If there was only one word I could use to describe our trip to the Baltic region this summer, I would say it was definitely immersive. A largepartof the trip was student-led with the itinerary for each of the countries planned out by the students. The planning took initiative on our part, and as a result, the rest of the IR fellows and I certainly felt proud of our work as the awesome trip panned out day by day. This created an excellent opportunity to immerse us into a real-world situation of planning a trip, and it prepared us for similar moments in the future. Likewise, we developed a keen first-hand understanding of different cultures, leadership styles, and even ourselves as people in an amazingly short amount of time. The cultures of Finland, Estonia, and Russia were fascinating, in each of their own ways, and very different from our own. Our total immersion in these foreign countries, as both travelers and students, was one of the coolest aspects of the trip. I was able to learn so much about other’s way of life by active observation, interaction and discussion. This experience made me more open minded and aware of the pitfalls of cultural stereotypes. As I found in Russia not everyone was as cold as rumored.
Similar to culture, we learned so much about how to be a good leader each and every day. Each day we had a different student leader who had countless opportunities to successfully lead our group through simple and difficult obstacles. Our Teacher mentors allowed the leaders to learn from mistakes along the way. The combination of jet lag, foreign foods, strange languages and unknown cities set up realistic real-world scenarios, and I feel that it helped heighten my leadership skills. I learned many things about being a fair but firm leader of a group. I learned the importance of the small but important things like bouncing ideas or plans off those who are older or more experienced before taking action. I hope to keep reflecting on the multiple mistakes and successes that occurred during my particular day and also learn from the successes and failures of the other leaders of the day to become the best leader I can.
I also learned a lot about myself through this trip. The real life aspect and immersion of the whole trip allowed me to stumble and recognize some flaws in my nature. Throughout my day as leader the weaker sides of my character began to shine, but thanks to advice from my older peers and teachers, I was able to improve upon them as the trip progressed. In the future I will try my hardest to be more confident and natural with myself, in both leadership and everyday moments. I would not have learned these valuable lessons if I was not afforded the opportunities on this trip. Our journey together was one of the most valuable and influential experiences of my life so far and will stay with me forever. I am very thankful for such an amazing opportunity to experience different cultures and to develop my character. As a result of this amazing journey I know that I am better equipped and able to help better my community now and in the future.
The final day of the ’19 International Relations Fellows was one that everyone will remember. First waking up to a run around Theodore Roosevelt Island, we then slowed the pace to walking around Arlington Cemetery. To have have seen so many soldiers spread out in front of us was a memorable moment. We were given time to think by ourselves as we walked on this hallowed ground while thinking about what service and sacrifice means to us. We then headed to the house of the legends that raised our own Mr. McMahon. We gathered around the table and listened to someone wiser than we could ever guess, and stayed completely enraptured the entire time. To hear about some feats that Mr. McMahon the elder accomplished in his life was the best possible way to end a week of incredible opportunities. After seeing so much I can speak for myself and my other classmates when I say this was truly a changing experience and a wonderful start to a even more wonderful four years.
Thursday was an exciting day for the 19’s. In the morning, we visited the Pentagon and were given a VIP tour by a special friend of Norfolk Academy. He told us about some of the history of the Pentagon and his views on U.S. involvement in the Middle East. We were also able to find the legendary purple water fountain and visit the hallway of the Secretary of Defense. We then paid tribute at the Pentagon Memorial in honor of the men, women, and children who died as a result of the terrorist events of 9/11. After the Pentagon, we enjoyed some Ethiopian cuisine from Keren’s restaurant in Washington D.C. After our hearty meal, we went to the Estonian Embassy where we were treated with a taste of Estonian diplomacy by Tanel Sepp. Mr. Sepp explained how Estonia plays it’s part in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the EU (European Union). After the Estonian Embassy, we went to the hotel before heading off to Ray’s Hell Burgers where President Obama has enjoyed a meal on more than one occasion. This was especially interesting because one hungry Hispanic decided to order a massive milkshake and the Hot Mess and was unsurprisingly unable to finish it! Back at the hotel we played the drawing game before going back to our rooms and getting a good night’s sleep in anticipation for the day ahead.
Today we visited Buzzfeed, met two FSOs, and talked with Greg Priddy from the Eurasia group. In the morning we did a morning run (without Dr. Rezelman), which bonded us together as we jogged around Georgetown and saw the steps from the movie Exorcist. We then met with Ellie Hall, a journalist who works for Buzzfeed. She is an NA graduate class of ’07. She told us all about her job and described her many experiences and the stories that she covered, from ISIS to the British royal family. It was very interesting and inspiring to hear about her career and her past. We then spoke with Mary and Michelle, two State Department Foreign Service Officers. They summarized their experiences as diplomats explaining the state department’s cone system and exchanging stories about their travels through places such as Estonia. They described all their language training and even spoke some Estonian for us! It inspired us to hear about their cool stories and great travels. Lastly, we talked with Greg Priddy, part of the financial risk consultant firm Eurasia Group. He described his job and explained how he predicted future trends in other countries’ economies. Afterwards we even played a game with him, dubbed the drawing game. We all had a laugh as we admired our amazing drawing skills. Today was amazing and full of fun! I couldn’t ask for anything better.
Tuesday was surely not a day to forget for the IR Fellows of the class of 2019. The fellows were treated with the chance to sleep in and eat breakfast comfortably in the morning, a great way to start off a day. After breakfast, we headed to the Air and Space Museum at “The Mall.” This was especially cool because Dr. Rezelman and Coach McMahon were our private tour guides. After this we made our way to Georgetown’s campus for a delicious lunch at a famous restaurant that’s in a basement called “The Tombs.” We then made our way to meet retired Army Infantry and Special Forces Colonel David Maxwell. Colonel Maxwell, who works in the Center for Security Studies (CSS) is an expert on relations with North and South Korea. He told us stories about his five tours of duty in Korea and his adventures patrolling the Demilitarized Zone between the two nations. He shared with us his view for the potential outcomes of the conflict between North and South Korea and left us with a lasting impression of these two nations. After this, we went swimming at the hotel pool and enjoyed playing “Marco Polo.” For dinner, we went to a delicious German restaurant that was a childhood favorite of Coach McMahon’s called “Old Europe.” The Veal was outstanding! As we turn into our beds, we know that Wednesday could only be better than today, which is really saying something.
Today the cohort of International Relations fellows visited both the American Red Cross headquarters (DOCC – Disaster Operations Control Center) and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB). We received a fantastic tour of the Red Cross with Mr. Chad which included a great overview of the positions held by Red Cross members around the nation, the purpose served by the Washington D.C. headquarters, how they prepare for and respond to many levels of disaster and how they interact with the greater International Red Cross. After enjoying lunch at our hotel from Panera Bread we set out again on the Metro and headed toward the EEOB. We met Alex Macgillivray President Obama’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer. We received a super tour of this amazing office complex adjacent to the White House. We delved into how the President’s cabinet works, the inter agency process and how policy is made within Washington. What an insight! We then walked down to the National Mall and visited the statue of Einstein and the Vietnam War . For dinner we immersed ourselves into the Asian world of Hotpot!
There we were, six kids going to one of the most influential places in the world… But first we had to deal with Mr. McMahon and otter Dr. Rezelman, who might lecture us on the Spanish-American war for twenty hours but thankfully there was light at the end of the tunnel. We quickly discovered a game called “Contact”. We played this game of logic and teamwork for four hours and discovered the importance of an umbilical cords, the periodic table, and Lord of the Rings. After what seemed like a very quick trip we arrived at a very nice Holiday Inn in Rosslyn and had a good dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s. A good night of rest will see us ready to hit DC in the morning.
This year, I studied the effect of the American media on public opinion and foreign policy. The media, at its core, is a money-making industry. With the advent of 24/7 mass media broadcasting, much of news reporting has become opinion, rather than fact-based in order to simply fill time. Lacking an objective perspective on major issues, the American public is left uninformed and very polarized, which translates to large amounts of polarization in government itself. Additionally, because media syndicates are competing for viewers and/or readers, the objective is often on publishing a story first, rather than having the information be factually correct. The emphasis on speed rather than accuracy coupled with the amount of technology we have, quite literally, at our fingertips leads to the spread of misconceptions at an alarming rate. An interesting question that was posed during my presentation was, “Is the press really free, or is it just free from heavy government regulation and censorship?” I loved this question, because it really made me stop and think. Is the press, because of the heavy influence of major corporations who have a huge say in what makes it to the headlines, really free? I hope to continue to pursue this question, and many others I discovered during my research, in future Fellows projects.
The Symposium was a success. I really enjoyed the experience, and everyone I spoke to seemed engaged and genuinely interested in the topic, which is very encouraging.
My first symposium was a success! I had no idea it would be such a fun, interesting event. As the evening went on, I learned a lot from each person that visited my table, and I also learned that I didn’t need to be nervous. This experience will definitely stay with me for a while, and I can’t wait for next year’s symposium!
In the 1-2 hours before Symposium started, I was so nervous that I frantically re-read my notes and even printed them out in case I forgot what to say next. My Symposium topic this year focused on child labor and how to break the poverty cycle so we can end child labor. Once I started talking to my first person, I realized that I knew way more about my topic than I thought I did, and it became a conversation. The hour flew by so quickly and I ended up having a lot of fun. I even met a gentleman whose mother worked on a cotton farm as a child! What a fantastic experience!