GT in the EU

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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)

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.


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. 

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