This past weekend, 80 undergraduate, business and law students from across Europe and the United States attended the European Student Conference (ESC) at Yale University.

Among them was junior Kate Tepper, a dual-degree senior studying International Relations as well as Voice at the Eastman School of Music.

Tepper was selected to attend the conference from among hundreds of applicants.

“I was super honored, because there were five applicants for every available spot,” she said.

The conference, held at the Yale School of Management, was entirely student-run.  Workshops, guest speakers and collaborative projects allowed participants to engage with political and economic issues facing the European Union (EU).

“There hasn’t been a conference with this particular focus before,” ESC Logistics Director Alex Co, an undergraduate at Yale, said.  “The idea was born out of discussions about the future of the E.U. and the role that we as students can play in shaping that.”

ESC President and Yale senior Igor Mitschka told the Yale Daily News, “The impact of the conference lies in the fact that students around the United States of America…will start a debate on their campuses about which kind of Europe they would like to live in, and which kind of Europe they would like to contribute to.”

Tepper said that “A lot of the reason I am so engaged in European politics is because of my opera training, and studying French, German and Italian.  That’s why I’m so interested in those cultures.”

According to Tepper,  “It was interesting because I was the only person there from a conservatory.  I live in the music world 24/7, and this gave me a chance to step out of it a little bit, and be in my other academic realm.”

Tepper was part of the Transatlantic Relations workshop.

The other workshops covered a range of EU policy issues, including borders, democracy, economy and identity.  Students in each workshop worked together to compose policy papers, which were presented at three workshop sessions and two plenary sessions.

“In the Transatlantic Relations workshop, we concentrated on the upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is a trade partnership between the U.S. and EU that is going to make trade between the two much easier and much cheaper,” Tepper explained.

Tepper was assigned a theme on which to focus the policy paper, which she wrote in collaboration with a Stanford University senior and a student at Columbia Law entitled “Harmonizing Standards and Regulations of the TTIP.” The paper will be published alongside other papers from the conference in a forthcoming academic journal.

Tepper said, “In our policy paper, we had to make observations about the current state of regulation, and then come up with our own policy proposals for the EU to execute, or in this case, for negotiations between the U.S. and the EU.”

Work on the policy paper began well before the conference, with Skype sessions allowing the team to brainstorm and coordinate.

“I ended up actually getting really close to the two people that I wrote my policy paper with, because we had to cooperate a lot before the conference and then during it,” Tepper noted.  “Sharing ideas was really great and productive.”

The team then presented their paper to the Transatlantic Relations workshop, receiving feedback from Ignacio Garcia Bercero, Director General for Trade of the European Commission and the chief negotiator for the impending partnership on which the paper was focused.

Bercero was one of many illustrious guests at the ESC.  The conference hosted a number of EU policy leaders, including Pascal Lamy, former Director General of the World Trade Organization; David O’Sullivan, Ambassador of the EU to the United States; and Karel Schwarzenberg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.

Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, provided a video message to conference participants.

Tepper drew inspiration from the speakers.

“David O’Sullivan said to us that diplomatic success is more about the process and opening up networks than it is about landmarks or single successes.  I loved that,” she said.

The conference was an eye-opening experience for Tepper, encouraging her to explore possibilities for her future.

“It definitely made me think a lot harder about the idea of getting a master’s in public policy or global affairs,” she said.  “I loved engaging with other people to come up with policy visions, and it felt like something I could actually be good at.”

Though her background as a music student made her stand out from her peers, Tepper enjoyed the rigorous environment of the conference.

“With all these Ivy Leaguers and people in law school, I felt really special to be around them” she said. “I was around a lot of people who are in law school or business school, and I loved the way they thought about things.”

Throughout the conference, Tepper befriended other students, from Yale and other U.S. universities to those from places like Austria, Germany, Russia and Sweden alike.

“I made friends a lot more easily than I thought I would–people who could in the future be my colleagues, or people who I look up to in the world of foreign politics,” she said.

The conference culminated with plans surrounding an emerging student-run think-tank, European Horizons, which aims “to foster discourse in the United States of America on the future of a united Europe,” according to the ESC website.

By connecting students, scholars, young professionals and EU policy leaders, the think-tank will organize an annual conference and maintain a network of forward-thinking members from universities across the United States.

Conference participants were encouraged to return to their home universities and establish their own European Horizons chapter.  “I’ll try and make a chapter of the think-tank at U of R,” Tepper said. “So if you’re interested in European politics, watch out.”

“With the founding of the new student-led think-tank, the work that was done before and during the conference does not have to stop,” Co added. “In many ways, I see the conference as a symbolic mediator and bridge,” he said.

“I hope to see this dialogue continue in the future, both through the think-tank and the future of the conference.”

Gordon is a member of the class of 2015.


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