By Elijah Scott
For my first thirty-six hours in Romania, I had met the national champion judo practitioner, realized that no one would accept US dollars or credit, was unable to buy food or transportation to either sustain myself or withdraw money from an ATM, and understood that my lack of language skills would not bode as well there as it had boded in Western Europe. Two weeks earlier, my mentor at the International Center of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government had offered me funding to go to Romania for three weeks to research and serve as a cultural ambassador; prior to this trip, I was unable to point out Romania on a map, let alone speak Romanian or understand the culture. And, although the trip started out fairly poorly and forced me to unintentionally fast for the first day and a half, my trip to work at the Conflict Studies Center at FSPAC at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania would come to define my college career.
During my three weeks, I primarily worked on two projects. In my three weeks at the Conflict Studies Center at FSPAC at Babes-Bolyai University, I worked under Dr. Ciprian Sandu. In this capacity, I researched regional conflicts, and I wrote two conflict analysis articles for the Conflict Observer Project website. These articles related to al-Shabaab militancy in Somalia and northern Kenya and the repression of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang province of China. Moreover, I served as a cultural ambassador to bridge UGA and Babes-Bolyai University. In this role, I attended the National Public Administration Conference of Romania and advised undergraduate students on their research. I also attended a forum on US-Romania ties and advocated for the strengthening of ties between UGA and the city of Cluj-Napoca.
But more importantly, I came to more fully understand my academic and personal interest in international affairs and minority rights. My three weeks discussing international affairs with Romanian college students and professors helped me expand my worldview and view geopolitical issues through the eyes of the residents on the ground. For instance, the intertwined histories of Romania and Russia have scarred the collective psyche of the Romanian people, but without talking to students and people in Romania, I would not have tangible knowledge of this. People’s stories, in fact, are far more powerful as a teacher than are books, and my internship at Babes-Bolyai University has shown me the importance of studying conflicts from the people who experience them firsthand. Moreover, by studying two prominent conflicts, I was able to learn more about the intersection of law and conflict, especially when it pertains to discrimination against minority groups. My three weeks in Romania taught me the importance of studying international affairs, especially from the perspectives of citizens of other countries, and of advocating on the behalf of minority rights for their own merit but also for the ability of non-discrimination to dissolve conflicts.
Without such a formative experience in my undergraduate career, I would still be unaware of the power and potential of an international affairs education. Without the financial support, professional development, and personal guidance of the University of Georgia, I would not have been able to intern in Romania with CVIOG. The beauty of the University of Georgia and the School of Public and International Affairs lies within its ability to shape the minds of its students both in Athens and abroad, and I am extremely grateful to both institutions in helping me realize my potential. Because of my experience in Romania with support from the University of Georgia, I will be interning in Nairobi, Kenya in legal advocacy this summer to do exactly what I realized I should be doing a year ago: utilizing my knowledge of international affairs to listen to others’ experiences in a foreign country and work with them to effectively advocate on their behalf.