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Gonzaga students learn about diplomacy, economics at Belgium conference

Photo by Kyle Denton
Students, including some from Gonzaga, huddled in small groups at part of their discussions at the Brussels Economic Forum.

The Brussels European Forum was held not long after Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

It’s an interesting time to be in Europe.

Thirteen Gonzaga University students and advisors recently returned from Belgium, where they attended the Brussels European Forum.

“It’s an annual conference that really gives students the opportunity to present themselves as the leader of a country and to make some political decisions that affect global organizations and millions of people," said Sherri Lynch from Gonzaga’s School of Leadership Studies, one of the advisors.

She watched from the sidelines, while student Rebekah Alvord was right in the middle of the conversations, playing the role of a European leader.

“I represented Olaf Schulz. I was the head of government for Germany and the G-20," Alvord said.

Before the conference, she studied Schulz’s political positions, so that when she and students from a dozen other countries sat down to talk about issues such as climate change, she was ready to present his viewpoints.

“It gave me a really unique opportunity to be able to step in from a leadership mindset, but also learning a lot from my partners there, from their political mindset," she said. "My experience was the European students really have a different upbringing and education on politics than we do here in the States and I was really excited to see that part and learn from them.”

Gonzaga student Brendan Klein portrayed a representative from the Norwegian government. He says he was interested to hear, with the Ukrainian war rocking the other side of the continent, how people from all around Europe viewed the conflict.

“What was the mood? How are different countries and different nationalities processing this and perceiving the risks from those threats and what kind of engagement can we foster between not only our nations, but from the defense side of things," he said.

That’s of particular interest to Klein, who, despite being a Gonzaga student, works in the Defense Department in the nation’s capital.

“For the Russian invasion of Ukraine to begin about a week or two before we left, it was pretty surreal and gave even more credence to how important it was to have these conversations," he said. "But also, on a much broader level, how important it was to cement these kinds of international partnerships and represent the United States to our European allies and partners.”

It was also the first Brussels conference for advisor Sherri Lynch, who was just as wide-eyed as the students.

“We had the luxury of being invited to NATO and so we were at NATO and being briefed by NATO officials two or three days before President Biden got there, so really to be at the forefront of these things that are happening as they’re happening was really a unique experience.”

It was a unique opportunity for students to put themselves in the shoes of international leaders.

“These are conversations that are happening on a national and an international and a global level that are impacting lives and I think that the gravity of the situation was, it was not lost on anyone that was there at that conference," Lynch said.

Photo courtesy of Kyle Denton
Gonzaga students and advisors visited Ghent for a canal tour in-between education sessions. Pictured (left to right) are: Bruce Hough, Elizabeth Schultz, Luke Haley, Haley Anderson, Haylee Lynch, Sherri Lynch and Kyle Denton.

It wasn’t all 16-hour work days for the students. They also had time to see the sights of Brussels, the home of NATO and the European Union.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.