the list was to travel to the East Side Gallery. It is a long expanse of the Berlin Wall on the Soviet-controlled side that has been preserved and transformed into an art exhibit. Most of the art is symbolic of a warrant as to why the wall was such an awful idea. Hands of peace, people flowing out of the wall as soon as they were reunified, and the infamous kiss of brotherhood are just a few of the murals that are featured on the wall. It was, also, impactful to see the small placards on the ground where people were killed trying to cross over the wall to escape to democracy. It was not just young adults; it was entire families. This really struck me because conditions have to completely atrocious in order for a mother to risk her children’s lives. 

We then traversed our way over by S-Bahn to see East Berlin’s “pride and joy,” the TV tower at Alexander Platz. It was such a modern peak in the bland East Berlin skyline. Kids were I was jumping on trampolines happily with my brand new pair of Birkenstocks, it was hard to imagine that this place used to be under such oppression. I think that was the hardest concept for me to wrap my head around in Berlin. This city that appears completely gentrified and modern, has such a deep history. An art exhibit in the Jewish Museum displays it perfectly. Everywhere you walk in Berlin has been walked on by billions of others: Hitler, other Nazis, Soviets, people being sent to concentration camps who were murdered, and modern normal citizens. You see it when you are casually walking on the street and you can see bullet holes in the walls, parts of churches blown off, statues missing their ligaments. We have seen such evidence of history in other cities before, but the majority of historic buildings in those cities have been preserved, Berlin had a lot rebuilding to do. 

We then walked towards the museum island. As a museum nerd, I was beyond excited that there was an entire island dedicated to just museums. We chose to go to the Kunst museum that had a special exhibit dedicated especially to ‘Wanderlust’. Each piece of art has to have at least one ‘traveler’ or ‘wanderer’ featured in it. I think this sums up the program nicely. Personally, this is the largest amount of traveling and experience of culture, I have ever done. As much as I have tried to see the most I could in every city that we visit, there is no possible way that it will be my last time in that city.

 A quote from Friedrich states, “On the beach, walking deep in thought, is a man in a black robe.  Gulls circle him anxiously as if to warn him not to venture out on the rough sea. And if you pondered from morning to evening, from evening to the sinking dead of night, you would still not comprehend, not fathom the inscrutable Beyond.” If I may, I wish to divulge upon you my interpretation of this quote as it relates to this program. The man deep in thought in the black robes are our students in professional attire deep in thought. The gulls are all of the looming conflicts in the world that we learned about during our site visits; these conflicts could seem like too much to handle at times. It is hard to discern looking at the future if this could be a suitable career path because even if you spend ten hours or more a day on such topics there still is not an evident solution. Nevertheless, this program has made me realize that I can not wait to ‘wander’ further around the world of international relations.

Getting in SHAPE Before the Next NATO Summit

Every morning in Brussels reminds me that this study abroad was created to make students more professional.  I started my day off by putting on my full professional attire and descending the stairs in our Maison to have our morning coffee and reading the newspaper with our host father. Then we walked to the Euroflat hotel for our first briefing, heels clicking all the way.

We met with Diego Ruiz Palmer, policy advisor to the director in NATO, to discuss the political side of NATO before we head to SHAPE, the military portion of NATO. NATO is an organization that was created in 1949 in order to create an alliance that would stand together against aggression. History only goes in one direction, but it definitely has its patterns in slowly changing historical eras. Currently, we are in a time of transition, where there is an uncertainty in international organizations. Interaction is the big difference in this era because globalization did not exist, especially not at this scale and speed. Before it used to be the West and the Rest with the West paving the way, but now we see a change to the Rest and the West. The United States seemed to be in the position of the Reluctant sheriff where it has to be the policeman of the world, but does it truly want to be? The United States seems torn between the idea of Manifest Destiny and Isolationism. This is a pattern that we have seen before as a nation, and the decision seems to rely on the administration in power. Brexit is another key example of the West withdrawing from the world, and it could be an opportunity for the United Kingdom to shine on the global stage and to prove it is self-dependent. However, withdrawing from NATO relinquishes the security behind the “one for all, and all for one”defense that NATO supplies.

Who knows what changes will come to NATO as the world shifts uncomfortably in power, and the greatest danger NATO has is instability. In the East and the South, the insurance of safety and security is of utmost importance. NATO is not an offensive force; however, it does aim to deter, defend, and protect stability. In the South, they have set up strength training teams and a crisis management center in order to aid in becoming more resilient and speedy in desperate circumstances. They, also, created the Joint Force Command in order to communicate what is going on in the South. In addition to creating a deterrence in the South, the Wales Summit established a readiness action plan for the Baltic states to deter Russia, created a defense investment pledges, and increased the presence of cyber defense. As much planning as the Wales Summit did, the goals are coming to a close and the Allies need to vote on a new readiness initiative that would require each of them to have a number of battalions that on standby and ready to go. In order to have such speed, there needs to be the appropriate infrastructure and reinforcement in place, such as signs detailing where tanks can fit or not.

After a few questions from the students, we boarded the bus to SHAPE. We enjoyed a lovely meal at the SHAPE Club and then moved to headquarters where we were briefed by a Polish Lieutenant Colonel. He, also, stressed the fact that this was a transitionary period for NATO especially after the 2014 Crimea Annexation by Russia and we are currently in a period of “Post-Truth.” This occurs when you have information that is based on emotions and not facts and perspective is retroactively clearer after results have been revealed. SHAPE carries out orders from NATO to ensure the Allies have the militaristic portion of NATO. “Post-Truth” is a problem for NATO because in order to give orders to SHAPE all member states must be in agreement with said orders and in democratic countries often the support from the citizens are affected by media that is clouded with bias and emotions. Even though this problem is still yet to be resolved, SHAPE still provides a “bridge of defense and security.”

After a brief coffee break, we were joined by an American NATO lieutenant colonel Bryce. He gave us a brief yet thorough overview of Russia and NATO relations. I thought it to be interesting that for a while Russia was a strategic partner in not only its location but, also, the fact that they were able to aid NATO in understanding the culture and language in the Western Balkans. Between NATO and Russia, there was an agreement of the 3 No’s that was no reason, no intention, and no plan to use nuclear weapons. According to Russia, there was a fourth No that was slipped in that was no new substantial forces in new members states. According to NATO, this No was neither documented nor agreed to by all states. This No, verified or not, was violated when NATO stationed new troops in the Baltic states after Crimea. Following the Georgia invasion, Russia was forgiven, but when they invaded again in Crimea Russia and NATO relations have reached a new level of tension. Russian invasion into NATO member states is not likely since there are currently Americans, Germans, and British soldiers stationed in strategic areas, implementing the “one for all, and all for one” threat NATO has.

NATO continues to work to defend itself in 3 directions: East, South, and Homeland. In order to provide such defense, it is crucial for NATO to remain transparent to combat “post-truth.” NATO is not a universal pill, for different pains you take different medicines. Nations can choose to act individually when they want, within their realm of power. NATO cannot continue to carry on business as usual though, especially after Georgia. Russia is continuously unpredictable and NATO needs to be able to reach a consensus looking towards the future in next month’s summit. It is all fear-based politics. History seems to be cycling back into the period of the Cold War. This is quite disappointing because both found nations found out that the other never had any intention of invading it was simply for defense measures. I could not imagine repeating the Cold War, but with two very hot-headed, unpredictable leaders in power on opposite sides.

After taking pictures with Georgia Tech’s own, General Breedlove, previous SACEUR, we boarded the bus back. The entire bus ride was filled with a lot of reactions to the information that we received earlier. Two hours later, we arrived back in Brussels. After a lovely meal with my host family, we decided that the best way to decompress after a long day is to go to Maison Antoine to get some fries with mayonnaise. 

Two Types of Briefings

The day started off with the last of our member state presentations. We went through the 4th enlargement, working our way to Croatia. It was interesting to me because I do not usually keep up with current events in Latvia, Estonia, or even Poland. I know that as an International Affairs major I should keep up with the news, but it is not exactly the priority of American News channels to report on the possibility of Czexit when there are larger stories that are more relevant to their demographic.

My presentation was specifically on Latvia. At first, it was a challenge to find information that was relevant and interesting enough to mention in comparison to the rise of Populism in Italy or the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland. But then, I stumbled across a few articles on the Baltics’ exploration in the digital world.  This really shocked me given that when I was first assigned to Latvia, I was less than thrilled. What relevance does Latvia play in the European Union? Let alone, how many common American citizens were even aware that Latvia was a country? As an International Affairs and Modern Languages student with a Computer Science minor, this truly peaked my interest. It is interesting how if you given a struggling economy the access to technology it turns into a basis of development. For example, Air Baltic, in Latvia, was the first airline to accept Bitcoin as a form of payment. Latvia is primarily based on an agricultural economy, but ever since they have joined the European Union they have had an increase in competition, especially in agriculture. So they found they explored the digital market with their neighbors Estonia, the European Union’s digital leaders.


I really enjoyed being briefed on each of the member states. I would have never explored Maltan politics before this course, and who would have? It gives students an overall look at the state of the nations, and how the citizens interpret the European Union. I thought it was interesting to see the comparison of states who had self-sufficient economies in comparison to those who relied heavily on the European Union. All of the post-communist states who recently received independence from Russia, all had positive views on the European Union.


After 12 briefings, we headed to the Hotel de Ville as a group to be briefed on Metz. We walked through a brief recap of the past of Metz and looked on to the hopes for the future of Metz. One comparison, he made was that Metz was the “Luxembourg City of the Middle Ages.” And as I looked out the window, it was definitely hard to imagine that this was once a town of great wealth when all of the building (except the Cathedrale of course) looked so modest. Now, 19,000 citizens of Metz commute everyday to Luxembourg for work which really strains the transportation infrastructure.


I have studied France extensively and never have any of my professors mentioned Metz. I was shocked to find out that it was in the Grand Region according to the EU for infrastructures and development and also apart of the Quatropole. Metz is also the only Metropole that shares its border with 3 countries. There seems to be endless possibilities when at the doors of 3 European Markets, but as I mentioned earlier there was a lack of infrastructure to support the transportation of tens of thousands daily. Also, it is difficult because Luxembourg is a state in itself, it does not have to relay information and seek approval before it can make decisions like Metz has to go to Stratsbourg.


However, Metz is swarming with opportunity. It hopes to double its highway in order to account for the rise in transportation. In addition, Metz offers a combination of arts, geography, research and creativity. Soon Metz will be hosting the World E-Sports Convention which kind of relates to my earlier thoughts in that introducing technology into struggling economies helps develop and retain its citizens. Metz is also home to French Tech, which employs more than 2000 citizens of Metz. It is a signal to the young people of Metz to be ambitious and entrepreneurial in terms of start-ups and digital development. Further, in relation to research, there is a slew of Universities that have set up there campuses surrounding Metz including Georgia Tech Lorraine.

Thinking back to the four main draw Metz offers — arts, geography, research, and creativity — I truly understand which Georgia Tech chose to put a campus in this region. Georgia Tech’s Atlanta campus is located in the middle of the hub on the brink of innovation. It offers Liberal Arts students the chance to receive a Bachelor’s Degree of Science mixing art, creativity, and research in a geographic location that allows students to access opportunities within the city or easy access to highways and the busiest airport in the world. Metz is truly a gem of a city, and I hope that many others will come to the same realization in the future.

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