One of the classes I teach is AP Comparative Government and Politics; so, every May the students take the AP test on what they’ve learned throughout the year. This leaves us with three weeks after the test until the end of the school year, meaning I have to find something engaging and educational, but not too intense, for my students. This year I tried something new- a unit on the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden).
Indicators One of the topics we discuss during the year is indicators because they help us learn about a government’s values and priorities. The textbook we use focuses on four broad categories- 1) measuring wealth, 2) measuring inequality and poverty, 3) the Human Development Index (HDI), and 4) happiness- as such, we looked for a variety of related indicators and included the US just to see how we stack up against the Nordics. (*Note: The first five after the HDI rank are all found on the HDI website)
Good Country Index (overall rank): Denmark- 6; Finland- 1; Iceland- 36; Norway- 8; Sweden- 4; USA- 40
Government and Policies
Similar to most teachers, I try to make the topics we discuss in class interesting and come alive. One way I’ve done that is through Skype. In the past we’ve talked with Žygimantas Pavilionis, the former ambassador for Lithuania to the US; Carl Skau, Ambassador to the Security Council and Spokesperson for Sweden’s Mission to the UN; and Chris Kendall and Jon Worth, experts/analysts on both Brexit and European Union. These experiences are always valuable because the students get to learn from someone who knows way more about the topic than I do and who is not me (as much as the students love seeing my face every day and hearing my voice, they benefit from a “change in scenery”).
One thing that has really impressed me about the Nordic ambassadors is they hold Twitter Q+A sessions (#AskNordicAmbs) on a variety of topics (the most recent one was LGBTQ+ rights). In that spirit, I reached out to all five embassies via Twitter (and email) seeing if the respective ambassadors or their staff would be interested in Skyping with my students. As a result, I was able to set up sessions with four of the five embassies:
Denmark: Jeppe Mathias Helsted, Senior Advisor (Climate and Energy)
Finland: Sirpa Nyberg, Head of Political Affairs
Norway: Ambassador Kåre R. Aas
Sweden: Göran Lithell, Deputy Chief of Mission
All four were very informative and gracious in answering my students’ questions. Besides basic information, they all made sure to discuss the two focus areas of sustainability and gender equality.
Protecting the environment and sustainability are quite important to the Nordic way of life. In particular, it was a point of pride for two people to mention their countries had achieved economic growth while simultaneously lowering GHG emissions. Additionally, Amb. Aas discussed the use of battery powered ferries and even airplanes to combat climate change, as well as the emphasis on protecting the oceans.
When it comes to gender equality, one important reason for their success is their respective social welfare systems. Subsidized daycare. Free education. Paid parental leave (including mandatory leave for fathers). Universal healthcare. The list goes on and on. All of these services help to empower women and girls and give them the same opportunities as men and boys.
My only regret from this part of the unit is that we had a mere forty-five minutes to talk with each of them.
Culture As much as I wanted students to learn a bit of the languages, I was unable to set anything up with people from the university to come and help us. I guess I’ll just have to be more persistent next year.
To get a taste of the culture of the Nordics, I had students create an itinerary for a week-long trip to their respective countries. They then had to present their travel guide to the class. The trip had to include include visits that emphasized the following:
Culture (art, music, language, etc.)
It also had include:
A lot of pictures
Accommodation (where are visitors going to stay?)
Transportation (how are visitors going to go from one place to the next?)
The total cost of the trip
The results were fantastic. Some groups looked for dates to coincide with festivals or other celebrations. Others also took advantage of the bicycle-friendly infrastructure and well-established public transportation. They were also able to make time for trips to picturesque parks and other outdoor areas. Finally, as to be expected, there were a few museum visits to learn about the Vikings.
One thing I would like to add for next year is movies or tv shows. I had time to show only one episode of one of my favorite shows on Netflix, “Occupied,” which is set in Norway. If anybody reads this and has recommendations, please leave a response below.
Conclusion The students seemed to get a lot out of the unit. It illustrated the values and priorities of other governments (other than the ones we studied during the year), and it got students thinking about what they want to see from our government here. Many of them also seemed quite keen to visit the Nordics (or at least one of the countries); in fact, one student asked about immigration policy. As for me, I have already made it a goal to visit as many of the Nordics as possible and to continue teaching my students about them.
If you have any ideas for next year’s unit on the Nordics, please leave a comment below.
Seeing as how as it’s been over a year since I last wrote here, I thought this was a good way to get back into the swing of things. So, here’s my story. (Note: Parts of this have been adapted from a previous post.)
I am a proud German-American. When I was fifteen years old, I researched my family history and was able to trace relatives to 18th-century Prussia. On top of that, I took German classes through high school. In fact, I was voted to be the next Dieter during freshman year. That was the year the Berlin Wall came down, and while I watched events unfold on my tv, I didn’t quite grasp just how monumental they were.
Wackernheim, Germany Fast forward to 1994-1995 when I was stationed in South Korea with the U.S. Army. I requested to be stationed in Germany after my yearlong tour was done, even though it meant that I would be away from home for a total of three years (it actually turned out to be three-and-a-half years). While I was there (Nov 1995 – May 1998), I was stationed in Wackernheim, close to Mainz. I was able to see Gutenberg’s Bible, beautiful churches and other buildings hundreds of years old, and eat Currywurst mit Pommes. At one point two of my friends and I travelled to Berlin where I was able to see where the Wall used to stand and the Brandeburg Gate. Unfortunately, I misplaced all three rolls of film from that trip, so I have no photos, just memories. We also had the opportunity to take a day trip to Trier and were able to explore the ancient Roman ruins. What I enjoyed the most, however, was speaking the language. I was one of the few guys who spoke German, which means I had plenty of opportunities to translate. When our German friends spoke English, I tried to speak German. I loved it. Unfortunately, after I left Germany, I never really had a chance to speak German again…until 2012.
Our Sister School
The German teacher at the high school where I teach developed a relationship with some teachers at GS Solms, and eventually set up an exchange program. In the fall of every other year, the two German teachers and 20-30 of their students come here for two weeks. Each student has an American counterpart with whom they stay, the female German teacher (Astrid) stays with my colleague, and fortunately for me, the male German teacher (Martin) has stayed with me for the last three trips. In the spring of the school year, we go over to Germany and stay with them for two weeks.
The first time I went (2012), was much different than when I was in the Army because I was now educated and had taught European history for nine years. I gained a much greater appreciation for the history and culture of both Germany and Europe. So when I saw what used to be a checkpoint between the former BRD and DDR, not only did I think about how Germany had been reunited, but also how Europe had been somewhat reunited after the Eastern Enlargement. At the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn, I saw relics of the Nazi period and the GDR, but I also saw a copy of the treaty establishing the European Economic Community. All I could think of when I saw that was that despite their troubled past, Europeans (or perhaps more precisely their leaders?) thought about cooperating to prevent that from happening again. They were willing to look beyond their differences and work to build a better Europe for future generations.
It was also during that trip that Martin took us to an Eintracht Frankfurt match. I’ve been hooked ever since, and I am still waiting to go back for another match. (Side note: They’re one of the hottest teams in the Bundesliga and the Europa League this year)
Martin has since become a very close friend. He is patient with me when I try my German, although I am always nervous to speak with him because of how bad it is now. Nonetheless, I plug along, and he has no problem correcting me. His wife is also understanding of my ineptitude, and she is always willing to help me (and feed me wonderful brötchen and other delicious breads and pastries).
I have now been to his home three times in Niederbiel, and each time I love it. I would even go so far as to consider it my home away from home.
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The last time I was on the exchange (2016), Martin took me to Leipzig, a city rich with history. I got to drink coffee in one of the oldest cafes in Germany, see the sites from 1989, tour the Monument to the Battle of Nations, and see remnants of the old DDR (Plattenbau).
NCSS 2018 This December I had the privilege of working at the booth for the Delegation of the EU to the US at the National Council for the Social Studies annual conference. My role was to talk to teachers about how they could bring the EU into their classrooms. As luck would have it, the German Embassy’s booth was next to ours, and next to them was the booth for Wunderbar Together. Of course, I took the opportunity to speak my limited to German with Anke and Steffan of the Embassy. Similar to my good friend, Martin, they were also patient with me.
Sidebar: As you can imagine, with over 4,000 attendees, this was a great opportunity to reach teachers of all grade levels and a variety of subjects (i.e. history, geography, economics, and government). As I watched Anke and Steffan interact with visitors, I noticed that many of the social studies teachers were asking to take back the embassy’s items (i.e. posters, maps, booklets, etc.) for their German language colleagues. What surprised me was that they were the only embassy with a booth at the conference, and I thought about how this was an excellent opportunity to amplify any embassy’s reach (two different types of teachers- social studies and foreign language) at just one event. Since a majority of the high schools in the US offer French and Spanish to their students, I think it would be smart of both the French and the Spanish embassies to consider having a booth at next year’s National Council for Social Studies annual conference in Austin, Texas.
Conclusion I hope that I have conveyed to you why I feel such a strong connection to Germany. I could go on and on with stories of my experiences, but I don’t want to bore you or turn this into a slideshow. Needless to say, Germany is part of my identity, and I have cherished every moment spent there.
**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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
**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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
**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.
So happy to see the students’ listening and taking copious notes.
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.
Talking about EU enlargement.
Talking about the competences of the European parliament.
Inside 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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.