Jumbos Strengthening the U.S.-Palau Relationship by Christine Lee (A’21)

by PriyankaK
Nov 22

A summer course may sound dreary to some, but it’s not every day the class is taught by a U.S. Ambassador and the Legal Counsel to the President’s Office, both of whom are Jumbos and IGL alumni. Thanks to the remote summer opportunities offered by IGL alumni and friends, I became one of the nine students looking at “Palau: The Pristine Paradise of the Pacific”, taught by Amb. John Hennessey-Niland, the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Palau, and Daniel Mandell, Legal Counsel to the Office of the President. The seven-week seminar was designed to introduce us to Palau, a Pacific Island nation with close ties to the United States. Palau is one of the three freely associated states that maintain a bilateral relationship with the U.S. under the Compacts of Free Association. Every Tuesday, we gathered on Zoom and heard from prominent guest speakers, including members of Palauan government and society as well as diplomatic corps to Palau. The topics varied weekly as we discussed different aspects of Palauan society and culture. About halfway through the seminar, each student chose a topic related to Palau, with the course culminating in a policy memo and a presentation as well as a supporting research paper.

As an Applied Environmental Studies major, I am in awe of Palau’s unique biodiversity and admire the emphasis the nation places on protecting its environment. However, as a developing state located on a small island, Palau is particularly susceptible to the looming threat of climate change. For my research, I focused on the opportunity that sustainable urban planning can provide for creating social, economic and environmental resilience in the face of climate change. We were given the opportunity to present our recommendations to the Ambassador and to Daniel, who carefully considered our suggestions and promised to pass our research on to the appropriate people in Palau.

This opportunity was our chance to learn from real-life diplomats and to ask them any questions that we had, which they answered honestly under the Chatham House rules. Being in quarantine did make it a bit difficult; it was hard at times not having access to Tisch and being unable to brainstorm in person with my other classmates. However, having a remote internship helped me strengthen my time management skills and my ability to conduct research in a non-academic setting. Throughout the summer, I developed my research skills and got very familiar with online databases. I learned how to comb through thousands of peer-reviewed articles to find the appropriate research. Before the pandemic, I hadn’t been particularly comfortable with video conferences. Participating in Zoom calls with prominent figures in international affairs pushed me out of my comfort zone and built confidence in what I have to say. At first, I was afraid to ask questions; as the weeks passed, it became easier to do so. I hope that the suggestions I made can be implemented into Palauan policy to better society, and I hope to one day visit Palau and experience its wonders myself!

Alumni Amb. John Hennesey-Niland and Daniel Mandell provided this remote internship.