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.