Bridging the Gap

Students in the Foreign Affairs Organization put their interest in international relations into practice.

March 01, 2023

Richard Gray ’24

I have long held an interest in international relations and discovered that, as a Grinnell student, I had the opportunity to put this interest into action. In April 2022, I began to envision an event that would give students at colleges and universities around the world a platform to examine and shape foreign policy. At the beginning of the 2022–23 academic year, I founded the Foreign Affairs Organization (formerly the International Affairs Organization) to give Grinnell students a forum to introduce and discuss foreign policy topics.

The organization is a partial continuation of the International Affairs Club, which was discontinued prior to my enrollment at Grinnell. Last fall, the organization began holding events to discuss articles on current events written by politicians, think tank analysts, and NGO staff. Soon after, the organization's focus shifted to larger initiatives in an attempt to bridge the study and practice of international relations.

With this goal in mind, the Foreign Affairs Organization compiled and analyzed information on the most successful student-led international conferences. Building on that framework, we considered conference topics that we were equally passionate about and that we thought had the potential to be meaningful to both participants and the stakeholders most impacted by the topic area. With the support of countless advisers on and off campus, we decided on the topic of “U.S.-Taiwan relations.”

Soon after, we came into contact with National Taiwan University’s Asia Future Political Leaders Association, which quickly became a valuable partner. Together, we designed the conference research areas and format, selected conference participants and guest speakers, oversaw student research, and successfully carried out the conference.

On January 17–18, student delegates from National Taiwan University and Grinnell College collaboratively presented their research on political parties, elections, technology, trade, and international relations. Delegates also interacted with guest speakers ranging from experts on Taiwan and China, defense analysts, youth activists, and academics. Notably, the conference was the first-ever diplomatic conference sponsored in partnership by American and Taiwanese university student groups. It was also an unprecedented initiative in Grinnell’s history.

This conference was a long time in the making, and I am elated to see what we have accomplished thus far. Going forward, we intend to expand our relationship with National Taiwan University and to develop additional partners. Further, we will build on our research to advise key American and Taiwanese stakeholders in the public and private sectors and make a meaningful impact on our bilateral relations.

While the U.S.-Taiwan relationship has several key challenges ahead, I believe that dialogues like this are a crucial tool to address these challenges, strengthen ties, and define the ways in which decision-makers of the future engage with one another. This is just the beginning of our initiative, and I can't wait to help drive our strategy forward in the near future.

Richard Gray is a history major and a member of the class of 2024. He is interested in international relationships and hierarchies and how factors such as geopolitics and technology have impacted these evolving social networks. This interest has led him to pursue global challenges through professional experiences in public affairs, security and intelligence, diplomacy, partnerships, and international finance. He is president of the Foreign Affairs Organization and director of Grinnell x National Taiwan University.

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