Brussels Study Trip: Blog 7

**Note: Previous posts from our trip- 1) Blog 1; 2) Blog 2; 3) Blog 3; 4) Blog 4; 5) Blog 5; 6) Blog 6.  I am writing as little as possible on each blog post because I want my students’ voices to really tell our story.  For the most part, my thoughts on a lot of the topics we’re learning about can be found elsewhere on my blog.

Today was our last full day in Belgium, so we went to Bruges.  We spent about 3 1/2 hours there and got a chance to see Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child.”  Instead of eating at a restaurant, we decided to buy some sandwich supplies, fruit and veggies, and of course, chocolate, for a nice picnic lunch.  The final teachable moment was me showing them how to read the train timetable.

After Bruges, we hit up some of the souvenir and chocolate shops by the Grand Place to bring back gifts for our family and friends. For dinner, we had leftovers from lunch in the courtyard of our hotel, Hôtel du Congrès.  This was my second time staying here (the first being back in 2011), and both times were wonderful.  It’s hard to believe that our week here is over, but alas, we leave tomorrow for Wisconsin.

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For every blog post this week, I’ve given thanks to the people who made the day memorable for my students and me.  Since this is the last one, I want to say thank you to every person who made this entire trip possible and memorable.  Your efforts and enthusiasm when talking to my students helped make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I truly appreciate everything you did, whether it was coordinating a visit, speaking to my students, giving recommendations for restaurants, or joining us for the EUTweetUp.  I am so, so thankful for each and every one of you.

Merci beaucoup!  Vielen Dank!  Tack så mycket!

Ali B.
Unfortunately, today was our final day in Belgium. I am so grateful to Mr.Knoll and all of the wonderful people we met for such a successful, educational, and most importantly, fun trip. We spent most of our day today in Brugge, a elegant city in Northern Belgium. I was blown away by the towering castle-like buildings and stunning cathedrals. We went inside the Church of our Lady, where a piece created by Michelangelo is displayed. After that we picked up lunch at the market and continued to walk around and souvenir shop.

During this trip I was able to learn more than I ever thought possible. I discovered that there is only so much that you can learn by reading a book or website and actually traveling to the place to discuss with real life people who work in the job; makes a world of a difference. By seeing all of the European Union buildings I was able to truly grasp the culture of Europe and how things operate in the EU. It was an honor to have the opportunity to expand my knowledge of European politics during this trip.

Andy K.
I may not always agree with the EU and I still don’t in many cases. However my goal was to expand my knowledge of the institution and gain an understanding of why things happen. Without a doubt this goal was achieved. Unlike before, I was able to hear an actual analysis by many experts on how it functions and why this is beneficial. I personally value sovereignty highly, hence why I sometimes disagree with how the EU acts, but I now have an understanding that most decisions taken are discussed for years on end and end up benefiting a majority of the institution. Interestingly I learned the most of why it exists not from the parliament or council, but from the Museum of European History! From gaining an understanding of the true divisions between countries in the past and the horrific results of this, it makes more sense to me why countries are willing to sacrifice rights to a subnational organization in return for peace. This is one area where I highly value the EU. For over 60 years peace has been kept relatively well In the face of the worlds most dangerous weapons and hopefully this lasting peace and friendship can overcome the centuries of wars and hatred. One way I believe this can be continued is by getting rid of the democratic deficit and instead empowering bodies like the Committee of Regions which are made up of locally elected officials who are beholden to the electorate. The more and more people see they have a voice, the more people will become sympathetic to the union and attempt to help it create a free society based around free trade and human rights. My only worry is too many people simple think Brexit is the result of racism or stupidity. This was of course true for some people, however the vast majority who believe in a Brexit believe in things like self-determination, devolution, and the feeling that their voice should actually matter in government instead of having choices made by other governments who do not understand another countries situation on a deeper level. If the EU stops shaming people for being against the body and instead acknowledges their concerns and adjust accordingly, I can see the EU continuing to dominate the globe as a major power player who improves the life’s of millions everywhere. This trip has sharply increased my knowledge on the EU and how it operates. This experience could come in no other way and I am forever thankful to Mr.Knoll for organizing this trip and for my parents willingness to send me on it. I can’t wait to be back in Europe again.

Bailey A.
Today was our relaxing day to walk around Bruges and buy our souvenirs. The old but updated buildings give Bruges an interesting look and makes you feel like you’ve stepped in a faulty time machine that takes you back but leaves all of the stores. We wound our way around to the Church of Our Lady and saw one of Michelangelo’s sculptures, a truly amazing sight for a very low price. I think it was the perfect way to sum up this trip. The whole point of the EU is to remember the past but keep moving forward in a peaceful way. The architecture might be old, but the ideas are new and exciting. The fact that so many cultures can exist in one small country, in one city, is a revolutionary idea when you look at the past, and seeing the whole operation from the views of our various speakers on the inside has been an amazing way to see it all. I can’t wait to come back not only to experience Belgium but all of the countries that make up this exciting place, but for now we’re heading home.

Cat G.
Bonjour! Today was definitely a bittersweet day.  On one hand it was fantastic, it seems I will never tire of the city’s magnificent buildings and grand architecture, but on the other hand I was waking up with the knowledge that it was our last official day in Brussels.  Our day started a little bit early, but I was excited because on our agenda today was a trip to Brugge!  The train ride was awesome, I actually really liked seeing the Belgian country side and it was a nice change from the busy city.  Seeing flashes of the classic red tiled roofs as the train rushed by and fields full of cows was still beautiful to see, even if it was in an unexpected way.  The actual city itself was absolutely gorgeous.  The traditional style streets and quaint building styles created an almost fairytale atmosphere.  It was incredible watching the huge church in the center of the square slowly get bigger as we got closer.  I don’t think I could ever get tired of seeing giant detailed churches and eloquently designed castles.  The city looked amazing at any and every angle and there always seemed to be something to look at.  We even got to visit the Church of Our Lady which was absolutely stunning.  The high ceilings and extravagantly detailed art left me speechless, and I still can’t get over the fact that I actually saw a Michelangelo sculpture in person.  For lunch we picnicked in front of another magnificent church and although it was a little chilly, the company was good and so was the city.  

This trip has been such an amazing experience and has defied my every expectation.  Every single day I’ve learned so much and seen so many incredible new things.  The buildings, the people and the food have all been so good and I’ve loved every second.  Overall I have learned more about Europe and the EU than I could in any classroom.  This trip has not only reminded me of the value of learning, but it has inspired me even further to pursue my love of language, foreign affairs and history.  I always love to travel and see new things because its a good reminder for me of what I truly value and care about.  This city is beautiful, the people are wonderful, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.  As heartbreaking as it is, one last time, bonsoir from Brussels 🙂 -Cat

Greta S.
Today was a great end to this wonderful trip. Brugge was more beautiful than Brussels because all of the architecture was older and there wasn’t the occasional new building to disturb it. I really liked seeing the art and sculpture in the cathedral and it was unlike anything I had seen before. The picnic was really fun and different from other lunches on the trip. I also really liked the train ride because I’ve never been on a train for a long time before, and it was really new.

Overall, I learned a lot on this trip in a variety of ways. I obviously learned a lot about the EU and how it works as well as about language. But I also learned a lot about traveling and interacting with people in a professional manner. I’m really sad we have to leave tomorrow, but it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Joe G.
We left the hotel early this morning so that we could catch a train to Brugge. The city was beautiful and rich with history, culture and art. I immensely enjoyed the architecture and quaint feel of the city despite all of the tourists. We ate lunch in a park in front of a cathedral making sandwiches from ingredients we had bought at a grocery store. I am immensely sad that we have to leave tomorrow morning, as I have loved the city of Brussels and its people. Everything about this place resonates with me from the mannerisms of the people to the culture to the long history of the city.

I have learned a great deal about the European Union and transatlantic relations since i’ve been here. I’ve learned how the EU is organized, which institutions have which powers, and have gotten many personal perspectives on what it is like to work in the various branches of the EU. I have also learned many policy points and plans that stem from the EU, but most importantly I’ve learned of the importance of the European Union. Without this structure, Europe would very easily fall into disarray and war. The lengths to which the people working at these various institutions go to make sure they are representing the whole of Europe is very impressive. With this union between countries nationalities are put aside, and progress and freedom for all becomes the focus. The EU makes life easier and safer for all of the citizens of its member states and I have gained even more respect for the necessary work that it does.

Julia P.
Today, in one word, is indescribable- because there’s absolutely no way the beautiful city of Brugge can be summed up in one word. We left the hotel at 8am (I think…it was early ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) and walked to the train station! We took a double-decker train to Brugge, and walked into the absolutely gorgeous city. It had a feel to it that you could turn back the clock tens, even hundreds of years, and the only thing that changes would be the clothing people wear. We explored the two famous steeples, and got to see the famous Michelangelo sculpture, and had a charming little picnic lunch. We also stopped at a really good chocolate company – but then again, we’re in Belgium, what’s not a good chocolate company?

After we finished our time in Brugge, we took the train back to Brussels and, in the pouring rain, shopped a bit for souvenirs! Then the rain let up as we walked back and we had a little dinner in the quaint, beautiful courtyard in our hotel.

It’s absolutely unreal that tonight is my last night here. This experience has been so fun (again, how can I pick one word?) and so informative, it’s amazing. I’ve learned so much about trans-Atlantic relations and the EU, I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with the people in my community, both at a school, state, & national level. I’ve loved talking with officials who work here and truly understanding the EU from these people. This experience is one I’ll never forget, so merci to Mr. Knoll, all the absolutely fantastic people who have volunteered their time to meet with us, our families back home, and Twitter for making this trip possible. For the last time, & in my mother tongue, goodnight, all. Thank you for following along on this adventure!!

Katie B.
Today we took our trip to Bruges! From Brussels it was just a short hour train ride, and I’m so glad we went. The town is so beautiful, from the quaint and lovely homes to the second tallest brickwork tower in the world, everything about Bruges’ architecture is stunning. The highlight of our little trip for me was definitely getting to go into the Church of Our Lady. Among all of the beautiful artwork, and the tombs of the last Duke of Burgundy and his daughter, there was the infamous Madonna and Child by Michelangelo behind the altar. Walking into the church and seeing the sculpture that I had been anticipating since I found out we were going to Bruges was so surreal(I may have cried a bit).

Overall this trip has been so incredible, and I’ve learned so much. I got to learn more about how people view the different parties, and how the smallest of communities aren’t left behind within the huge system that is the EU, and how Sweden plans to eliminate the race to the bottom seen in the labor market. These are only a few of all the great things I have gained from this trip. I’m so thankful to have gotten this opportunity and I really hope to be back to Europe soon!

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