Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Discovering Ethiopia

Last week SAIS Bologna students enjoyed a week-long break between semesters. Jullion Cooper and Jacqueline Foelster traveled to Ethiopia. (Jacqueline gave us a heads-up before their trip in a recent post.) Here is Jullion's account of their trip.

When I told people I was going to Ethiopia, more than one person skeptically replied, "Why?" When I asked my partner in crime, Jacqueline Foelster, if a trip to Ethiopia would interest her, she told me it was a place she (like myself) had always felt attracted to and would love to see.

Jullion and Jacqueline inside the
old African Union headquarters
Coming here with Jacqueline was not a decision I doubted for a second. Our love of laughter, willingness to try new things and language skills (seven between us) always make for a good time. More fascinating is the amount of knowledge and insight we were able to share in conversations with locals and international relations professionals after a mere semester of classes at SAIS.

Our experience here was at the same time very Ethiopian and not all. While we can boast of having eaten a variety of traditional food, seen (and participated in) traditional dances (it’s all in the shoulders!) and toured Addis Ababa and Lalibela (a UNESCO world heritage site known for its monolithic rock churches), our language skills allowed us to get first-hand knowledge and opinions of some of Ethiopia’s newest immigrants, the Chinese. The Chinese are not only residents in increasing numbers in Ethiopia but their government has invested heavily in Ethiopia -- from new roads to the impressive new $200,000,000 African Union headquarters commissioned as a gift.

New African Union complex
Our language skills and knowledge of international affairs (plus a touch of luck) won us entrance to the African Union building. Who would have known that the week we were in Addis Ababa coincided with the annual meeting of African heads of state at the African Union headquarters? So when representatives of a California-based company that serves as a government consultant asked if either of us spoke French fluently after having their local translator cancel on them, our trip transformed from tourism into profit and education as well. Jacqueline proved a magnificent translator, and they practically begged her to stay! While she translated, I learned about ways top advisors could help the First Ladies of their respective nations make a difference during their husbands’ presidencies.

On a closing note allow me to mention Ethiopian hospitality and the passionate discussions of homophobia and politics in Kenya and their opinions of U.S. foreign policy -- with top Kenyan government officials, no less.

Having coffee in Lalibela with shopkeepers
The picture I've painted of our trip is a fraction of an intricately complex portrait we experienced in Ethiopia, but I believe it to be more than enough to justify coming.

As I sit in a cyber cafe in Ethiopia's capital (just hours before we board a plane back to our beloved Bologna) and reminisce about our adventures over the past few days, it couldn't be any clearer to me that not only is the world more international than ever, but if anyone were to pursue a degree in international relations, NOW is the time to do so.

Jullion Cooper

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