This past February, Olivia DeSpirito ’16, Kendall Manning ’17, James Verderico ’16, and I had the invaluable opportunity of traveling to Macedonia with Dr. Travis Morris, director of the NU Peace and War Center. This was made possible through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) grant which sponsors conferences through their Advanced Training Course (ATC) program. The conference was a joint endeavor between Norwich University and the military academy “General Mihailo Apostolski” in Skopje, Macedonia.
The purpose of our trip was to facilitate a NATO-ATC conference that focused on countering terrorist threats in southeastern Europe. The conference hosted seventeen presenters from twelve different countries, and government representatives from the nations of the Balkans region, including Macedonia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Kosovo. Presenters discussed a wide range of topics such as radicalization and cyberterrorism, all aimed to encompass the real and evolving threat of terrorism.
I served as a rapporteur for each presentation and found the topics addressed to be eye opening because they highlighted some of the capabilities of organizations such as De’esh. The talks on the use of social media and sources of terrorist power helped me see how multifaceted combatting the issue of terrorism really is. Of course, the trip was culturally enriching as well. As this trip was my first time to Europe, I was eager to take in as much as I could to grow my understanding of life outside of the United States. For this, I had one rule: “try everything.” Thus, when the tray of a dozen steaming fish, skin and eyeballs still attached, was placed on our table, already adorned with enough food to feed the army of Alexander the Great himself, I had to dig in. And when I was encouraged to try “Rakia,” the traditional Macedonian whiskey, I had to drink up.
Midway through the week, we toured the city of Ohrid. Ohrid is home to many elements of the ancient cultures that have inhabited the region throughout history. The city was once home to 365 churches, one for every day of the year, but only a few have withstood the test of time. We were able to visit The Church of St. John at Kaneo. It is one of the most beautiful still remaining. Its true origins have been lost, but it is believed to have been built before the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the 13th century. In Skopje, the nation’s capital, we were able to visit the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. This museum highlighted the turbulent history of Macedonia’s fight for independence.
Additionally, we had the honor of meeting with and sharing a cup of coffee with the Macedonian minister of defense. Our visit was a privilege unlike any other. My entire experience was incredibly rewarding. I learned so much both culturally by visiting and exploring this amazing country while also learning so much academically, such as how nations can combat the threats of terrorism. In total, this experience made me feel more like a member of this planet than just a member of our country. I experienced vast new cultures and history. Further, I made friends from regions of the world that I had only once heard of. And, I became educated on a subject that is growing and relevant to our national security. I will take the knowledge I gained and the relationships I fostered with me for the rest of my life.