Imagine this: Mere minutes after a lengthy bilateral meeting with European counterparts, you step on to the stage and take your place behind a microphone. You have been asked, alongside a "top official" from the United States, to represent Germany at a press conference on the latest developments in the Eurozone. Palms sweating, you take the first question, hoping that they will be easy on you. A journalist turns on his microphone and starts out with a tough one, "Germany has been imposing austerity measures across the Eurozone, but are you considering the effects these drastic measures might have on working class Europeans?"
For 68 European and American high school students representing 42 different countries, this scenario became reality, if only for a few hours, in a simulation conducted at the State Department as part of the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute. The Institute, sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and hosted by Wake Forest University, aims to foster relationships among the younger generation of Europeans, Eurasians, and Americans. The Fellows' 4-week-program takes them to the cities of Winston-Salem, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., where they learn how the United States and Europe approach regional and global challenges and develop their own ideas to take our cooperation well into the 21st century.
Part of their program included a day of activities at the State Department. The Fellows began their morning with addresses by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Lee Satterfield, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Public Diplomacy for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Bay Fang, about the importance of educational exchanges and the role of the State Department in diplomacy. Menaka Nayyar, Deputy Director of the Office of Youth and Global Issues, also spoke about how the students can get involved and affect change in their home countries on the issues that matter to them.
For the rest of the morning, the Fellows took part in a diplomatic simulation covering some of today's most pressing transatlantic issues: Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, and the global economic crisis. After State Department policy experts briefed on these issues, the students formed U.S. and European delegations to vocalize their country's top foreign policy objectives in "formal bilats." Representatives from each delegation then participated in a mock press conference, and peers, acting as the press corps, grilled them with hard-hitting questions.
The Fellows certainly impressed in tackling the challenge of fostering foreign relationships in order to resolve global issues, advancing their own interests, and communicating their message to the wider world. According to one student, the chance to collaborate and to experience how diplomats work in real life was one of the best parts of their entire trip. As an organizer and observer of the Fellows' visit to the Department, I feel comforted knowing that these bright, young people, who care deeply about the peaceful resolution of these and other issues, are the future leaders that will drive the transatlantic relationship in the years to come.
Images from the Fellows' trip to the State Department can be found on their website.