The NATO Field School and Simulation Program cohort.


Criminology student attends 'once-in-a-lifetime' field school

November 01, 2018

This past summer, dozens of SFU students chose the world as their classroom and studied abroad at one of  seven SFU field schools, ranging from archaeology in Portugal to humanities in Prague.

Harleen Atwal, a student in criminology who took part in the NATO Field School and Simulation Program, describes her experiences.

The purpose of university is to learn new things and expand your intellectual horizon, and that is what I, along with 34 other students from across Canada, experienced this summer at SFU’s NATO field school. No longer were we bound to the classroom. We learned firsthand about what the Canadian Armed Forces do, what a diplomat does, and how international decisions are made in a multilateral environment. We visited experts in their workplace, we had coffee with them, we developed relationships with them.

After speaking with Canadian troops, the Canadian ambassador to Latvia, and visiting the KGB museum, I learned that Latvia was rich with stories of wars, genocides and resilience. The country’s tragic history amplified the importance of having Canadian soldiers deployed in Latvia.

Visiting Canadian troops located at an operational military base on a NATO mission was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Next, we traveled to the 3,000-year-old cosmopolitan and globally influential city of Rome. To describe the beauty, rich culture, and ancient history of Rome is nearly impossible as is describing the feeling of learning from senior-level military and civilian officials at the NATO Defense College. 

Our days there were filled with learning what diplomats actually do on a day-to-day basis. We completed a week-long negotiation, mediation and decision exercise (NMDX), acting as a NATO member-state in a model NATO exercise. It was an experience and exposure my peers and I will cherish throughout our professional careers.

Finally, we departed to our last destination, Brussels, where we watched a World Cup match with German soldiers at an international military headquarters.

We also listened to briefings by NATO diplomats and experts at the Canadian embassy, and were the first civilian university students to visit the EU military staff. Each day spent in Brussels provided an insider perspective on international affairs.

I developed a new understanding of national security, defence, international cooperation and diplomacy. Through this field school, SFU has really given not only SFU students, but students from across Canada, the ability to ‘engage the world.’ And how better to spend your summer than attending a field school in Europe that provides experience, adventure, self-confidence, new friends and memories that will last a lifetime.