By Mary Anne Mendoza.
The notion of American exceptionalism often carries positive connotations within U.S. borders but negatives ones beyond. In some cases, at least 49% of Americans believe that, “Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others.” Superiority alone may not denote rejection, but Americans can no longer afford to assume that such exceptionalism grants them permission to be ignorant of Europe.
Collaboration between the American and European perspectives on the European project and its greater implications was one of the driving forces behind why Yale University hosted 80 students in its inaugural European Student Conference (ESC). A myriad of Yale professors and European policy-makers devoted their time to help advise policy proposals crafted by participants that would later be sent to the EU.
A conference of this caliber is a triumph for youth everywhere. Stemming from the concerns that some Yale students had about the future of Europe, the ESC was a project entirely organized by students. Speakers ranged from David O’Sullivan, ambassador of the EU to the U.S., Pascal Lamy, former Director-General of the WTO and European Commissioner for Trade, and Lapo Pistelli, Deputy Minister of Italian Foreign Affairs, among others. It also featured a video address by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and current Vice President of the European Parliament Ulrike Lunacek. Being able to attract the interest of students across the U.S. (as well as a delegation from the College of Europe) along with the minds of European officials is a testament to the possibility of ideas becoming reality. It shows that young people enacting change is indeed possible, but only when leadership and initiative accompany it. The AID team is very happy to celebrate the success of a conference with values very close to our own.
But on to the bigger question: Why should American students care about Europe? To put it simply, perhaps the greater question is “Why shouldn’t they?” The ideas behind concepts such as democracy and the separation of powers that influence the United States find their origins in the ancient empires and Enlightened thinkers of Europe. Beyond intellectual pursuits is a case for the protection of American values. Independence during our nascent country’s hour of need was achieved through the efforts of supporters in Europe. Additionally, some of the United States’ strongest military allies and trading partners are found in Europe. The negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) opens up an even larger opportunity for the U.S. and EU to interact. Coverage of a majority of these topics and more in the AID blog are in the weeks to come.
Context is everything, even for Americans who take great pride in their country. It may be daunting to seek to understand a country other than one’s own, let alone an entire continent. At times, it may even feel rather isolating to study countries from an outsider’s perspective. I certainly have felt like an outsider many a time, even in academic circles. But this is all the more reason to overcome such hurdles, for the perspective of an informed outsider is equally valuable. It is valuable enough for Europe to continue to support and do business with the United States and it is valuable enough for welcome dialogue to continue between students through the ESC’s establishment of its think-tank European Horizons.