GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

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Our Trip to Munich

Upon our arrival to Munich, our study abroad group was given background on our two main visits that would occur within our couple of days in this historical city. Our visit to Munich was in order to supplement our understanding of the creation and duration of Nazi Germany, as well as learning how this state resulted in the beginning of World War II. We began our journey to further understanding of Nazism with our visit to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, which was the pilot concentration camp that formed the method of how individuals would be treated at concentration camps during the Final Solution. This site is also a memorial to the 41,500 lives lost at this concentration camp.

Our study abroad group, accompanied by Dr. Claire Greenstein, a professor at Georgia Tech with a background in German history, began our visit with the film offered at the memorial site. This film gave an inside look as to how Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany, followed by his dictatorship that created the Dachau Concentration Camp as one of its first projects. This concentration camp was first intended for political prisoners, which consisted of politicians and activists that held ideals that differed from the National Socialist Party. The identities expanded to include Jewish people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay men, and other minority populations in Germany by 1935 in order to promote a pure Germany. This film detailed the terrible conditions in which the prisoners were forced to endure and conveyed the feelings of hopelessness of all who were sent to Dachau. Following this film, we were given the opportunity to explore the memorial site and educate ourselves on the events that took place at this concentration camp, as well as the lessons learned from Germany after World War II.

Later in our visit to Munich, we attended a walking tour of the Third Reich. This tour supplemented our knowledge of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany with historical sight-seeing and an engaging tour guide to lead us around Munich. We began in the center of Munich, where we were given some background information on Hitler’s political career before he became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933. We learned that the well-known book, Mein Kampf, was written during his time in jail, where he had been imprisoned for his political views. This book contained the anti-Semitic ideology that Hitler later used as a tool to convince the German people that he held the solution to their economic crisis following World War I. We also visited a hotel that was the site in which a group of Hitler’s followers decided to dedicate their lives to protecting the Chancellor; these men were later known as Hitler’s secret service. The tour ended by the tour guide leading us to the location where the Nazi Party derived its origin story from. At this location, several Nazis were in armed conflict with other policemen that resulted in the death of six Nazi politicians. In order to honor the lives of these politicians, it was necessary to salute to their memorial as one would walk past this specific location. The photo below shows where this memorial was once placed.

This memorial had unintentionally created Dodger’s Alley, where those who did not wish to salute at this memorial would take an alternate route, which became very unsafe as the Nazi Regime took a stronger hold in Germany. Today, this site is often used as a place events that would have never been condoned under Nazi Germany, such as Munich Pride. This tour gave us an important understanding of what the Third Reich looked like for those who lived in Germany during that time, as well as an understanding of how present-day Munich addresses its past.

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. 

Research Institute for Quality of Life and Romanian Ministry of Defense

We began our Monday morning with a visit to the Research Institute for Quality of Life at the Romanian Academy, which is one of the largest research institutes in Romania. Established in 1990, the Institute for Quality of Life conducts research spanning many different areas, such as quality of life, standard of living, social policy, and social problems. Our specific presentations were focused largely on the socioeconomic situation and health status of the Roma population in and around Romania. I was really excited to learn more about the Roma, after hearing about just a small portion of the discrimination and struggles they face during a lecture at the beginning of our program. One of the key points that was brought up at the start of the briefing is the complicated question of who is a Roma. According to a 2011 census, it is estimated that there are 12 million Roma around the world, with 8 million spread across Europe and an estimated 1.2 to 2.5 million living in Romania. We quickly learned that the accuracy of these numbers is right to be questioned and that the idea of who is a Roma has varied across time, location, and political spheres and even varies in terms of language and race. 

The Romanian Academy

I really enjoyed learning about how Romanian policies concerning the Roma have changed and evolved over the past decades. Assimilation policies during socialism included forced settlement and proletarization, which mostly incorporated unskilled or semi-skilled workers. One point that I found really interesting was the fact that many socialist policies did actually manage to improve the socioeconomic well-being of the Roma; however, local authorities were not very eager to implement these policies. On top of this, socialist policies also unfortunately destroyed most traditional Roma craftswork. Post-socialism found the Roma in a place of economic restructuring, with mass unemployment and NGOs taking the largest role in addressing the Roma plight until the 2000s. In the 1990s, NGOs implemented several policies aimed at improving the situation of the Roma that are still utilized today, including providing school mediators, health mediators, and job fairs. On top of this history of oppression and discrimination, there are still many major unresolved problems that the Roma people continue to face. Discrimination of Roma takes various forms, including school segregation of Roma across Romania. There is also a lack of medical services and insurance, and Roma children often don’t benefit from mandatory vaccines. 

Learning about the Roma at the Research Institute for Quality of Life

It was heartbreaking to learn that there is an estimated 70 percent of the Roma population either in or at risk of poverty. There has also been an increase in settlements of Roma type ghettos, ethnic neighborhoods where Roma are forced to stay in one location either by police or because they quite literally have no where else to go. Issues in these ghettos include everything from overcrowding and extreme poverty to floods, industrial hazards, and landslides. One of the stories told that stuck with me the most is about a Roma family living in a small room in one of the ghettos, where on top of all there other struggles, has to cover their faces at night with anything they can find to avoid rats chewing at them as they try to sleep. It was difficult to hear about stories like these, but it really made me understand how incredibly important the work that the Institute for Quality of Life is doing to raise awareness about the struggles and discrimination that the Roma people experience everyday.  

Fellow students at the Research Institute for Quality of Life

         Later that day, we had the incredible opportunity of visiting the Ministry of National Defense and hearing an outstanding briefing from Major General Iulian Berdillo, the head of the Strategic Planning Directorate. He began by explaining to us some of the basics of the Romanian armed forces, which were established in 1859 but have significantly evolved since then. One point that was made that I found interesting is that despite the seemingly smaller size of the Romanian armed forces, they are still very strong in the region. Romania also has a strong commitment to NATO, participating in NATO operations in Africa, the Middle East, and beyond. Another really interesting point that Major General Berdillo made was the strong ties between Romania and the United States. The United States recognizes the important strategic role that Romania plays in the area with both the Balkans and the Black Sea region. Romania and the United States have a relatively recent but strong history as allies, with just a couple examples being the Alabama National Guard State Partnership Program, a US led battle group in Poland, and the Aegis Ashore facility in Deveselu. Major General Berdillo did an excellent job answering all of our many questions, and I really appreciated how much he emphasized the role us students have in the future of international relations and security. 

The whole group with Major General Berdillo!

Following Major General Berdillo’s briefing, we also had the wonderful opportunity of hearing about a broader view of Romania in the EU, NATO, and defense planning. During this, we heard a lot about the importance of Romania’s opportunity to hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU. When talking about the Presidency, it was stated that Romania tried to be both realistic and ambitious in their goals. Although Romania faced some struggles during their six month presidency, I was really impressed to hear that they were able to achieve many of their initial goals, one of which being making significant progress with PESCO. Having the presidency for the first time and being largely successful with it, was of incredible importance for Romania and their relationship within the European Union. 

Dr. Markley gifting Major General Berdillo with some Georgia Tech goodies!

         One aspect of our stay that really made the visit so much more special was having our professor Dr. Markley there with us. The excitement she had for sharing the country she grew up in and cares so much about made all the difference when it came to really taking full opportunity of this once in a lifetime visit. I know all of the students are incredibly grateful for the unique perspective her background in Romania and experience with the Romanian Military has given her in teaching our classes and how our visits in Romania wouldn’t have been possible without her. Thank you Dr. Markley!

First Days in Romania!

This past Friday morning, we flew from Brussels to Bucharest. Upon our arrival, we took the scenic route to our hotel during which Alina Opreanu, an Atlanta staff member for Georgia Tech Lorraine who was born in Romania, pointed out some of the major landmarks in Bucharest.  As the sixth largest metropole in the European Union and the capital of Romania, Bucharest has a lot to offer including Herăstrău Park, Piața Victoriei (Victory Plaza), and Piața Revoluției (Revolution Plaza).  One thing that I found really interesting during our tour was when Alina Opreanu explained the French influences in Bucharest which is sometimes referred to as “Little Paris”.  We saw the Arc de Triumph, similar to the one in Paris, and the Piața de Charles de Gaulle, named after the former French president.

Route of our bus tour

After touring the city and stopping by the hotel, we went out to dinner at a restaurant called Caru’ cu bere.  We got to try traditional Romanian food such as mititei (skinless sausages), sarmale (stuffed cabbages), and mămăligă (a type of polenta).  It was all delicious!  Like the food, the atmosphere of the restaurant was also amazing with live dance performances which I really enjoyed.  After dinner, we walked around downtown Bucharest and got to enjoy a light and fountain show.  It was a nice welcome and perfect ending to our first day in Romania.

Traditional Romanian food!

The next day, we visited the Palace of the Parliament.  Finished in 1997, it is the second largest administrative building besides the Pentagon in the United States and is larger than 60,000 square meters in size.  We took an hour tour, walked about one kilometer, and still only saw about 5% of the building; it truly is a massive building!  The inside was just as impressive as the size with beautiful chandeliers, marble staircases, and spacious conferences rooms.

Walking into the Palace of the Parliament

Tour in the Palace of the Parliament

After our tour of the Palace of the Parliament, we went to the “Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum where we got to see and walk inside some of the actual houses from villages around Romania.  It was interesting to see how the style of housing changed based on the time period and the location it was built in.  My favorite house was the Half-Buried House, as shown below, which was built in the early 19th century in southwest Romania.

Walking into the Village Museum

The Half-Buried House!

Later that day, we visited the National Museum of Contemporary Art which is located in the Palace of Parliament.  Started in 2001, this museum displays around 30,000 Romanian and international artworks in all different styles and time periods from the 1920s to the present.  One of my favorite exhibits was called “Seeing History-1947-2007” which includes artworks that celebrate the history of contemporary artwork in Romania.

Contemplating contemporary art with Dr. Markley 

Our next day in Romania was a free day.  A group of students decided to travel to the Transylvania region to go on two castle tours.  First of all, we went to Bran Castle which was built in 1377.  This castle is referred to as Dracula’s Castle because it was possibly the source of inspiration of the novel, Dracula.  It was fascinating to hear about this legend while enjoying the beautiful views from the castle. Next, we went to Peles Castle which was built in the late 19th century by King Carol I of Romania.  It was the first castle to have electricity in Europe, has a central heating system, and an opening stain glass roof.  The interior is magnificently decorated with impressive wood, mirror, and silk detailing in its 160 rooms.  Our daytrip to see the castles was a nice break from the busy city and a great chance to explore the beautiful countryside of Romania!

At Peles Castle!

Overall, during our first days in Romania, we’ve done a lot to explore the city of Bucharest and its surrounding areas.  With our program’s focus on the European Union, it is very appropriate to be visiting Romania at this time.  In earlier lectures, we learned that the Council of the European Union has a rotating presidency that lasts six months, and Romania just recently finished their term.  We’ve been able to see all of the remnants of their presidency still around Bucharest including signs on buildings and in the Palace of the Parliament.  One of my favorite things about this study abroad program is how we connect what we learn in a classroom to the real world, and our experience in Romania is another example of that wonderful opportunity.

The signs for the Romanian Presidency can be seen everywhere!

There are even signs in the Palace of the Parliament

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