We began our last day in Stockholm with the Vasamuseet, a museum dedicated to the only fully intact 17th century Swedish warship, Vasa, which sank in the early 1600s. We followed the Vasa museum with a leadership activity in a nearby park, in which we formed a “human knot” using our arms. Through communication, attentiveness, and strategy (and a few practice runs) we successfully freed ourselves. After lunch in a nearby café, we spent a few hours exploring the lavish carriages and arms at the Swedish Royal Armory. Following an hour or so of free time in Gamla Stan (Old Town), we walked to the Fotografiska, a world-renowned photography museum in Södermalm. Following a few hours engrossed in the thought-provoking exhibits, we enjoyed our final evening of the trip dining at Söders Hjärta, a traditional Swedish restaurant. We took a leisurely walk back to the hostel, making sure to relish our last few hours in Stockholm. Back at the hostel, we conducted our final nightly meeting and prepared for the long day of traveling ahead of us. Everyone had such an amazing trip, and we are grateful for all of the friendships and experiences that have come out of it!
Welcome to Stockholm! Home to the Nobel prizes and Swedish meatballs! Land of confusing public transportation, beautiful architecture, and challenges and rewards at every turn! In the morning on the ferry, the fellows ate breakfast and watched the Stockholm port grow closer and closer, disembarking at the terminal and navigating through customs and hordes of fellow travelers. Despite setbacks, our leader of the day Arman, and the Stockholm itinerary planner Hallie, figured out the bus system and coaxed tickets out of the machine, leading us to the hostel. They used every ounce of their leadership smarts to navigate a new city to get the group to our destination. After a quick lunch at a nearby restaurant, called Urban Deli, we headed to the island Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town, home to the royal palace, the armory, the parliament, the Nobel museum, and storkyron, Stockholm’s central cathedral. After visiting the fascinating, detailed, and modern Nobel museum, the team headed to the central cathedral, with its tall steeple, arching hall, and vivid display of paintings and sculptures. We all took the better part of an hour to journal and reflect on the effect the trip has had on our leadership and how much we have grown throughout these past two weeks. Afterwards, we split up into groups and wandered around the little island, admiring the architecture of old Sweden, witnessing the changing of the guards, and dining on ice cream. Finally, we topped off the day with dinner at a restaurant famous for serving Barack Obama. The Turkish owner treated us like family and gladly shared his views of the forthcoming US presidential election.
Today, the fellows embarked on another adventure in Riga, this time with Daniel Moscoso leading the charge. We started the day with a visit to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, where we learned about Latvia’s brief independence and the subsequent Soviet and Nazi rule over the country. After that, we dove into the gastronomic side of Latvia with a culinary tour. Our guide, Marcus, showed us the many oddities and delicacies in Riga’s central market as he offered his own unique perspective on Latvian culture as an Australian expatriate. We finished the tour by sampling a variety of local specialties such as smoked deer, rye bread with hemp butter, pickled cabbage, and cottage cheese pastries. Once we had had our fill, we set out for the Riga Film Museum. There, we were introduced to the surreal world of Latvian animation with Ansis Bērzinš beloved classic “Phantadrome 5. Milk”. We also heard the intriguing details of a court battle over the rights to films commissioned by the now defunct communist governments of Latvia and Russia. After the film museum, we engaged in a competition of navigation and observation. The task: to find and take photos of as many coffee shops as we could find in Riga. The reward: dessert paid for by our chaperones. After great effort by all of the two person teams, the challenge ended in a tie with several groups close behind. We finished our day with a lovely dinner at a medieval themed restaurant, where we filled the entire eatery with lively discussion about chivalry in the modern era, high school athletics, and the days to come. Now, we retire to our rooms to catch up on lost sleeping and journal about our experiences.
Today is Tuesday, August 2nd and we have enjoyed our last day in Tallinn as well as our first in Riga, Latvia. This morning, we started our day off by visiting the Estonian Parliament. It was very interesting to see where major decisions take place for Estonia and the building was incredibly beautiful. Our guide told us about Estonian politics and gave us a better understanding of what smaller countries like Estonia think of countries like the US and Russia. After this visit, we ate lunch and headed to the city bus station where we got on a bus to Riga. The bus was very comfortable and had a great movie selection. When we got to Riga, we checked into the hostel, ate a delicious dinner, and went on a kayak trip from 11pm until 3 am. Alex and Alix, after attempting to reenact a Viking sea battle with Luke and Lawrence, found their kayak capsized in one of the canals. After a brief dip in the warm Latvian water they resumed their journey better for the experience. The kayak trip was an incredible opportunity and a chance to circumnavigate Riga’s old town at night. It was overall an amazing day.
To start off the day we met with the Political Affairs officer, the Economic Affairs officer, and a Public Relations intern at the US Embassy in Estonia. We discussed how issues including the refugee crisis, Brexit, and Russian aggression affects Estonia.
Afterwards, the group split for lunch before meeting again to explore the Guild Hall in Old Town. The old church and guild hall has been converted into a church, displaying items such as furs, coins, weapons, clothing, bibles, and even an oil lamp from Pompeii.
We had free time to explore and wander around Old Town. Some visited the highest point in town: a church steeple. They climbed to the top of the steeple and were awarded a breathtaking view of Old Town Tallinn.
We met with Aap Neljas for dinner. As an Estonian diplomat who served as the ambassador to the United States and as a member of the Estonian parliament, he offered us insight into the current crises of the modern world and how they affect Estonia. We discussed many of the same topics as we had earlier at the US embassy, but we learned how an actual Estonian felt and responded to these issues.
Our first full day in Tallinn was quite a treat. With the group growing closer each day and everyone excited for the packed day ahead, morale was high during the morning meeting and leadership activity. Soon we set out for Kiek en de Kok, a fortifications tower with bastion tunnels underneath. After a tour through the chilly tunnels that provided a behind-the-scenes look at Estonia’s riveting history and colorful atmosphere, the group headed out through the pouring rain, led by leader of the day Arman, to the food court of an Estonian mall. After dining at a restaurant called lido with its extensive buffet options, the Fellows splashed through the streets towards the KGB museum inside Hotel Viru. We toured the headquarters of the KGB, which sat inside the hotel as a long kept secret during the Soviet times. We learned about the myriad of ways in which the KGB kept tabs on the foreign visitors staying at the hotel, ranging from microphones in the flowers to undercover spies mingling amongst the guests. Afterwards we all got time to ourselves to wander around the city, some climbing to the top of a tall church, others shopping at the open air market in the square, and others simply sleeping. Finally, we navigated, via city bus, to the TV Tower and took in the great view at the top, ending our day with “dinner in the sky” at the tv tower.
This morning, we explored a Finnish grocery store. It was vastly different, and there were only a few brand names we recognized from the U.S. We then had breakfast at Stockmann, a department store. Their cafe had a wide variety of fresh baked goods that we treated ourselves to. After eating, we walked to the Helsinki promenade where we held our morning leadership meeting. I failed twice to capture a pigeon. Then, the group split up and roamed the surrounding area. Lawrence, Chris, and I took a ride in a ferris wheel and got an excellent view of the city. Others explored the Helsinki Cathedral. We then returned to the hotel to pack our belongings and check out. We set up shop on the promenade and split once again for lunch. All of us tried something new, from moose meatballs to reindeer. After lunch, we watched the promenade come alive as Fins enjoyed a classic summer day. We traveled via tram to the port of Helsinki, where we boarded a cruise liner bound for Tallinn, Estonia named the Tallinn Superstar. The views exiting Helsinki and entering Tallinn were stunning. We navigated our way to the Merchant’s House Hotel and dropped our bags. Next, we enjoyed some tasty local cuisine at Hell Hunt for dinner, then moved back to the hotel for our evening meeting. It was a productive and exciting travel day for the group. Looking forward to the next couple of days in Tallinn!!
A primary key to effective leadership is the ability to quickly develop and effectively execute a plan, all the while remaining flexible when curveballs inevitably arise. As the ’17s and ’19s came to realize, those are also the keys to being a solid international traveler. During our (approximately) 20 hours of travel time, we met unexpected delays, quick connections, and long hours in the sky. Although we’ve only been together as a whole group for about 26 hours, we have already formed tight bonds within close airplane quarters, in front of giant monuments in the city center of Helsinki, and over heaping plates of pizza and kabobs. Group morale is high thanks to our favorite Finnish phrase, “olen iloinen,” which roughly translates to “I am happy!” We all cannot wait for the leadership challenges and shenanigans to come!
Hallie & the gang
March 15, 2016: Today, the ‘17s turned their attention from the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq to its Libya branch. In recent months, much of the IS high command has moved from its traditional home in Raqqa, Syria, to Sirte, Libya. They are taking advantage of the lawlessness in Libya that still exists after the death of longtime dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Since his death in 2011, Libya has been split into two main warring factions: Operation Dawn in the west, and Operation Dignity in the east. The constant fighting between these two groups has allowed IS to quietly thrive in Sirte. All of the fellows agreed that the United States should not largely intervene against IS in Libya and our only unilateral action should be continued air strikes on targets in Libya. Supporting one faction over another may cause political backlash and only create more divisiveness between groups in Libya when we need them to unite to defeat IS. Additionally, too much U.S. intervention in the United Nations-brokered unity government, which is internationally recognized, would merely portray that government as a puppet of the west, therefore hindering it illegitimate in the eyes of Libyans. The United States should only support a faction if it is supportive of the unity government and is willing to put its military under their control. Once this is established, the United States should provide as much logistical and intelligence help as possible, and maybe even position advisers alongside the unity force, to eventually destroy the ISIS threat. In order for this plan to be successful, Libyans must first understand that ISIS is a problem. To this point, Dawn and Dignity have been more focused on fighting each other and have ignored the insurgency of IS. Libyans must be willing to compromise to regain control of their country.