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Studying Abroad While Defending Democracy and Human Rights

Syracuse University students studying in France gain new insights into democracy while broadening their global perspectives.
A board room at the World Forum on Democracy.

Charlotte Bingham ’27 had never traveled outside the United States until last fall, when she enrolled at Syracuse Strasbourg in France, one of Syracuse University’s five study abroad centers. The first-year student wasted no time exploring the historic, diverse city, built on an island in the River Ill and straddling the French-German border.

“Strasbourg is ideal for undergraduates because unlike most metropolitan cities, it’s safe, welcoming and easy to explore,” says Bingham, a Long Island native majoring in international relations. “I made it my European hometown.”

She also discovered Strasbourg’s importance as a geopolitical hub. A symbol of peace and postwar reconciliation between France and Germany, the city houses major global institutions, including the European Parliament; the European Court of Human Rights; and the Council of Europe, a human rights organization that sponsors the World Forum for Democracy.

An entire boardroom of people at the World Forum on Democracy.

“It’s a gem of an opportunity,” says Syracuse Strasbourg Director John Goodman regarding the University’s new agreement with the Council of Europe, which sponsors events like the World Forum for Democracy (above).

In November, Bingham was one of 10 Syracuse students who, as part of their coursework for “Politics of the European Union” (PSC 405) and “European Human Rights” (PSC 429), had the rare opportunity to serve as official rapporteurs at the World Forum for Democracy. As notetakers, they reported on key discussion points at the three-day event, which was attended by representatives from more than 80 countries and focused on defending democracy and human rights.

“I saw the world in a new, three-dimensional way,” recalls Bingham, whose reporting on the proceedings was included in the forum’s final summary. “Programs like Syracuse Strasbourg help me make sense of the world, seeing it as a community of people rather than an impersonal map of lines and borders.”

Center Director John Goodman agrees, noting a new agreement between the University, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in Strasbourg, and the Council of Europe. “The new partnership is a gem of an opportunity for students and faculty alike—the first of its kind between a U.S. institution and the Council of Europe.”

I saw the world in a new, three-dimensional way. Programs like Syracuse Strasbourg help me make sense of the world, seeing it as a community of people rather than an impersonal map of lines and borders.

Charlotte Bingham ’27

We recently caught up with Goodman as well as Bingham, Nathaniel Hasanaj ’25 (international relations), William Johnson ’25 (history and social studies education) and Grace Reed ’25 (broadcast and digital journalism) to discuss Syracuse Strasbourg.

Tell us about the World Forum for Democracy

Willie Johnson writing on a piece of paper at the Abroad World Forum on Democracy.

An aspiring social studies teacher, William Johnson ’25 (second from left) says the World Forum for Democracy exposed him to important issues affecting government and society. Grace Reed ’25 is to his left.

Johnson: It brought together business leaders and representatives from governments, youth delegations and non-governmental organizations to examine the state of democracy in the world. Many attendees presented initiatives designed to improve democracy and the quality of life for others.

Bingham: One presenter who stood out to me was a public policy analyst from Kenya. She talked about the People Dialogue Festival, where Kenyans from all walks of life meet to discuss governmental, social and economic issues. That this is done against the backdrop of different cultural experiences, like food, music and dance, is fascinating.

Hasanaj: The forum enables political decision-makers and activists to debate solutions to key democratic challenges. It’s based on the three values of the Council of Europe: democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

What was it like serving as a rapporteur?

Reed: Each of us attended a lab group or a forum talk, where we took official notes and formed opinions about various initiatives being presented. [Reed’s lab, titled “The Art of Dialogue: Can Empathy Deliver Peace?,” featured presentations of four such initiatives.] After discussing our findings with other rapporteurs, we decided which projects should proceed to the final round.

Hasanaj: My lab was titled “Women Building Peace,” and it explored ways to make peace negotiations more inclusive. One presenter was the founder of the South Sudanese Women Intellectuals Forum, which uses social and broadcasting media to promote a free, just and equitable society. Her presentation was not only informative and well structured, but also extremely passionate. Listening to her made me realize why women and girls in war-torn countries like South Sudan are often marginalized.

Johnson: As rapporteurs, we helped determine which initiative was most popular—and would receive the Council of Europe’s prestigious Democracy Innovation Award. I learned about pressing issues, like the environmental and health impacts of mining in Ghana and Serbia’s clean water crisis. As a future social studies teacher, I’m interested in how these kinds of issues affect government and society.

A group of people in a conference room at the world forum on democracy.

Syracuse Strasbourg students had the rare opportunity to serve as rapporteurs at the World Forum for Democracy. Attending forum talks and lab groups, they reported on various initiatives being presented.   

The University’s new partnership with the Council of Europe creates experiential opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. What are your thoughts on it?

Goodman: The agreement is an outgrowth of the University’s Academic Strategic Plan, which emphasizes study abroad and student engagement with real-time public issues. It provides a dozen internships for students studying in Strasbourg. It also fosters unique research opportunities for students and faculty.

It's extremely rare and valuable for students, especially undergraduates, to work inside an organization like the Council of Europe, which represents more than 700 million people. Thanks to our 50-year presence in Strasbourg, the University has direct access to working practitioners in major international bodies.

Hasanaj: As the so-called “Capital of Europe,” Strasbourg offers many pre-professional learning opportunities and experiences. Some of the ideas I encountered at the World Forum of Democracy have broadened my perspective, something that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I feel more independent and have a deeper understanding of European—especially French and German—history and culture.

Reed: Studying abroad in Strasbourg, I developed a greater sense of autonomy and resilience while advancing my future career through opportunities like the World Forum of Democracy. I now see the world—and the people in it—in a new way.

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