Summer Program Cadets Explore European Union

With Brexit fallout in the news daily, a summer trip to Europe gave 12 cadets a chance to study and experience daily life in the countries that make up the European Union.

“The Economics and Politics of the European Union” took place June 1-22, with cadets and faculty visiting Slovenia, Germany, and Belgium. Leading the trip were Col. Tinni Sen, professor of economics and business; Lt. Col. Valentina Dimitrova-Grajzl, associate professor of economics and business; and Col. Howard Sanborn, professor of international studies. Each professor taught a three-credit course on the trip, and cadets were required to take at least two courses, thus earning six academic credits.

“Learning and being immersed in the history of Slovenia was the biggest highlight for me during the trip,” wrote Katie McCommons ’21 in an email. McCommons, who plans to commission into the Army as a military intelligence officer, said she hadn’t known much about that country, which was once behind the Iron Curtain, before this summer’s trip.

A guest lecture by a former Slovenian finance minister helped her understand how the nation had transitioned from a centrally planned economy to a market economy. She also noted that Slovenia’s economic priorities might seem askew to some: the country had electricity in its caves at Postojna Jama before electricity came to the capital city of Ljubjana.

“The decision was made to provide electricity to these caves before the capital because these caves were the major tourist attraction in Slovenia and generated a lot of revenue,” McCommons explained.

Once they’d left Slovenia and traveled to Germany, the cadets visited the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, as well as the Bavarian city of Munich, the Dachau concentration camp, and the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. In Belgium, the cadets and faculty visited NATO headquarters before flying home to the United States.

Sen pointed out that while cadets seemed to learn much both in terms of academics and culture, there was another benefit to the three-week excursion: a deepening of friendships and strengthening of bonds among cadets of different classes and majors.

“There was a lot of community building,” she noted. “[Cadets] took care of each other and watched out for each other, in the VMI way. It was a very good trip—so much fun and so much learning.”

Agreeing with this statement was Willson Tuck ’21, an economics and business major who plans to attend law school after VMI.

“Everyone who has been to VMI shares common bonds of brotherhood; however, this can become separated because of what class you are in,” Tuck wrote in an email. “Each of us was so invested in soaking up as much of the culture as possible and learning what was being taught that class segregation could not have been an option … We needed each other.”

Tuck found that group unity was especially critical when navigating unfamiliar areas. “Streets can be winding, the language to navigate is different, normal cell reception can be unreliable,” he wrote. “You’re just not in the same conditions as when you are in the States. Each time this could have been a stressor, however, everyone in our group was collected and ultimately we would make it back safely.”

The three faculty members who led the trip would all like to plan another European excursion, but the timing of that is uncertain. Other opportunities for summer study abroad, though, are already in the works.

Dr. Dekuwmini Mornah, associate professor of economics and business, is planning to take cadets to Ghana in the summer of 2020 as part of a partnership that VMI is developing with that nation’s Ashesi University.

Meanwhile, Sanborn, the international studies professor, has another goal in mind. The recipient of a Fulbright award, Sanborn is spending the fall 2019 semester in Hong Kong, where he will study the Legislative Council, which is Hong Kong’s governing body, and also strengthen connections he’s made at the Hong Kong America Center, which promotes educational and cultural exchanges between Hong Kong and the United States.

“I want to look at how to bring cadets to Hong Kong,” said Sanborn. “It would be great to build a sustainable program to Asia.”

Mary Price
Communications & Marketing
Virginia Military Institute

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