About the Program

The program European Affairs in a Global Context was launched in 2018 by the Political Science Department and the International Studies Program to give Virginia Tech students the opportunity to explore Europe’s economic and political rise in the late nineteenth century, its collapse in the first half of the twentieth century followed by Europe’s rebuilding after the Second World War. The program also examines new social and political fractures emerging today, especially those related to the economic and security challenges associated with EU integration and the accession process at an important geopolitical turning point in the Continent’s history. Students also study several dimensions of the global context, including economic pressures associated with globalization, the reemergence of antidemocratic politics, Russia’s isolation, China’s rise and America’s recent turn inward.

This program was designed by Political Science Professors Scott Nelson and Yannis Stivachtis to aid our students in their studies of the underlying currents and deep structures of power that orient and dispose European nations, and which rarely make headlines or elicit commentary in the press. Its focus was inspired by the writings of Karl Polanyi and Hannah Arendt, among other European political theorists. Polanyi’s The Great Transformation and Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism are used to frame the social, political and economic dynamics that are critical to an understanding of Europe’s experiences throughout the twentieth century and beyond.

About the Program
Based at Virginia Tech’s Steger Center for International Scholarship in Riva San Vitale Switzerland, the program is organized around five courses and two twelve-day excursions. Four of the courses fulfill requirements in the five majors offered by Political Science and the International Studies Program, and they can be used to build toward the Minor in Global Engagement. The program’s excursions serve as experiential field study opportunities, and complement our studies of European history, culture and political economy that are the principal focus of the courses. While this program principally engages topics of European politics, culture, and political economy, the program is open to all Virginia Tech students.
About the Program
As part of the program students will visit the international organizations in Geneva and Lausanne as well as the European Union institutions and NATO in Brussels. Of particular value for our students is the chance to be introduced to the officials working at the Geneva offices of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the World Health Organization, the International Olympic Committee (based in Lausanne), as well as the EU institutions and NATO headquarters in Brussels. Many of our students study the noble pursuits of these post-War institutions and organizations in the course of their studies at Virginia Tech, and many see themselves as headed to careers in political and economic development, international trade, peacekeeping, and diplomacy.
The field study excursions to Geneva, Lausanne and Brussels allow us to emphasize the institutional achievements and shortcomings of European nations in the post-World War II period. The EU institutions in particular have allowed European nations to integrate their economies and political systems, and have facilitated stability and put countries on a path to achieving increased wealth. Today, as instability grows and income growth stalls, the EU institutions find themselves under assault from within Europe as well as from outside. The era which Europe is now entering is certainly fraught, with a host of political and economic challenges that are reminiscent of those that surfaced in the early twentieth century and in the interwar years.
A mid-October field study excursion takes students to Cyprus and Greece. In Cyprus students will explore the history of colonialism and anti-colonial politics, and they will learn about the origins and persistence of ethnic tensions in one of the most contested territories of Europe. Hosted by faculty at the University of Cyprus, students will tour the island (including the Turkish “non-state” Republic in the North and the UN-protected buffer zone), visit the Museum of National Independence, and attend lectures on political developments that address the turbulent history of the island. The UN’s role in peacekeeping on the island is the focus of special attention.
Students then travel to Athens where they will take part in seminars and workshops put together by Athens-based scholars and researchers at the Athens Research Institute of European and American Research. Issues that receive special focus include Greece’s challenges in the context of the EU and the euro, Greek-Turkish relations, and ancient and early-modern Greek history and political culture. Complementing our stay in Greece is a daylong cruise to three islands in the Aegean Sea, a visit to the Acropolis and the Parthenon, and trips to several historical and cultural sites outside of Athens.
Europe’s dramatic political experiences over the course of the last century offer a window into some of the greatest political challenges nations and peoples have ever confronted. The regional organizations, trade accords and political treaties achieved through the process of European integration after the Second World War remain critically important for the continent’s political and economic stability. Yet, as governing institutions continue to be adapted to address new challenges (immigration, recessions, terrorism, Russia, EU enlargement, and so forth.), emerging economic, political and social forces threaten post-war achievements and present new governing challenges across the continent.
Since 1992 Virginia Tech has operated a small campus on the southern shore of Lake Lugano in the small town of Riva San Vitale. This lovely Alpine setting – where the Alps descend and Italy’s lakes district begins, and where Italian is the official language – is well off Europe’s most beaten paths, especially for American students. Milan is one hour away by train, permitting students access to airports offering inexpensive flights to almost all major cities in Europe.
We are joined in this endeavor by Aislinn McCann, a doctoral candidate in the Planning, Governance and Globalization Program at VT. Aislinn serves as our Steger Center Fellow. Aislinn teaches a course that focuses on identity, racism and nationalism and she mentors students as they undertake independent study research. She also helps with the planning of the excursions.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the program in the fall of 2020. We are planning to return in the fall of 2021, and applications are now being accepted.