Thursday, May 11, 2017

Atlantic Expedition - Rediscovering Germany and reinventing the transatlantic partnership

All of the Atlantic Expedition fellows gathered at Eurogate,
an independent shipping terminal in Hamburg,
on the first day of expedition
By Eric Swenson

Eric Swenson is the director of external relations at MacMurray College.  He submitted his article, "Empires of Innovation" to the Atlantic Expedition Fellowship Program through the Atlantische Initiative, and was accepted as one of the Expedition's Fellows.  He became aware of the opportunity through the European Union Center 

When I graduated from UIUC in 2015, I chose to celebrate by taking my family for a meal at a German restaurant, Bayern Stube, in Gibson City, Illinois. As we settled in, I explained what the dishes were and offered my recommendations. My grandmother in particular needed quite a bit of coaxing to make a decision, and the reason wasn’t lost on me. My grandmother survived the Blitz.

I witnessed a profound transformation. A woman who refused even to speak to my grandfather’s German descended cousins when she first came to America ate authentic German food, served by a German family, and she loved it!

Yet her experience is ancient history. I certainly do not remember the devastation of world war, but today their legacy remains the foundation of our Western society through the institutions and partnerships built by nations determined to change. Today, the transatlantic partnership is as important as ever, but it faces unprecedented challenges.

Statue of King John of Saxony outside
the Semperoper opera house in Dresden
In response, Atlantische Initiative, a non-partisan, non-profit, and independent organization founded in Berlin, has established the Atlantic Expedition fellowship program, and I have had the pleasure of participating as a fellow since December. Designed to accommodate young professionals (35 and under) from diverse backgrounds, it aims to gather future leaders to modernize the transatlantic agenda through collaboratively developing policy recommendations and by engaging government, business, and civic leaders in the US and Germany.

I learned about this great opportunity through the European Union Center at UIUC, and I was accepted into the program after successfully submitting an article for publication for the application process. I joined the technology and innovation working group, and all 30 fellows spent the next several weeks preparing policy memos within their disciplines. Then the real fun started! At the end of February, we gathered in Germany to begin a weeklong tour, visiting Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin, where we presented our ideas to these German leaders.

The trip was beyond exceptional! Certainly, the opportunity to challenge and debate experts was incredibly rewarding and broadened my perspective. But perhaps the best part was the truly exceptional fellows in the program. Not only are they knowledgeable and talented within their fields, but they are also thoughtful, dynamic, and engaging. By the end of the trip, I had substantially broadened my network and built new friendships. We are now finalizing our group memos, and on April 9th, a final joint memo will be released.
Me Presenting policy recommendations around trade
on tech innovation to the Chief of the State Chancellery
and State Minister, Dr. Fritz Jaeckel, in Dresden

But the Atlantic Expedition program doesn’t end here. This fall, a second expedition will travel to Chicago and Houston, and I cannot recommend the opportunity highly enough! The folks at Atlantische Initiative have put together an incredible program, and they’re seeking people of all backgrounds. Do not be discouraged if your area of expertise lies outside the typical transatlantic dialogue. Your ideas add value!

For the transatlantic partnership to grow and thrive, we need to embrace change and seek new ideas. This trip showed me the vastness of the challenge, but I remain optimistic. I saw real change happen when my grandmother sat down at a German table. The challenge for us is no greater than hers. And the people at Atlantische Initiative have given me a place to begin.

Below are more photos of Eric Swenson's trip. All photos in this article courtesy of Eric Swenson:

The Church of Our Lady in Dresden, which
burned during the bombing of Dresden
Interior View of the Church of Our Lady
in Dresden showing the stone altar and carvings

Rachel Hoff, Director of Defense Analysis at the American Action forum, presents defense recommendations at the Bundestag on the last day of the expedition

View of the Elbphilharmonic concert hall in Hamburg during a boat tour of Europe's second largest port

Hamburg's historic warehouse district along the waterfront

The Hamburg Waterfront

Atlantic Expedition fellows gathered to discuss the feedback received during presentations and to organize changes to the memo


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