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Northern exposure

February 6, 2013

Northern exposure

Scandinavia may not be the first place many of us would want to visit in January. But as Government Professor Roy Ginsberg and Aaron Shifreen '13 discovered, it's hard to say no when the State Department calls.

February 6, 2013

For Professor of Government Roy H. Ginsberg, there was no doubt about his willingness to heed the call of duty when representatives of the U.S. Department of State contacted him in November, and asked him to travel to Scandinavia on a diplomatic mission scheduled Jan. 14-19, 2013, in Copenhagen, Denmark; Malmö, Sweden; and Oslo, Norway.

The State Department needed a specialist to address widespread European interest in President Obama’s second term. It wanted someone who could take on a jam-packed week of meetings with ambassadors, business people, media representatives, researchers, and students in three countries.

Ginsberg, the Government Department chair and an internationally known scholar on the EU, said yes. He then asked his student assistant, Aaron Shifreen ’13, to join in the preparatory work and in the trip itself. “Before the words were out of my mouth, Aaron agreed to go,” reported Ginsberg. Shifreen, a double major in government and international affairs from West Hartford, Conn., said he was “honored to be offered this opportunity.” 

With opportunity comes responsibility. For Shifreen, the trip would be his first to Europe, and would require significant preparation. He wrapped up his fall semester and jumped into research mode, tracking down details and answering questions posed by Ginsberg as the professor worked on his briefing papers. The challenge, said Shifreen, was to provide answers for a multitude of possible questions from a variety of audiences in the Nordic countries.

“Aaron and I spent the month between the end of exams and our trip preparing,” Ginsberg explained. He provided the topics and questions to Shifreen, who supplied answers and helped draft briefing papers. “It was intense,” said Ginsberg. “You can’t put yourself in front of unfamiliar audiences in foreign lands without being completely prepared.”

Ginsberg spoke on “Continuity and Change in Transatlantic Relations during the Second Obama Administration” in all three countries. He and Shifreen also had a number of special presentations in each venue, and Ginsberg did several media interviews as well.

Shifreen with U.S. Ambassador in Norway Barry White.
Shifreen with U.S. Ambassador in Norway Barry White.

Said Shifreen, “At first I was worried that because we were not always going to be talking to audiences with a political science background, there would be a lack of questions and interest from the audience. However, every event exceeded my expectations. We presented to a variety of groups with different backgrounds, from high school and college students to think tanks at national business confederations and researchers at national parliaments. Each group brought new insights, thoughts, and perspectives to the issues being presented.”

Ginsberg called Shifreen’s insight especially valuable at one session in Denmark, the first country they visited. “He and I talked to the Danish Youth Council, a national association of youth organizations. They wanted to hear about our election and the role of young people who voted in the swing states. Aaron was a big help at this presentation in Copenhagen,” said Ginsberg. Other speaking engagements included the Folketing (Danish Parliament); the Federation of Danish Industry, voice of corporate Denmark with 10,000 member companies; and a conference on U.S.-European relations at the Danish Institute of International Studies.

The two traveled across the new bridge connecting Denmark and Sweden to Malmö University for a discussion on Obama’s foreign policy with students at the Malmö Association of Foreign Affairs.

Norway was the last and longest stop. Ginsberg and Shifreen paid a courtesy call to U.S. Ambassador Barry White and gave presentations at Bjorknes College, the Norwegian Atlantic Committee, the Norwegian Business School, and the Storting (Norwegian parliament). Norwegian highlights included a visit to the Oslo City Hall, whose Great Hall is the setting for the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, and the nearby Peace Prize Museum, which featured an exhibit on the European Union, 2012 recipient.

Shifreen and Ginsberg with Bill Taliaferro, deputy political/economic counselor of the U.S. Embassy in Norway, and Jarle Skjørestad, head of the Storting parliamentary research section.


Shifreen cited a number of benefits derived from the experience: “a cultural and educational background to Europe and a better understanding of European politics. I had the opportunity to prepare and co-present lectures targeted to international audiences, and got a better sense of my own research skills.”

Ginsberg has lectured and consulted for the State Department for nearly 30 years, but never before did he collaborate with a student to prepare and deliver international programs. He said, “I wanted Aaron to join me on the lecture tour as a co-presenter not just because I found him so bright, promising, and helpful, but because I thought it important for Aaron to gain exposure to the world of public diplomacy. I was not surprised to see him function as a splendid ambassador for his country and his college.”

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