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UNC hosts second annual Diplomacy Week, introduces students to global relations

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UNC's second-annual Diplomacy Week took place on April 17 to April 21. People gather for the “Beethoven in Beijing” Screening and Q&A on Friday, April 21, 2023.

Last week, UNC hosted the second annual Diplomacy Week, featuring discussions with notable diplomats, a policy brief competition and a screening of the award-winning documentary, “Beethoven in Beijing.” 

Barbara Stephenson, vice provost for global affairs and a former U.S. ambassador, said the Diplomacy Initiative's event aimed to prepare students to help solve some of the world’s challenges beyond UNC.

Graeme Robertson, a political science professor at UNC, said the week was designed to put global diplomacy in the hands of students. 

“It’s about spending a week focusing on these kinds of global issues, on the opportunities for students at UNC to participate, to have a voice in these issues, to meet with some of the policymakers who have a voice in these matters and to get a feeling for their opportunities after they leave North Carolina,” he said. 

Panels included an informational session about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and internships and careers at the U.S. State Department, hosted by Diplomat in Residence Andy Sisk

An awards ceremony for the winners of the 2023 UNC Policy Brief Competition was hosted on Thursday evening. 

The panel of judges included three UNC alumni — senior intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency Ned Kelly, Chief of Staff to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jennifer Davis and technology and science policy executive at IBM Jeffrey Brown.

“It was amazing,” Brown said. “I mean, I think that we were all really surprised by the thoughtfulness and the effort that went into some of the briefs. Some of them were very, very high quality and original recommendations, and students are actually trying to accomplish things with their briefs.”

Brown said that the judges wanted the winning students to take their briefs further than the competition — ideally, he said, they would be presented to those with the power to enact real change in world affairs. 

The final event of Diplomacy Week was a screening of “Beethoven in Beijing,” which was followed by a Q&A session with producer and co-director Jennifer Lin. The film chronicles the journey of the Philadelphia Orchestra as they traveled to China in 1973, becoming the first American orchestra to perform in the country.

“Cultural diplomacy is all about relations beyond political relations and the Philadelphia Orchestra was really one of the first big performing arts groups to go to China,” Lin said. “They have a long relationship, now, with China and with Chinese orchestras, and they’ve been back 11 times since, so they’ve been there a total of 12 times – more than any other American orchestra. In a nutshell, I think the film is a great example of cultural diplomacy and why it helps.”

Stephenson said that she was concerned about the deterioration of international relations between China and the U.S. in recent years and that this film was an example of positive cultural exchange between the two nations.

“I understand what’s happening, and why it’s going on, but I know from all my years as an American diplomat that cultural diplomacy is this vitally important way to keep us from ‘othering’ each other and to see each other as fully human,” she said. “So, in the most reductive terms, the path to conflict slows down when we see each other as fully human.”

The events and discussions were attended by faculty and interested students, and Brown said that he sees great potential for UNC’s Diplomacy Week to flourish in the future. 

“Diplomacy Week has only been around for a few years at this point, so it’s still in its infancy,” he said. “I think that there’s immense potential to grow it over the coming years, for it to act as a lightning rod for students who are interested in pursuing international careers.”

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