Senior Anisha Lal sat in the 10th row at Friday’s opening ceremony of the NATO 50th Anniversary Summit.
“I really lucked out,” Lal said. “There were a couple of empty seats and I got to go sit down. It was amazing. Here I was in a room with the most powerful people in the world.”
For many GW students, school and socializing was pushed aside for a chance to take part in the historic NATO conference, which ended Sunday.
Lal, an international affairs major who volunteered three weeks for the summit, said seeing leaders from around the world made the 30-hour weeks of entering data and delivering tickets to the White House worth the effort.
“I worked with a lot of people who had definite opinions about world politics and things such as the bombing of Kosovo,” she said. “Although everyone was busy, there was also time to think about the importance of NATO.”
Sophomore Kristina Watson, an international affairs major, spent Saturday directing delegates at a senior officials’ luncheon at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center.
Though Watson said standing in the cold all morning was not glamorous, she said she saw Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger enter the building.
Watson, who has volunteered for the summit since March, said Cohen “made her day” when he spoke to her.
“He just asked me how I was doing and if I was cold,” she said. “Then he thanked me for my help. It was really exciting to talk to him.”
Watson said she has a lot of school work to catch up on, but she said she transferred to GW this year specifically for opportunities like the conference.
“This summit is a great chance to learn about the different political process of each country, the leaders and their roles in the international community,” she said.
Senior Rob Hendin, a political communication major and part-time broadcast associate for CBS, helped manage media coverage of the conference.
Hendin said he attended news briefings and press pool events to get information for CBS correspondents and producers. He also attended the national and international media reception Thursday evening.
“It was interesting to see journalism operating in so many foreign languages, and get the chance to meet and talk with journalists from all over the world,” Hendin said.
Courtney Holsehouser, a sophomore international affairs major, said she saw the conference from the perspective of a planner rather than a diplomat.
“I wonder if those big diplomats ever think about who put this whole thing together,” Holsehouser said. “Do they wonder who stuffed those folders they’re looking through?”
Brent Yacobucci, a graduate student studying science, technology and public policy in the Elliott School of International Affairs, said he was struck by the amount of work that went into coordinating large events.
“The logistics and security issues are overwhelming,” he said.
Yacobucci worked with the summit host committee about 20 hours a week for two months. His responsibilities included overseeing guest lists, sending invitations and coordinating volunteers.
Senior international affairs major Franz Kuo spent the weekend working with NATO TV to produce footage of the conference.
“I’m really excited to be working with NATO TV because I’ll get to go to all the events and really see what’s going on,” Kuo said. “It’s been very interesting to work with lots of different government agencies. I’ve learned a lot about how our government deals with others.”
ESIA Associate Dean Nathan Brown said student volunteers gained a greater appreciation of how international affairs works on a daily basis.
“It’s a real charge to be participating in an international conference and not just watching it on TV,” Brown said. “They see how an international summit works, how media plays into it, how countries try to come together and solve problems.”