On Monday, January 11th, the ’17s met to discuss the Economist. We decide we would all read a few of the articles in the magazine and discuss what we found interesting. At first, our discussion centered around the Syrian Refugee Crisis and EU policy toward this crisis. Then, the meeting took a turn and we began discussing the possibilities of an English exit from the EU and the possible implications.
January 19th, 2016- All the 2017 fellows in the CCGL met this morning for our first leadership breakfast of the new year. Led by Catherine Bowles, we discussed an article from the Harvard Business Review, which listed 8 steps to effect change. Then, the group was split into two. Group One took on the theoretical challenge of changing Norfolk Academy’s athletic culture develop a wining and sustainable football program. Group Two discussed how to make Norfolk Academy more environmentally friendly by encouraging NA students to recycle more. We look forward to the presentations next time we meet!
Monday morning, the 16’s kicked off the year with a fantastic and dynamic discussion on how they can leave an indelible mark on the IR Fellows and CCGL program. Faced with the realities of being second-semester seniors, the six Fellows want to employ the leadership traits that they have honed over the years and leave the IR Fellows, the CCGL and the school better than they found it!
The ’16 IR Fellows had an in-depth discussion about what they could do to mentor the younger cohorts and share their experiences and knowledge. They discussed plans for a bonding activity to be held later in the semester, in which all four groups of fellows would participate in leadership exercises while having fun at the same time. This event would revolve around an overnight event at Norfolk Academy. After the meeting, they all met with Dr. Rezelman in the Masters’ Commons to think of possible dates and to plan how to obtain permission and funding for the event. It was a great discussion and left everyone feeling a sense of empowerment and emboldened to act now to make tomorrow better.
This Wednesday, the ’17s discussed China’s change in its one child policy. We talked about why China is making this change and whether it is good or bad. We concluded that this policy change was made so that the Communist party, especially President Xi Jinping, could gain some domestic favor. We also feel that allowing two children is good for China in the long term, but will have no effect on the current economic downturn.
Here are the links to the two articles we read and a video we watched:
For our first meeting of the year, I picked an article with a topic that has been rampant in the news recently: the Syria conflict–specifically, Russia’s increasing presence in Syria. Our discussion revolved around the layers of delicate political tensions surrounding Syria as well as current perspectives on the situation from other Middle Eastern countries, the U.S., and Europe.
Getting off the train into Russia, I was tired. Along a white wall to my left, a nest of cables and cameras scanned every square-inch of the railway station. A short man sporting an impressive mustache kept his weary eyes locked on our group of high-school students. His security badge shined brightly on his chest as he turned to another somber looking woman at his side. Russia! I breathed in the brown city air.
All I needed was an ostentatious grey suit to play my role as 007. My eyes darted left and right. White license plate: E 003 py 90. Kalininsky District КАЛИНИНСКИЙ Р-Н. The people: somber and rigid.
As a group, we were all excited to explore. Our bus darted through the congested streets. Each vehicle moved through the roads without the slightest recognition of other objects. You either moved or got run over. Through the windows, we saw the city.
On one particular stop, we got off the bus to look at onions. Buses competed for parking space while tourists flashed and flailed their cameras. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one captivating architectural miracle. One inch tile squares cover every space in the churches interior. Millions and millions of tiles converge to capture divine imagery. The air is hot and humid as bodies push and prod to touch the church. We got back out and hunted down our bus. Taking a step back, I took a deep breath at the end and smiled. Mrs. Priddy snapped a photo, and we left. I’m happy I saw holy onions in Russia.
On our last day in Tallinn, which was the last day of the trip excluding airport travel, the IR Fellows visited a museum on the history of Estonia located in Old Town Tallinn, then split up to explore the city in small groups and reflect on what we have learned about leadership throughout the course of the trip. Many of the fellows viewed Tallinn from the various overlooks on the sides of the old city walls. It was an excellent way for us to conclude the trip, especially for the class of 2016 fellows, who completed their last Fellows trip.
Our 2nd day in St. Petersburg began with a hotel buffet breakfast infused with cultural lesson #1: the etiquette of lines is less valuable in Russian society (or at the least Russian hotel society) than the necessity of food. Best plan of attack is the Blitzkrieg strategy of targeting the weak spots in the line/mob surrounding the food table with speed and more force than you would think.
After our adventure with breakfast, Natalia, our tour guide, led us via tour bus to Peterhof Palace, the summer palace of Peter the Great and his ancestors. Or, to be more accurate, it was an intricate replica of the summer palace of Peter the Great; the original one had been leveled by bombing during the German’s siege of St. Petersburg during the 2nd World War. Dr. Rezelman pointed out that around 3 million Russian civilians died in the 900 day siege, compared to the 407,000 U.S. soldiers killed in the whole war (The National WWII Museum New Orleans). Lessons from Mr. Horstman’s 9th grade World Cultures class came to my mind in that the Russians are very proud of their resilience to outside invaders, and that this sacrifice they have constantly repeated, from the Vikings to Napoleon to the Nazis, is their claim to being a regional and global power. Although post-Cold War Russia has slid from it’s position as one out of the two world powers, Vladimir Putin is determined to remind Russians of their prideful history. His campaign to “restore Russia to greatness,” besides increased aggression in former Soviet spheres of influence, entails the full restoration of Peterhof Palace, a symbol of Russian wealth, history, and power. This is paid for by the Russian people of course, but in a later informal meeting with a local, she states, “Of course we do not mind. It is our history, and Putin has given it back to us.”
After admiring Russia’s proud imperial history, we proceeded to the Peter and Paul Fortress. We were impressed by its several historical functions, including: a prison, fort, church, burial site, and more recently, a sunbathing park.
We then embarked on a boat ride through St. Petersburg’s famous canals, learning about the history of the city as well as ducking under the several unique bridges. After reaching up to touch the underbelly of the low bridges while remaining seated, I finally understood the sign I had seen when I boarded the boat: “Please sit. Do not lose your head.”
Olga Zhmailova-Senik, the Analytical Laboratory Manager at the St. Petersburg office of the British-American Tobacco Company and Peter local, joined our group for dinner at a traditional Georgian restaurant. We all enjoyed picking her brain of Russian culture, attitude, and customs. My favorite response, however, was to the question, “What do Russians think of Americans?” We all joined her knowing laughter, as she took a minute to pause and smile at the ceiling while she considered the question. She then responded graciously and diplomatically, “I think we have very different ways of thinking, different cultures. Hard to understand each other, but I also think a world with one way of thinking is no good.” It was in this moment of putting a laughter to an identity, a face to a culture, that I realized that despite the role of a frustrating, worthy rival in world politics, Russians were in fact real people. People who shared at least one of our core beliefs as fellows: to always consider more than one way of thinking.
This morning we woke up at 4:30 to catch our train heading towards St. Petersburg, Russia. Despite the early wakeup, the enjoyable and comfortable train ride prepared us for this long day. I even made the Russian border guards checking my passport smile, which, according to every source containing Russian stereotypes, is a very very rare experience. Later, we visited many famous churches. My personal favorite was the Church on the Spilled Blood because of the fascinating mosaic covering its interior. Afterwards, we visited the Hermitage Museum in the Winter Palace. The art was breathtaking, but the paintings and carvings around the ceiling truly caught my attention. They also gave me the opportunity to take some great photos. After a long day, we introduced our stomachs to some delicious traditional meats at a local café. Overall, we all thoroughly enjoyed our first day with the Russians.
The merry band of globe-trotting fellows arrived at the Helsinki airport and promptly mounted a bus to the hotel. The plane ride to Finland tested our endurance and stamina, and some of us were definitely exhibiting signs of sleep deprivation and exhaustion.
After checking in to the hotel and resting up for a bit, we took to the streets of Helsinki. The city had a different vibe than the great European capitals like London, Paris, and Rome. It was simpler; no grand monuments like the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben dominated the skyline. Instead Helsinki stressed a sense of practicality.
After a discussion about leadership on the Senate Square, the mentor/mentee pairs set off for a scavenger hunt around the city. We were tasked with gathering information on trolley fairs, scouting out dining options, interacting with the locals and sampling authentic Finnish cuisine.
After scouring Helsinki for a restaurant with enough open places for all 14 of us, we settled on a burger place specializing in reindeer burgers. Some of us were fans, others were not.
We closed the day with a meeting during which Dr. Rezelman praised the group of fellows for keeping up positive attitudes in spite of the lack of sleep and the challenges of adjusting to a new place, time zone, and culture.