Brussels Study Trip: Blog 6

**Note: Previous posts from our trip- 1) Blog 1; 2) Blog 2; 3) Blog 3; 4) Blog 4; 5) Blog 5. 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 more relaxing than our previous days.  We started with a nice discussion about the media and politics at Deutsche Welle.  After the discussion, we got a quick tour of the office, including the studio where they film news pieces.

In the afternoon we went through the House of European History, a museum chronicling European history beginning mostly in the nineteenth century.  We spent three hours there, but if we had time we probably could have spent four to five hours.  I was impressed the entire time.  If you’re ever in Brussels, this has to be one of the places you visit.  We were not allowed to take photos of any of the objects, so you’ll have to settle for two images I took of the outside from Parc Leopold.

During the evening, we had a special event- the #EUTweetUp.  To quote their website, “‘EU tweetups’ are informal pub nights about EU politics. They are relaxed friendly gatherings of people who tweet about EU issues. The idea is to get to know the people behind the twitter accounts (but you can also join EU tweetups if you are not on twitter).”  Jon Worth, who also organized one for my last trip to Brussels, organized this one for my students.  This was an amazing opportunity for my students to talk with roughly thirty people who work in Brussels to ask questions and begin creating their own networks.  It also showed them the potential of Twitter as a tool.

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L to R- Chris Kendall, Katie Owens, me, Jon Worth.

Huge thanks to the following people who made this day memorable for my students and me: 1) Deutsche Welle- Steffi Rosenbusch and Bernd Riegert; 2) Brussels Twitterati who came to the #EUTweetUp.

For their reflections, in addition to the usual observations, I asked the students to answer two questions.  (The first one is a quote from the narrative as you enter the top floor at the House of European History; it is asked specifically of non-Europeans.) — 1) Based on everything we’ve seen and heard this week, what are your perspectives of Europe and Europeans?  2) What did you think of the EUTweetUp?  Did it change how you view Twitter?

Ali B.
Now that we are four days into our trip, I have noticed a lot of things about Europe, Europeans, and their culture. First, I say this daily, but it never fails to amaze me of the mesh of different nationalities and culture of the people in a single city. Everywhere you look you are able to experience something different, such as hearing a different language or seeing a different type of restaurant. Next, the buildings and architecture of Europe is truly astounding. Almost everything dates back to history and has such significant detailing and patterns. Lastly, I have been fascinated at the numerous languages known by each of the people living here. I’ve learned it is very common to know four or more languages; a rarity in the United States.

Today we took part in an event called “EU Tweetup”, where those active on twitter and have a strong passion for the EU, meetup and discuss all things EU over dinner. I was able to talk to many of the participants discussing life in Europe, studying in Europe, and of course, the European Union. This was able to confirm my belief that social media does have a good aspect. Many look at social media’s as a “poison” to the younger generation or a negative impact on society. This shows the educational side to social media. At almost every institution, Mr.Knoll was greeted by “nice to finally meet you in person” or “we know your teacher from twitter”, which shows how none of this trip would have been possible without social media connections.

Andy K.
Just as always, the day was very eventful. However this time it was in a very different context. Instead of the political sphere, we spent time actually learning about the  media while also reminding ourselves of the horrors of authoritarianism on both sides of the political spectrum. We started the day off at the near empty Deutsche Welle studio (European Media) where we sat down and talked about journalistic integrity and what the news company struggles with. I found it interesting to see how important a free press was to them, although at the same time they are directly funded by the government! In my mind at least, these clash and are incompatible.

After this we then traveled to the Museum of European History. I was very disinterested at first, but soon I was fascinated by one or the best museums I had ever visited. Armed with a mini iPad-like device we traveled around four floors as the device explained to us what we were seeing. This journey explored the fundamental reason behind the creation of the European Union(Peace) and with this knowledge my outlook on the European Union changed for the better. When you finally see why Europe feels they must be united, you understand so much more.

To end off the day we went to the #EUTweetUp where I met several fascinating people who worked in jobs ranging from EU positions to helping run international corporations like UPS. Most of what I took from this revolved around the boost it gave me in terms of reminding me what the power of hard work can do, and also the power of social media in general which can play an amazingly positive role. The ability to reach across borders and realize how similar we actually are is invaluable to society and to your Individual life. It is truly an amazing tool.

Bailey A.
All of my life I have felt as though Europeans were a much more civilized and smarter group of people. This trip has only solidified that view. Even if there are those who are in less keen on advancing Europe and their fellow citizens, they are still much better off than other parts of the world. I have been so impressed with the quality of education in schools and everyone’s mastery of language, it just shows you how much farther the US has to go before I feel we can truly call ourselves a world power, how can you call yourself a world power when most of the population can’t converse with the rest of the world?

On a much lighter note, tonight at the EU Tweetup it was so much fun to learn about everyone’s background and why they were there. I learned so much about how some of them were able to expand their worldview at a young age and why they worked in their jobs. I learned a lot more about Brexit and the inner workings of U.K. politics as well as discuss the US President at great length. It was an amazing and interesting day.

Cat G.
Bonjour! I think out of all the days I have been fortunate enough to enjoy here in Brussels, today has been my favorite.  We started the day at a more relaxed pace, not even leaving our hotel until ten thirty (that’s three thirty in the morning for those of you in the states).  We made the hike over to Deutsche Welle, where we met with one of the journalists.  Most of the journalists and correspondents were in either in Paris or on holiday, so the office space was actually pretty quiet.  It was really cool to talk about the role media plays current day both in every day life and politics.  It was also really eye opening to talk to someone who has been on the scene of terrorist attacks and disasters that we only hear about in the states.  Freedom of the press and authentic coverage are media traits I really value, so it was such a fantastic opportunity to talk to someone who embodies accurate coverage on a more global scale.  We even got a tour of the building and the chance to see the recording rooms and all the of the cameras.  

Our group also switched things up a little bit for lunch today too, choosing to go with a small sandwich shop instead of our usual grocery store.  After lunch we went to the House of European History which was so cool.  I could have potentially spent the whole day in there, but we sadly only had four hours.  The way the exhibits were set up and interactive was quite unique as far as my museum experiences have been, and as a history nerd, six floors of extensive information about the formation and history of Europe was basically heaven. I’m always up for learning and seeing new things, so I really enjoyed that experience.  

After that we walked back to our hotel and had a little bit of time to relax and change before going to the Tweetup Mr. Knoll helped us become a part of through, you guessed it, Twitter!  Instead of walking back to Ellis Gourmet Burger, our restaurant for dinner (located around the House of European History), we opted for a cab so our legs could take a break.  Not going to lie it was nice to be in the cab for once, instead of almost being hit by the cabs.  The restaurant was super cozy and we were the first to arrive, so we had some time chat before people started to arrive, and arrive they did.  Before I knew it our little loft was packed with a wide assortment of EU employees and politicians of all nationalities and occupations. To be honest, I was a little overwhelmed at first, but once I started talking to people it was really cool.  

Mr. Knoll asked us to answer two questions on this trip, the first being what we thought of the #EUTweetUp and how that changes our viewpoints of Twitter and the second being what our perspectives on Europe and Europeans were.  After the tweetup, the answer I had been forming in my head throughout the length of our stay has been easily answered.  As far as social media goes, it has really showed me that it can be used for good believe it or not. This whole trip wouldn’t have been possible if my teacher and all of his correspondents didn’t have Twitter, and while I still believe social media isn’t perfect, I have actually seen it used effectively and I think that will definitely impact how I use it in the future.  

The second question is a little more complicated to answer.  As I have discovered Europe, despite its many closely approximated cultures and customs, is truly united in diversity.  It is a continent that makes a considerable effort to respect every nationality, language and culture, and that is really refreshing.  Over the course of three hours I talked to people from Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic just to name a few.  All of these people were so different in background, but still collaborating and communicating in an effort to change the world for the better.  There has been too many wars and too many losses for Europeans to go anywhere but up.  They fight for the greater good, and for those who are not strong enough to fight for themselves. The acceptance of so many different types of people also have made all my experiences with Europeans good ones.  As you may know, I have been trying to learn French.  As you may have guessed, I am not very good.  Not once however have I been laughed at or mocked.  Everyone I have attempted speaking to has been kind, and in some cases, have even even helped me fix my pronunciation.  No words in any language can express how grateful I am for that. So to anyone reading this who was at the TweetUp or who made this possible, or is reading this at all, I thank you profusely for the wonderful experience I have been fortunate enough to have.  Bonsoir from Brussels -Cat

Greta S.
Deutsche Welle was kind of depressing. In my favorite TV show 30 Rock, they talk about how television is supposed to be grand, and I believe that as well. TV is a shared experience, and news like DW is a part of that experience. But when I saw the size of their recording studio, it was pathetic, and it was a very clear representation of the strain being put on journalists. Maybe my thoughts on television news being a huge project with dozens of camera workers and huge cameras, even in the past, were false. The whole office was just so small, with a remote operated camera and recording rooms the size of the hotel bathroom. I am shocked by it. If we had gone on a busier day, I’m sure it would have seemed much more alive and like the space was larger. But for me, seeing this really articulated the strain on journalism and scared me for it’s future.

This afternoon, we saw the House of European History. It was the most fascinating museum I have ever been to, and I really wish we could have stayed longer to truly absorb the exhibits. The emotional element added to each piece of history was amazing, and to think that nearly everything in the museum has occurred since 1800 is almost incomprehensible. One hundred years ago, I would not have had this opportunity ever, but now I didn’t even have to search for it, and it’s so cool. I particularly loved the exhibits on the top floor because it was all about history now and how every individual is involved, and I feel like that point is rarely emphasized.

My experiences with Europe and European is that it is all very Western but not American. They are for the most part progressive and have the modern technology and implementation of that technology. But they’re not American because they are so different from what I have seen. Obviously, they speak so many languages and it’s super cool, and the architecture is so beautiful on the old buildings. From the very small part of the city I’ve seen, there also aren’t as many chains and more room is given to small business. Overall, I love Europe and think it’s a very great place to be, but I also can recognize some of the same problems that occur in the United States.

A lot of my interaction with European was at the EUTweetUp, and at first it was really uncomfortable, but after I started to talk to people, it became really interesting. I really liked hearing all of their stories and opinions, and the classic question of how many languages they spoke. It was very apparent how important Twitter was to all of their lives, and it really showed how social media can leave a positive mark on the world.

Joe G.
Today we went to Deutche Welle, the German news broadcaster. It was very cool to see the station and discuss covering EU news. I thought it was interesting to hear about how some journalists are effected by constantly covering tragedies.

Then after lunch, we went to The House of European History, a museum on the entire history of Europe. This massive museum spanned six floors and was filled with interesting and beautiful artifacts from ancient history to the present. We spent about three hours in the museum and weren’t even able to see everything. I rather liked how it was organized like a timeline, and that there was a digitally guided tour. Visiting it expanded my knowledge my European history and historical culture. My perspective on Europeans and Europe hasn’t changed much since I have been on this trip, simply because I already thought very highly of them. The people I’ve met have been very friendly and diverse, accepting of many different ways of living. I have been surprised about how passionate about their jobs everyone we met with has been, it was very refreshing.

Tonight we went to the EU tweetup, and I met many interesting and inviting people who were eager to talk with us for whatever reason. I was happy to see that Twitter was being used as a political forum not only by us teens, but by adults as well.

Julia P.
Hallo! Today was our second to last day here and it was crazy- crazy to believe that our visits are over! 😦 We slept in pretty late which finally, officially cured my jet lag and then headed off to Deustche Welle, which, if you don’t know, is a German broadcasting service (both TV and online). We talked with an official, and peppered him with a lot of questions, but received a lot of fascinating responses in return, like Europe’s general response to the US election. This was particularly interesting to me because it’s something I wouldn’t (couldn’t) know just from living in the US. Then we got a tour of the workspace, and I got to sit in the On Air chair with the screen behind me and it was super cool! (except for when to demonstrate the camera’s amazing quality our guide zoomed in super close on my face…that was just awkward)

After that we got lunch at a sandwich place, where I ordered (successfully!) in Spanish – with the exception of not knowing how to say “flat water” – and ate the best sandwich I’ve ever had.

Following lunch was the House of European History, which was so cool. I’m a bit of a history geek, but we were short on time so I had to just scan most things. As it was, we spent hours in the museum. It was super cool how they gave us these little tablets that would virtually give you a tour of the displays. In the gift shop they had a fat book all about history of the world and..well..I can’t wait to read it on the plane ride home!

Then we had dinner at Ellis Gourmet Burger for the #EUtweetup and not only was the food really good, but the company was even better. Social media, in my life, has always been about communication, but communication among people I know in my community. Never before have I seen a social media platform (like Twitter) bring together people internationally, but tonight I talked with people from all over Europe! I heard English, Dutch, Italian, German and other languages I didn’t know spoken with grace and ease about topics ranging from Brexit to the best place to get Belgian chocolate, and it was just…amazing. There were so many knowledgable, successful people in one room, and the funniest thing for me was imagining meeting all of them separately and hearing about 30 times “Hi! I know your teacher from Twitter!”. My view on Twitter (as well as other social media apps) is so changed now. Tonight I experienced a collaboration of knowledge and laughter and culture all originating from a like or a retweet or a DM, and I now see a different way to use these apps- as tools.

But I still can’t believe tonight is our second to last night in Brussels, and as the trip comes to a close I’d like to reflect on what I’ve seen here. America prides itself on being a melting pot, but in truth, thats what I see here, not at home. Here, where there are 24 official languages, I see the diversity. Here, where I see old and new buildings grow with each other, I see the pride. Here, where people meet from a social media app for the purpose of learning new perspectives I see the understanding. Europeans in general seem to have something that makes them friendly and just Good people. Europe, and the EU, seems to be the place of national pride and international love- love for diversity and the mix of cultures that come with. I am so happy that I could be a part of this trip, for both the wonders I have seen and the wonders I have felt, heard, and experienced all around me. Goede nacht, mijn vrienden.

Katie B.
Looking back on this week in Brussels, I am glad to say that it was everything I had hoped for and more. Prior to coming here, I was so nervous to go to all of these meetings with such important people and try to talk with them. Yet with every meeting we have been to, the people have been so kind and inviting to us. It really made me feel comfortable asking questions and talking with them, which alleviated me of a lot of stress. They are all so incredibly intelligent and passionate about their jobs which was really inspiring to me. One thing that I didn’t anticipate from this trip was how wonderful it feels to be in Europe. I of course knew all that this trip had in store and how great of a city Brussels is but I really only understood the beauty of it and how at home I feel once I got here. I really have fallen in love with this city and I already cannot wait to come back and visit other parts of Europe as well.

Tonight we went to the EUTweetUp and it was a lot of fun! I got to talk with some amazingly knowledgeable people about really cool topics! It’s so great to me that all of this came from Twitter interactions. I used to think that Twitter was just another social media app but seeing all of the amazing people at the EUTweetUp proved that it’s so much more! This whole trip has been so great, and it was all organized because of Twitter, so I hope to find ways to use Twitter much more to my advantage in the future!

Thanks for reading.

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Brussels Study Trip: Blog 5

**Note: Previous posts from our trip- 1) Blog 1; 2) Blog 2; 3) Blog 3; 4) Blog 4.  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.

This trip could not be going any better.  Every single speaker we’ve had has been informative, interesting, and patient with all of our questions.  I truly appreciate the time and effort each one has put into making this trip memorable for my students (and me).

Today we went to the European Committee of the Regions, where we talked about its role and functions, as well as why it is an important and necessary part of the EU.  We also got a chance to talk about SME’s with a staff member of the European Commission.

In the afternoon, we went to the European Parliament to talk with Jytte Guteland, an MEP for Sweden’s Social Democrats.   We talked about the “Swedish model,” Sweden in the EU, and Sweden’s feminist foreign policy.

Finally, one of the main themes from our visits has been the importance of compromise and consensus in the EU, as well as the idea of being united through diversity. In that spirit, I left it up to the students to decide what to do tonight for dinner- the only stipulation was that they all had to agree. We’ll see how it turns out (Editor’s Note: I put an update at the end of this post.)

Huge thanks to the following people who made this day memorable for my students and me: 1) European Committee of Regions- Klaus Hullmann and Andre Meyer; 2) European Parliament- Liz Gehrke and MEP Jytte Guteland.

Ali B.
We began our meetings today by visiting the European Committee of Regions. Although researching prior to coming on the trip, I was still curious to find out exactly how it worked with the other European Union institutes. As an example, the specific difference between the Parliaments job and the job of the Committee of Regions. I learned that this body works to truly reach “united in diversity”, a constant theme of the European Union, and as a classmate stated, it makes sure smaller regions do not go underrepresented”. As pointed in the presentation, the Committee of Regions has done a lot of work in Spain with goats to put a stagger to fires in the forest due to their diets of eating anything and everything.

Our afternoon meeting was with a MP of the Swedish Social Democrats. Here we were able to discus the Swedish model, specifically Feminist foreign policy, the labor market and the climate, which I’ve noticed are commonly high on the list of importance throughout the EU. The Swedish government encourages and assists with equal participation of female and male roles in society, meaning the men spend equal time with the children while the women work and vise versa. This has been proven to be effective for the society as older generations reflect on how they wish this was implemented in their younger days. I also found it interesting on how Sweden is investing in creating new jobs that are environmentally friendly. These new jobs will be top of the line and modern and also open to those who may be losing jobs due to the modernization of clean energy in Sweden. By using both the right and left political parties Sweden has compromised its way to favorable policy making.

Andy K.
Our trip continued today with a visit to the Committee of Regions, a body that gives local regions a voice in European politics. This greatly interested me due to the fact I feel like people are often unrepresentative in the European Union and this was a chance to understand exactly how much power is given to local election officials. Sadly I was disappointed when I learned the committee carries no actual legislative power (although it does significantly influence certain outcomes). I think it is crucial to have directly elected leaders make European laws and ensure that every type of region feels that they have a voice in law. I hope this body gains more power in the future and allows the average person to feel represented in the decision making process rather than just relying on the European Parliament to somehow overcome all other institutions and represent the people that can hold them accountable. I was very encouraged by ideas behind this committee however, and it made me happy to see the EU care about local voices in the legislative process.

After this we had an hour long discussion with a Swedish MEP from the Social Democrats. She fascinated me in terms of the knowledge she brought and interests (degree in economics and major influencer in climate policy). I loved how she spoke about the importance of gender equality and taking into account how it affects all groups in the equation. I may personally see everyone as an individual and not as a specific race or sex, but I believe this evaluation process is a significant step forward for all people and hope more countries recognize Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy. The most Interesting part for me was not in the group conversation, it was afterwards in a one on one conversation about minimum wage. Sweden does not have a minimum wage and instead focuses on the importance of agreements between employers and workers. This has been found to ensure that employers don’t have to cut jobs while ensuring that workers are paid higher wages. She stated that a minimum wage would actually hurt workers as it would allow businesses to keep wages at the minimum level. I found this truly fascinating. Today we took a little different approach to politics, however it was just as informative and personal as ever and I loved every bit of it.

Bailey A.
Today I got a much better understanding of what the Committee of Regions is and what it does. From my understanding of it, pre trip, the committee of regions was something that helped to make the EU more understandable for citizens. After visiting them, I was very interested to learn that part of what they do is assess the effect of legislation on the regions as well as present parliament with evidence supporting certain legislation. They also make sure that there is inter regional support across borders to make sure that the open border system is as effective and sensible as possible, something we don’t really have to worry about in the United States where we have always had good relations with our neighbors.

In the afternoon we had a fascinating discussion with one of Sweden’s members of Parliament from the Social and Democratic Party. It was really interesting to learn about the Swedish model and how it works, both in Sweden and in the EU. Sweden’s feminist foreign policy was a big topic at our meeting, it was so nice to hear about how women and children are being brought into the high level government decisions. One of the things that interested me most was that they have made sure sick days are fairer especially for women, because they know that when you are stressed it can sometimes manifest into sickness. When you are stressed and you have to take sick days that adds even more stress, which is why they are making the sick days much fairer, so that you won’t be punished at all. It was also interesting to learn more about the dynamic between and within party groups from an actual parliamentarian.

One of the biggest things I have found strange about the trip so far is definitely how casual everyone is that there are self proclaimed Nazis elected to the Parliament. I would have thought that there would be a bit more hesitancy to elect an official based on the name alone because of the associations it brings up. All in all it has been a really interesting day.

Cat G.
Bonjour!  Today was another fantastic day!  It started pretty early, 6:25 to be exact.  We had another round of hotel breakfast, and then hit the streets to get to the Committee of Regions.  We ended up talking to two people there, which was just a truly wonderful opportunity.  The first man was very funny, and he talked a lot about what the Committee of Regions actually does.  I think it’s actually very cool, because most of the organizations and institutions we’ve visited so far have been operating on a larger scale.  This body focuses on a smaller, more local scale, which is something I really appreciate and value.  I also really enjoyed talking to the second man as well, because towards the end of the conversation he presented us with two questions.  The first one asked what the EU was doing well.  The second one was what we thought the EU needed to improve on.  This opened a really interesting debate that let us talk about both the good and the bad that comes with such a globally and culturally diverse union.  

Once we were done with that we stopped by the InfoPoint and I may or may not have grabbed quite a few maps and everything they had on languages.  Lunch was next, and we actually ended up going to the same local grocery store we had went to on our second day in Brussels.  After lunch we walked over to the European Parliament, but there was a slight communication mishap so we ended up arriving forty five minutes early.  Being the resourceful individuals that we are, our group just ended up going to a nearby Italian coffee shop.  Not going to lie, I kind of walked in blind when it came to taste testing espresso so that was definitely a little bit of a surprise to say the least.  

Our actual meeting with the Swedish Social Democrats was really fascinating.  It was really awesome to hear about their Feminist Foreign Policy and how it’s impacted both their international relations and their domestic affairs.  In just a little, our group will be going to dinner.  We haven’t decided where yet because Mr. Knoll said it was up to us and that we need to reach a consensus just like the EU, so this should be interesting.  Bonsoir from Brussels! -Cat

Greta S.
At the committee of the regions the sentiment of the EU being united in diversity was central. The institution is unique because it’s members often stay in their own cities, but I like that it was said that they are still different than everyone else in their cities, so there is still a disconnect between leader and citizen. One of the things that has been done that I found particularly interesting was Alcolocks which make truck drivers take a breathalyzer test before the vehicle can start, and if they fail it, the car does not begin. It’s so simple and yet so effective at stopping drunk driving. I liked how the second part of the meeting was held with the speaker asking us what we thought was wrong and right with the EU and then explaining what the EU does for those problems we thought of. This made the session very specific so I learned things that I otherwise would not have learned.

After that, we went to the free publication store for the EU, Infopoint.  At Infopoint, I was very excited and grabbed so many awesome pamphlets and reports and maps, and I’m very happy about every single one of them.

In the afternoon, we met with one of the Social Democrat MEPs for Sweden and she explained how the feminist foreign policy is streamlined into EU legislation as well as her work on the environment and political changes in Europe and the world. I was very interested by the law that makes buying prostitution illegal but offering it not illegal. Before she explained this it didn’t quite make sense, but when she explained that it allows people to report assault without fear of prosecution, it was genius. I found fascinating how both gender perspectives are investigated when creating legislation, and how a certain level of carbon emissions can be bought, therefore reducing how much people emit carbon because they have to pay for more of it. Finally, I loved how she explained the rise of populism as after the 2008 financial crisis, groups did not blame the past actions that caused the crisis, but rather the social progress like immigrants rights.

Joe G.
After breakfast this morning we went to the Committee of the Regions. It was a very engaging and interesting presentation and discussion about the role of this branch of the EU and its powers and rights. We learned that though the Committee of the Regions has no legislative power, they do have a right to be heard by the legislative bodies on a wide majority of decisions. Personally, I believe that the Committee should have legislative powers as it may be the most accurate representation of the people’s interests since it is focused so specifically on the regions of each member state. I enjoyed hearing of various common action plans between regions bordering each other in different countries and how they were able to use this platform to establish shared public services, etc. to make life easier and more prosperous in many aspects.

We then met with a Swedish Social Democrat MEP and talked about many of their foreign and domestic policies. I have always admired Sweden’s feminist focused foreign policy, and think it would benefit all members of society if every country was to echo that sentiment, even if that isn’t realistic in today’s world. I also enjoyed talking about environmental policies including their carbon tax and the EU’s carbon markets. Overall today was very impressive and informative, I learned a great deal about both the Committee of the Regions and about the Sweden model.

Julia P.
Buonasera! Today we started our day with the usual classic hotel breakfast- I would very much recommend the strawberry jam and honey to put on the fresh-cut bread, it’s spectacular! After breakfast we made our way to the Committee of Regions. The speakers we had there were fantastic, personable, and extremely knowledgeable, I’m so glad we went! I thought it was especially fascinating to see a body like this, one that represents the needs of counties, cities, and regions rather than just the nation as a whole. It was also very interesting to hear about the Commission first hand, and about what that job entails. I really liked debating the successes and areas for improvement for the EU!

Following that, we went to the InfoPoint and picked up some booklets and maps, and I really enjoyed the material and linguistic policy and languages in general. Then we got lunch from a little store, and made our way over to the European Parliament, where it started pouring. Luckily, I’d remembered my umbrella! We had accidentally gotten there 45 minutes early, so we made a quick trip to a little Italian coffee shop that was a nice relief from the rain and so cute & cozy.

Then it was time for our visit with members of the Swedish Social Democrats. Both of the Social Democrats we met were so professional yet amenable, and very knowledgeable. We all very much appreciated their patience with all of our questions about the Feminist Foreign Policy!! We’re about to go to dinner now, and then tomorrow we meet with Deutsche Welle, which will be really interesting since that’s a different kind of public service than we have seen previously this week. Ciao da Belgio!

Katie B.
Today we started off the day with our meeting at the European Committee of Regions. This body is important and incredibly interesting to me because it amplifies the voice of 90,000 communities and makes sure no one is underrepresented or misrepresented. Our speaker pointed out that it brings the EU closer to citizens and encourages a culture of subsidiarity which I think is vital to a stronger and more supported European Union. Our second speaker, who was actually a member of the European Commission, was also really great. They spoke a lot about compromise and small to medium enterprises, and even asked our opinion on what the EU could change or do better. In response to this I said that because members sit by party and only have at most 9 to choose from, despite there being many more political parties, might make it difficult to come to a clear consensus or have everyone’s ideas represented. I also thought that many EU citizens may find the organization too complicated to understand and therefore care about, so showing why the EU is important in simple language and graphics would be very beneficial.

Next we met with a MEP of the Swedish Social Democrats. This was probably one of my favorite things we have done over the course of the trip because feminism and societal improvement are among my favorite topics to learn and talk about so talking about the Swedish model and feminist foreign policy was amazing. I loved hearing about how they plan to avoid the race to the bottom and how their feminist policies helped make their society stronger.

Update on the restaurant: The students picked out a restaurant at the end of the block that served a combo of European and African food- De Bruxelles et d’Ailleurs.  The guys running the place were super nice, especially Cas (sp?).  They went so far as to move a table from the inside to the outside so we could take advantage of the rare sun shining in Brussels.  Cas was patient, answering the students’ questions about the menu.  To top it off, the food was excellent (I had the Mafe avec Poulet).

Thanks for reading.

Brussels Study Trip: Blog 4

**Note: Previous posts from our trip- 1) Blog 1; 2) Blog 2; 3) Blog 3.  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.

Another great day for our trip.  We had two visits today- the EEAS and the European Parliament.  At the EEAS we got a chance to talk with two officials (who shall remain unnamed) about the EU Global Strategy and EU-US relations.  The EUGS has already been in place for one year, and you can read the EEAS’ report on developments here.  I actually think that the EU has an opportunity to take on more of a leadership role in global issues in the next few years.  As for EU-US relations, the students got a chance to learn about the two traditional pillars- security and trade.  Even Wisconsin (our home state) trades with the EU.

In the afternoon we went to the European Parliament, where had an excellent discussion about the role and competences of the EP, how it works with the other EU institutions, the party groups, and we got to see the plenary chamber.

We finished our day at Cafe Maxburg for an excellent German meal, and we were quite fortunate to have been joined by Chris Kendall.  Chris and I have been talking about UK and EU politics over Twitter the past few years, and it was great to finally meet him in person.  In fact, this trip was pretty much made possible through relationships I’ve established via Twitter (but I’ll save that for a later date).

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I have been so pleased with my students so far.  They are asking great questions, listening intently, and they are even trying out their language skills.  I was really proud when Julia used her Spanish to ask one of our presenters about his language skills, and Cat took a chance using her French to ask for a fork in the market.

Huge thanks to the following people who made this day memorable for my students and me: 1) EEAS- Our two unnamed presenters; 2) European Parliament- Kirsten Jongberg.

Ali B.
Today we began our day by visiting the European External Action Service. This meeting I found especially interesting due to the fact that most of the discussion was framed around foreign policy and United States/European Union relations, two topics I find fascinating to learn about. I found that the EU’s Global Strategy, newly implemented last year, centered on predictability, balance, a combination of internal and external policies, effectiveness, and promotion of peace, is a long term plan for tranquil relations. My initial reaction to this proposal is that it will be extremely beneficial to not only internal Europe, but external as well.  We also learned about how beneficial the European Union is to the United States and how the United States is beneficial to the European Union.

Our second meeting was with the European Union Parliament. At this meeting it finally clicked for me how each of the institutions work in unison to create the European Union as a whole. Not only did I learn a lot during this meeting, but we were also given the opportunity to tour the building and the area where the plenary sessions occur. I found it interesting how each of the political groups sat with their respective members. During each of the meetings I was able to thoroughly expand my previous knowledge into new thoughts and ideas on the EU.

Andy K.
So far my trip was full of fascinating institutions and this trend continued. After a few bumps to start the day, we traveled to the European External Action Service. Although we did little in terms of actually seeing around the place, we spent over 2 hours discussing Europe’s Global Strategy with two fascinating and knowledgeable individuals. Some of the highlights that I took from this were the importance of bilateral cooperations between the United Nations and the European Union. Neither organization can truly achieve their goals without each other. The future of Europe, and the rest of the world, in terms of issues such as terrorism, food security, sustainability, and development rest of the success of this crucial relationship. In addition to this we discussed a number of issues involving trade, (even getting as specific on how EU countries and Wisconsin benefit from mutual investment) and the geopolitical challenges from Russia in terms of cyber security and energy. Both people we talked to shared the same love for politics as I do, and this kept me immensely engaged the entire time.

After this we traveled back to the hotel and then to a local market where we picked out food and then preceded to enjoy it behind our next destination, the beautiful European Parliament. The European Parliament is by far my favorite institution due to its democratic nature with the direct election of politicians by the general public. Here we explored the current state of the European Union and how it operates in terms of budgetary matters. Sadly we spent little time on revenues which is an area I wanted to badly learn about. Despite this disappointment, I still found the presentation highly engaging and informative. After this I encountered (in my opinion) the most prestigious area, the parliament floor itself. As someone who dreams about speaking on such a floor I was just awestruck by the sheer awesomeness the hall possessed along with the immensely challenging work done by the translators. I can barely learn a second language, nevermind five or six! Overall this day has just continued to improve an already amazing trip and continues to equip me with new knowledge for the future.

Bailey A.
Today we visited the European External action service and learned about what it does and cannot do. It was another interesting morning to learn about some reasons behind voting for Brexit. It was really interesting to learn about the interconnectedness of countries both inside and outside the EU and how action externally is gradually becoming internal action as well. All of the advances that the EEAS has made in the past few years was really admirable especially given their limited ability on behalf of the member states.

In the afternoon we got a very interesting and very human explanation of the European Parliament, and at the end we got to go into a plenary chamber. It was so interesting to learn about all of the afterthoughts added in the past few years, such as rules on leaving the EU, and though it hasn’t been added yet, how countries could be “kicked out”. I always assumed that Switzerland wasn’t a part of the EU because of their reputation as being neutral all the time, so it was really interesting to learn that it isn’t just neutrality that is getting in the way, but the way their government is set up and their identity. We also got to see an approximate comparison between the US government and the EU government, which really helps to explain what role everyone has and what they do. After our conversation we were able to go into the plenary chamber and learn about how the interpreters work and what that means for the MEP’s. Another very interesting day.

Cat G.
Bonjour! Today has been another very exciting day in Brussels.  The jet lag officially set in, but at least I’m exhausted and sleep deprived in a beautiful European country.  We started out at the EEAS, which was a little intimidating because there were TV screens on the walls that announced important events coming up, and one of them just so happened to be a G5 summit — and here was our little student group fortunate enough to get a tour.  The first man we talked to was very nice.  He talked a lot about what the EU’s purpose was, and why it was important.  The actual European Union has had major impacts on both a global and regional scale as far as keeping peace in Europe and providing humanitarian aid. The second man was also very kind and he talked to us more specifically about what EU-US relations implied, and how the partnership between our countries is beneficial to all parties involved.  He even did a little bit of research on Wisconsin itself, linking statistics about our state’s exports to the conversation at hand.  We told him to feel free to come by and try some cheese curds if he ever had the chance to visit.  

After that we got lunch at a local grocery store, this one was different then the one we visited on Monday and full of little victories (I managed to ask for a fork in French!!).  Once everything was purchased we ate our food at the park across the street, which was actually quite beautiful and home to another architecturally stunning building and a bunch of quaint little white flowers.  

Once lunch was done we went to the European Parliament which was actually really cool.  We talked with our guide for quite some time about EU logistics and what role the parliament plays in law making.  Our group was even fortunate enough to see one of the conference rooms, with all of it’s translator booths.  Not going to lie, me and Julia geeked out about the languages for a little while, especially when our guide mentioned that she had a friend who knew (from complete fluency, to basic translations) forty two languages!  Forty two!! How wild is that?!  Like right now I’m struggling to learn two, and her friend just casually knows forty two!  Overall that trip was overall very informational and inspiring.

Dinner was pretty cool, we ate at a more local German restaurant and it was cool to try some new foods.  I’m really looking forward to tomorrow and all the cool activities we have lined up, I am especially interested in talking to the Swedish representatives tomorrow and getting more of an insight on their feminist foreign policy.  Bonsoir from Brussels!  -Cat

Greta S.
The EEAS was very enlightening, and I felt like the policy areas discussed by the first speaker were articulated so well and with great depth of human understanding of the policy. I felt that he was really honest and had very insightful things to say on a variety of matters, and it reminded me why I am interested in politics. With the second speaker, I appreciated the research he did on Wisconsin before talking to us, and I liked that he tied it into what he was talking to us about. Having that personal connection is  always appreciated by me and reinforces my learning a lot.

At European Parliament, I learned a lot about candidate countries and the process of entering the EU which was something I never new I wanted to know about, but I now find it really interesting. We also talked about language and interpretation and I just find it so cool how people can interpret in so many languages. In general I’ve been finding people’s personal stories about how they got their jobs and what they think of their work to be interesting.

Joe G.
We began the day by visiting the European External Action Service. We first got to listen to a presentation on the European Union Global Strategy, which I found very interesting and informative. This branch of the EU makes it even more clear that the European Union is political in nature, that is an organization that is based on and strives for principles of peace, despite sometimes being mistakenly thought of as being majorly based on trade. The strategy is largely based on the trait of resilience after conflicts and crises as this is the key to prosperity for any society. The strategy also focuses largely on the role of social protection in the success of the business and economy. We also talked about US-EU relations and their necessity for both governments.

After that we went to the European Parliament where we listened to a presentation on the structure of the EU and also specifically the structure of the Parliament. I thought it was very interesting to learn more about the political coalitions in the Parliament and also about the vast complications often surrounding the job of interpreting, with it often being necessary to use a pivot language. It was a day filled with interesting information and fun.

Julia P.
Ciao! The main theme running through today for me has been absolute awe at the plethora of languages people know here- which motivates me to try to pick up more than just English and some Spanish. This morning after breakfast we visited the EEAS, which was just absolutely fascinating. We were honored by two officials speaking to us, one focused more globally and one focused more on EU-US relations. I hope I didn’t bother them with all my questions, but this was definitely the place and time to ask! One of my questions I asked in Spanish, and it was just so awesome to be able to speak, to be understood, and then to understand.

After this we grabbed lunch from another little grocery store, and then headed to a park right next to our next meeting (European Parliament). The woman who met with us for that meeting was so nice and friendly but also extremely knowledgeable. We saw the breakdown the the EU’s process for admitting countries as well as the budget, which was super interesting. Following that, we were able to see the room parliament meets in for their Brussels location, and Cat and I were fascinated about that language translation and the fact that our guide’s friend spoke (more or less) forty two languages!!! In addition, the building itself was beautiful, and I loved that the country in presidency decorated the space with a mix of their artwork and art from the EU in general.

Then we came back for a much appreciated nap, and after that headed off to dinner. I was feeling tired, and in turn not that hungry, but once I stepped in that quaint, lively German restaurant that completely changed. My food was so good, and talking with Mr. Kendall was so captivating- their viewpoint on popular topics of debate was so interesting to hear and think about. The whole dinner was wonderful- good food and good company made for a great night! I’m looking forward to the Swedish representatives tomorrow- hopefully I can ask them about their Feminist Foreign Policy! Arrivederci!

Katie B.
We began the day at the European External Action Service where we learned a lot about the EU’s Global Strategy as well as EU-US relations. The EU Global Strategy is interesting because it focuses on advancing prosperity, promoting peace and guaranteeing security, fostering resilience of democracies, and championing a rules-based global order. I really appreciated learning about how the EU attempts to effectively approach crises that are to some seemingly unresolvable. Their preemptive approach focused on how important resilience is in order for nations to react well and quickly to any scenario. It was also great to hear about EU-US relations from the other side of the relationship. I especially enjoyed hearing about the value of mutual investment, as well as the many ways we do invest in one another’s nations. It was so cool to see all of the car companies, health services, and food production that is intertwined between the US and the EU.

Then we went to the EU Parliament. One thing I found really interesting was how everything is connected and overlapping, institution wise but also country wise. Seeing all of the 24 languages of the European Union able to be interpreted so that all members can use their language of origin was amazing.

Thanks for reading.

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Inside the European Parliament

Brussels Study Trip: Blog 3

**Note: Previous posts from our trip- 1) Blog 1; 2) Blog 2.

I could not have asked for a better start for the first day of visits here in Brussels. We started with a tour and presentation at Europa- the home of the European Council and the Council of the EU.  We were lucky with our timing because the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the EU unveiled a digital project called “Unity.”

After Europa, we stopped by a small market to grab a quick lunch and then headed off to the Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU.  Here we got to talk about the role of the PermRep, Sweden and the European Parliament, some of Sweden’s education policies and how they fit in the Council of the EU, and then how the staff of the PermRep work within Coreper I.  (To see my previous posts on Sweden and Scandinavia, click here and here.)

Huge thanks to the following people who made this day memorable for my students and me: 1) Europa- Alexandra Ekkelenkamp and Mojca Erjavec; 2) Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU- Charlotta Erikson, Arvid Palmkvist, Åsa Petri, and Natasa Boskovic.

Ali B.
We began our day today by waking up to a delicious breakfast provided to us by the hotel. After finishing that, we headed over to the European Union Council. Once we got inside the first thing I noticed was the impressive initiator of the building. To my surprise, the building I was looking at was considered the “old” part of the building. We were then taken on a tour of the impressive new building that recently opened earlier this year. Throughout the whole building the unity of each member state of the EU was well represented through the flags or color scheme through the whole building. After the tour was over we were given the opportunity to speak with Alexandra Ekkelenkamp. This was especially interesting because she was able to give us a unique view inside of the European Union. There we were able to highlight a large array of issues pertaining to the EU, a lot of these issues focusing on social media and how the internet has shaped modern day politics and policy making. We were very lucky to visit the Council on this specific day due to the opening of a new virtual reality, designed by Estonia, who recently took presidency of the council beginning in July.

Our next meeting was with Sweden’s representative to the European Union. I was very excited for this meeting because in December, I will take on the role of pretending to be Sweden’s representative to the EU for a Model United Nations conference. I believe that there is no better way to learn information than to complete immerse yourself in it, so this meeting was nothing but beneficial to my learning. The meeting began with an overview of Swedish representation to the EU and the EU system. Then we covered the EU parliament and the specific political parties that consist of it. After, we dove into the educational system of Sweden and current policy decisions being made. A very interesting aspect of this policy was the freedom of university students to obtain schooling somewhere away from their home country, as long as it is still in Europe. It was made very clear from the many, detailed policy points that the Swedish government wants its students to succeed and supports them in doing so. Overall, today was an exceptional day of learning new things and visiting admirable, unique places.

Andy K.
The second day of the trip was full of fascinating experiences both politically and culturally. Right off the bat we took a trip to the Council to the EU, an organization invested in many important decisions made in the EU. As soon as I walked in the actual building, my breath was taken away by the massive size and official image that was projected with colors of the 28 member states placed everywhere. I felt my very tired brain activate in a way only politics can activate it, and I knew immediately this wasn’t going to disappoint. This was confirmed after a 40 minute tour of the building that involved traveling to circular conference rooms dominated by themes of diversity, progress, and mostly of unity, VIP entrances, and just seeing how the day to day lives and jobs of workers are. After this we sat and and listened to a fascinating presentation involving the EU and general communications that focused on social media. This was strewn with surprising facts about how the EU decides what is the most important social media platforms and how they help push out the facts of what they actually do while combating fake news present on the internet. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at this institution and marveled at the artwork and ideas that make the EU unique.

Next we attended a presentation/Q&A at the Swedish Permanent Mission to the EU. At first I wasn’t sure what to think about it, but soon I found myself in even more enjoyment than before! The policy talks centered around core Swedish values like climate change, along with education and the general ideas behind Sweden’s policy. Never have I found myself more engaged in a presentation this entire year. Not only were those speaking interesting, but they were clear experts which presented a view on topics I had never encountered before. For instance the educational values behind Sweden’s system I found extremely applicable to Verona’s schools, which often struggle with policies that Sweden has combatted such as how to ensure technology is used appropriately. In addition to this I enjoyed the fact they explained why the opposed creation of things that sound really good like “Student Loans For All EU Civilians,” but in reality ripped off Swedish tax payers and was actually destructive for everyone as a whole. I was completely invested for the entire two hours and I loved it all. This entire day revolved around subjects I feel extremely passionate about this and want to do the rest of my life. Politics in Europe may be in much different forms and institutions than in the United States, but the passion and issues remain the exact same. I can’t wait to have more days like this to continue to shape my perspective on the European Union and politics In general.

Bailey A.
Today we got a tour of the EU council and met with the Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU. On our tour of the council we got to see both the old building and the new building. It was very interesting to see how they blended together and the symbolism of the different aspects of the building. We met with Alexandra Ekkelenkamp and learned about media and communication in the EU. It was really interesting to learn about how Brexit affected communications with the EU citizens on a subconscious level. It was also really interesting to learn about filter bubbles and how companies exploit the fact that people only like to look at what they agree with, and how that might have influenced the UK’s decision to leave. It was refreshing to hear about the different ways that the EU works to be transparent and open with the media and their citizens instead of making it into a mystical place nobody can understand. I think the most important thing to take away was that news is not what matters, we focus so much on what is going on all around us that we never focus on the big issues, which is why the EU tweets (and other social media) about the big issues and what they are doing.

In the afternoon we visited Sweden’s permanent representation and learned all about their involvement in the EU and the big topics they try to bring up. Most of the time when I think of Sweden, I think of how great they are doing to combat climate change and how vocal they are about it, so it was really interesting to learn that they really work hard to bring forests into the conversation. It was really interesting to hear about the different obstacles they face when trying to get other countries to agree with their point of view and the different reasons behind it, like other countries’s lack of trees. One of my favorite topics while we were there was Sweden’s work in the education field with refugees. Because Sweden takes in one of the highest percentages of refugees, integration especially with learning Swedish is important so that all of the young men and women can continue and have better lives than they would have had in their home countries. The language program for non native speakers makes so much sense and I feel like it makes a lot more sense than the ones we have in the states. They teach both the subjects and the language at the same time to keep it more engaging and successful than only teaching the language for two years. I feel like I could go on and on about all the things I have learned just in one day. I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Cat G.
Today was a very, very amazing day.  Breakfast was wonderful and I have come to the easy conclusion that I am most definitely a pastry enthusiast.  After breakfast we made the short jaunt over to the European Council, which may have felt a little bit longer with heels, but it was really cool seeing more of the city so I didn’t really mind.  The EU council itself was architecturally astounding.  I loved the colorful design that decorated much of the ceiling and floor, and the room with the giant lantern was absolutely magnificent.  My favorite detail however would have to be the fact that the outside of the building was decorated with windows from all twenty eight of the member countries.  Each window was a different design and they were all made out of oak, which is the only tree that grows in all twenty eight member countries.  There is just something so pure about that and it made my heart really happy.  The rest of the tour was really cool and we even got to walk down the red carpet that all the super important government officials got to walk down, and not going to lie, it felt pretty good.  I really liked meeting Ms. Alexandra Ekkelenkamp and hearing her talk about her job and what she does and how she got to her current position.  I was also really awed about how she can speak six different languages?!  

We grabbed a bite to eat from a local grocery store and then moved on to the Sweden Representatives to the EU.  This was so super awesome.  Like, I already knew that Sweden was a really progressive country, but this was absolutely mind blowing.  The way they handle education in their country is just really admirable and to be honest I’m a little jealous.  

After we stopped by the hotel (au revoir heels) we walked to a Bulgarian restaurant for dinner, which was delicious.  All in all today has been a wonderful day and I’m excited to see what tomorrow has in store.  Bonsoir from Brussels! -Cat

Greta S.
Waking up to the fantastic hotel breakfast was the best way to start the day. The espresso drink machine made me so happy, as did the pastries and raw eggs that had to be cooked. At the EU Council, Europa was one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever seen because it was so intellectually designed and I loved how colorful it was. I thought it was really special that the EU translates all the speeches into all EU languages, and hearing how many languages everyone who worked there spoke was inspiring. I very much enjoyed hearing about how people get news and how it is catered to them because it’s such an annoying problem. I also loved learning about Twiplomacy because I usually don’t hear very much about how social media affects politics outside of Trump tweeting his conscience.

When we went to the permanent representation of Sweden to the EU, I liked hearing true thoughts on the proceedings of the EU Parliament rather than a filtered statement. I also was particularly interested in the Erasmus Program because it was interesting to hear how Sweden didn’t want the original version because they have a similar system, and that France didn’t want it because it would create social inequality. I like to hear about the politics that go on behind the legislation and that made it really fascinating. Then at dinner tonight, the people who worked at the restaurant didn’t speak very much English and it was exhilarating to hear more French, and I finally got to use my French phrasebook to decode the menu. Today I learned a lot, and I’m hyped for the rest of the week.

Joe G.
We started off the day by visiting The Council of the European Union, where we got a tour of both the old and new buildings. The architecture is very beautiful, well thought out and rich with symbolism. From the color scheme to the lantern shaped structure to the window panes, the entire design was created with the intent to convey the EU’s ideals of diversity, non-partisanship, and being forward looking. It was very surreal to walk around a conference room knowing that diplomats from countries all across Europe, have sat in those seats making decisions that impacted the lives of around 500 million people. We sat down and had a great presentation put on by Alexandra Ekkelenkamp about the structure of the EU and digital diplomacy. We discussed filter bubbles, which I have always found very interesting as the internet is always talked of as being a place to discover new ideas and values, but instead because of filter algorithms has become a reinforcer for already held beliefs and interests, never showing you anything that may contradict what you think to be true or right. This is damaging as it makes it much harder for people to feel empathy and creates political anger and fear. We also talked a lot about Brexit and the initial reaction to it, along with the fear that it, along with the U.S. election, brought that right-wing populism may gain support in many countries. However, more recently the French and Austrian elections vanquished that fear as it was proof that citizens have been watching the effects of populism and have heeded its overwhelming negative effects. I also learned about Glocalities, which is one approach that the EU is using to increase the distance of their reach and convince people of the necessity of the EU. This approach is value-based communication, meaning using very specific value of people in a place or region to convince them of your argument’s merit.

After a great visit at the Council, we walked to the Permanent Representation of Sweden to the European Union, where we got talk to a number of people about their roles within Sweden’s representation. We also discussed the structure of the EU again. I was a little disappointed as I thought the talk would be more policy based but it was informative nonetheless and the people who worked there were knowledgeable and friendly.

Julia P.
Today was such an adventure- both for my mind and for my feet (guess who brought heels!). I started off the day with a classic, delicious European breakfast that left me feeling ready and more excited for the day than I already was. The first place we went was the EU Council, which was just…superb. The halls were ingeniously designed, with wood that was found in all EU countries with sustainable architecture and so much glass and light it felt more like being outside than inside. The other thing I loved about the EU Council building was the color- the backdrop of the elevators, random door, the meeting room floors & ceilings were all decorated with blocks of colors which made the spaces seem to generate creativity on their own. Additionally, I really enjoyed talking with Ms. Alexandra Ekkelenkamp and her experience in the media and communications within the Council.

After that visit, we grabbed lunch from a quaint grocery store- I got a baguette, cheese, and salami and tomatoes for a little but filling lunch. Then we visited the Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU which I think has been the most fascinating part of the trip. We were all captivated by the inner workings of Swedish Government, and especially that if you’ve lived in Sweden for two years and you go to college there you can apply for a grant to study abroad for up to 6 years (hey, mom…?). Additionally, learning about education systems in the EU and the system of European Parliament was absolutely fascinating.

Following that, we went to hotel and changed (into flats!!) and walked to dinner (a little Bulgarian restaurant). I got Tatarskokofte (I’m still not totally sure what it is either, but it tasted amazing) and Ayran (salty, watered down greek yogurt…which tastes how you’d imagine). Today has been so cool and I can’t wait for tomorrow! Bon soir 🙂

Katie B.
Today we got the opportunity to tour the Council to the European Union, both the older building and the newer Europa were incredibly beautiful. I loved the way the buildings connected the rich history of the EU with the innovation of today. I especially enjoyed that the exterior of Europa is comprised of window panes from all EU member states, and that there is color incorporated throughout the building to liven up the space, as well as symbolize the ingenuity and inspiration in the EU and the colorful heritage of every country. We then had a meeting with Angela Ekkelenkamp, where we talked about a variety of interesting topics, including social media, improving communications among member states and the council, digital diplomacy, and Brexit. I really liked talking with her about how useful of a tool social media is in life and how much one can use it to their advantage. I use social media every day but I never fully realized how much use I could get out of it until now. It was also great to hear from a person that actually has been at the EU during and after the Brexit vote. Her focal point is one that I’ve never gotten to understand before and it was a really unique and beneficial point of view to get a better understanding of what’s going to happen with the UK and the EU.

After the visit to the Council we got to go to the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the EU. Our meeting there was really fascinating because we got the chance to hear from various members that actually work with the council or EU Parliament. I really enjoyed hearing about parliament and the different political parties and how they typically would form coalitions. I also really loved hearing about the education strategies of Sweden. I’ve always admired Sweden’s way of doing things and I think their various plans to tackle issues such as migrants needing an education but not knowing the language, to lessening the amount of people leaving school early is really interesting and is definitely having a positive impact on their community.

Thanks for reading.

Brussels Study Trip: Blog 2

**Note: If you missed “Blog 1”, click here.

After months of planning and reading, we’re finally here.  The weather was perfect today, and since we had no institutional visits scheduled, we did typical tourist activities- Grand Place, Manneken-Pis, double-decker bus tour of Brussels, and of course, waffles.

I am very excited to see how my students grow on this trip.  All of them are in Model UN and are interested in international relations and global issues, but I really want to increase their understanding of and appreciation for the EU and transatlantic relations.

For this post, I asked them to write a few words about their initial observations of Brussels.  Stay tuned for more throughout the week.

Ali B.
After completing our first day in Brussels, we managed to see a whole array of different things within the city. My favorite thing we did today was go on a bus tour to many significant landmarks throughout Brussels. Although I was at first wary of the tour being overly “tourist- based”, it was a terrific way to learn and experience many sites we otherwise wouldn’t go to. As the bus drove up to the Atomium I was immediately shocked at the stature of the building. Pictures could never prepare a person for how large it truly was. Also on this tour we were taken past gardens, cathedrals, and homes of past influential people of the city. After the tour we walked around Grand Place, where the surrounding buildings were unique with details along the sides. I expected Brussels to be much smaller overall. Although there are tourist based spots, a majority of the city is maintained as it’s initial state. I’m excited to learn more about Brussels history as the trip continues.

Andy K.
Throughout my entire life I have wanted to visit Europe and finally this gave me a chance, and it hasn’t disappointed. From the narrow winding streets to the prestigious churches towering over the city, this place is truly a unique one. Since the minute I have gotten here, I have been surprised by a number of different aspects of the city. For instance the massive emphasis on multilingualism is something I have never witnessed in the United States. Yes we have many different languages, but it is new to me for so many citizens to speak a variety of languages. More than anything though, the clash of historical and modern architecture gives the city a look that is very new to me. You can notice it anywhere, with modern day company buildings set right next to buildings built over 500 years ago. Today was only the start of the comparison of the many similarities and differences between the US and Brussels. However due to the longevity of buildings, cobblestone roads, and slight differences in how nearly everything is run, Brussels is clearly a city unlike any I have witnessed in my life.

Bailey A.
Today we arrived! Right off the bat I was impressed by customs, the lines were very short and the questions reasonable. This was very exciting because we were able to get out of the airport in under an hour to start our day. Once we started exploring I was very impressed with everyone’s mastery of languages, I didn’t get to use my French at all. I’m very glad we arrived on a quiet day, so we could get oriented without traffic adding new stress. We took a very interesting tour bus to the Atomium, and were able to see a lot of the major attractions without all the hassle. On that note, I was expecting the Mannekin Pis to be bigger! It was very cool nonetheless and I can’t wait to see more of the city while learning more about the EU.

Cat G.
Currently I’m running on very little sleep, but Brussels is absolutely gorgeous.  I love the architecture of all the buildings, and it’s so cool hear so many different languages when walking around the city.  We went to the Grand Plaza and it was absolutely astounding, I also really liked the tourbus ride we took of the Brussels, it was really cool to see all the different parts of the city.  So far I have had two Belgian waffles and one Gelato Cone and I couldn’t be happier.  I’m really excited to talk to the Sweden Representative to the EU tomorrow because I really admire their feminist foreign policy and I want to know more about how they use it when interacting with other countries, especially those with differing societal values.  I’m also really looking forward to sitting in on the EU council, and see how it actually operates from a first person perspective instead of just reading about it.  Today (and yesterday) has been a really wild, really phenomenal day and I’m really excited to see what tomorrow and the rest of this week has in store.  Bonsoir from Brussels!

Greta S.
Before coming, I was expecting to be most shocked by not being around only English, but I was actually way more surprised at how European everything is. Seeing the old buildings and statues and the stone streets is something I never really get to see in the United States, and seeing such a stark difference from the moment of walking on the streets was amazing. The bus tour was fascinating and showed me places I would have otherwise never known about, and walking around the Grand Place was beautiful. Even the hotel room feels new and makes it that much more special. It’s surreal to think that I’ve actually left the country and that I’m actually in Brussels, but it’s so incredible and I am so happy I’m here.

Joe G.
Today we arrived in Brussels, and promptly walked from our hotel to the Grand Place where we had lunch. I was immediately taken by the beautiful architecture and scenery surrounding us on all sides; the narrow streets, old buildings, and cobblestone sidewalks created a feeling of intimacy, a closeness shared between the city and I. We continued exploring the city on a bus tour, stopping at major landmarks, and niche neighborhoods along the way. The rich social and cultural history and influence held by this city is as far-reaching as it is intriguing. The Belgian people I have encountered have been open, friendly and helpful. There is much more of a feeling of connectedness, of respect, and of empathy here than in the U.S. It has already become very clear in the short time that i’ve been here that Belgians are proud of themselves and of their city, and I think justly so.

Julia P.
Whew! What a crazy, fantastic, awe-inspiring 24 hours – at this time yesterday our plane was taxing to the runway. After an 8 hr flight with movies & meals, we got into Brussels Airport around 9am Belgium time- 2am Wisconsin time!! But even though we were running on four hours of sleep (or less), there’s just something about this city that’s so energizing (well…except for dragging our suitcases up cobblestone hills). I loved the way old and new blend in this city- red roofs and intricate carvings mingle with glass and steel in the most interesting and amazing way possible. I also enjoyed the Grand Plaza, with the gilded buildings and little cafes hinting at a Parisian background it was just one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. But there’s no way one can see all of Brussels on foot as well as the double decker bus we took around Northern Brussels- which was fantastic, and featured the Atomium and gelato cones as well as many beautiful basilicas and churches. After that though, we all very much appreciated a nap before heading out to get the famed Belgian Waffles which were all they are hyped up to be. I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep in a bed (!!) before heading to the EU Council  and the Sweden Representative to the EU tomorrow. I’m excited to observe the inner workings of the council! Additionally, I’m interested to see how Sweden got their foreign policy up and going in the first place (from idea to reality) and how this policy has effected their relations with other countries- especially those in the middle east who tend towards the opposite side of the gender equality spectrum. All in all, with the birds chirping and live music strumming outside my window, and a view of intricate marble carvings sheltered by a classic European style tiled roof, I’m amazed by the crazy, fantastic-ness of this day and can’t wait for tomorrow! Au revoir!

Katie B.
During our first day in Brussels we did a lot of sightseeing and walking around the city. A few things that I found especially interesting were l’Atomium, le Mannequin Pis, and the unique balance seen with the abundance of tourist attractions in a beautiful, historical city. Finally getting to see l’Atomium in person was amazing because it is just so much larger than expected. It was really astonishing to stand underneath it and appreciate that it’s not just a sculpture but a functioning museum. I loved getting the chance to see le Mannequin Pis as well because it is such an infamous fountain head that has such a cool history and tradition behind it. It’s always amazing to see art in person that you’ve only seen in pictures. Lastly, I thought the fact that the city is equal parts waffle shops, souvenir stores, and bus tours, and beautiful statues, homes and parks, is really wonderful and makes Brussels unique.

Thanks for reading.