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; 6) Blog 6. I am writing as little as possible on each blog post because I want my students’ voices to really tell our story. For the most part, my thoughts on a lot of the topics we’re learning about can be found elsewhere on my blog.
Today was our last full day in Belgium, so we went to Bruges. We spent about 3 1/2 hours there and got a chance to see Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child.” Instead of eating at a restaurant, we decided to buy some sandwich supplies, fruit and veggies, and of course, chocolate, for a nice picnic lunch. The final teachable moment was me showing them how to read the train timetable.
After Bruges, we hit up some of the souvenir and chocolate shops by the Grand Place to bring back gifts for our family and friends. For dinner, we had leftovers from lunch in the courtyard of our hotel, Hôtel du Congrès. This was my second time staying here (the first being back in 2011), and both times were wonderful. It’s hard to believe that our week here is over, but alas, we leave tomorrow for Wisconsin.
For every blog post this week, I’ve given thanks to the people who made the day memorable for my students and me. Since this is the last one, I want to say thank you to every person who made this entire trip possible and memorable. Your efforts and enthusiasm when talking to my students helped make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I truly appreciate everything you did, whether it was coordinating a visit, speaking to my students, giving recommendations for restaurants, or joining us for the EUTweetUp. I am so, so thankful for each and every one of you.
Merci beaucoup! Vielen Dank! Tack så mycket!
Ali B. Unfortunately, today was our final day in Belgium. I am so grateful to Mr.Knoll and all of the wonderful people we met for such a successful, educational, and most importantly, fun trip. We spent most of our day today in Brugge, a elegant city in Northern Belgium. I was blown away by the towering castle-like buildings and stunning cathedrals. We went inside the Church of our Lady, where a piece created by Michelangelo is displayed. After that we picked up lunch at the market and continued to walk around and souvenir shop.
During this trip I was able to learn more than I ever thought possible. I discovered that there is only so much that you can learn by reading a book or website and actually traveling to the place to discuss with real life people who work in the job; makes a world of a difference. By seeing all of the European Union buildings I was able to truly grasp the culture of Europe and how things operate in the EU. It was an honor to have the opportunity to expand my knowledge of European politics during this trip.
I may not always agree with the EU and I still don’t in many cases. However my goal was to expand my knowledge of the institution and gain an understanding of why things happen. Without a doubt this goal was achieved. Unlike before, I was able to hear an actual analysis by many experts on how it functions and why this is beneficial. I personally value sovereignty highly, hence why I sometimes disagree with how the EU acts, but I now have an understanding that most decisions taken are discussed for years on end and end up benefiting a majority of the institution. Interestingly I learned the most of why it exists not from the parliament or council, but from the Museum of European History! From gaining an understanding of the true divisions between countries in the past and the horrific results of this, it makes more sense to me why countries are willing to sacrifice rights to a subnational organization in return for peace. This is one area where I highly value the EU. For over 60 years peace has been kept relatively well In the face of the worlds most dangerous weapons and hopefully this lasting peace and friendship can overcome the centuries of wars and hatred. One way I believe this can be continued is by getting rid of the democratic deficit and instead empowering bodies like the Committee of Regions which are made up of locally elected officials who are beholden to the electorate. The more and more people see they have a voice, the more people will become sympathetic to the union and attempt to help it create a free society based around free trade and human rights. My only worry is too many people simple think Brexit is the result of racism or stupidity. This was of course true for some people, however the vast majority who believe in a Brexit believe in things like self-determination, devolution, and the feeling that their voice should actually matter in government instead of having choices made by other governments who do not understand another countries situation on a deeper level. If the EU stops shaming people for being against the body and instead acknowledges their concerns and adjust accordingly, I can see the EU continuing to dominate the globe as a major power player who improves the life’s of millions everywhere. This trip has sharply increased my knowledge on the EU and how it operates. This experience could come in no other way and I am forever thankful to Mr.Knoll for organizing this trip and for my parents willingness to send me on it. I can’t wait to be back in Europe again.
Today was our relaxing day to walk around Bruges and buy our souvenirs. The old but updated buildings give Bruges an interesting look and makes you feel like you’ve stepped in a faulty time machine that takes you back but leaves all of the stores. We wound our way around to the Church of Our Lady and saw one of Michelangelo’s sculptures, a truly amazing sight for a very low price. I think it was the perfect way to sum up this trip. The whole point of the EU is to remember the past but keep moving forward in a peaceful way. The architecture might be old, but the ideas are new and exciting. The fact that so many cultures can exist in one small country, in one city, is a revolutionary idea when you look at the past, and seeing the whole operation from the views of our various speakers on the inside has been an amazing way to see it all. I can’t wait to come back not only to experience Belgium but all of the countries that make up this exciting place, but for now we’re heading home.
Cat G. Bonjour! Today was definitely a bittersweet day. On one hand it was fantastic, it seems I will never tire of the city’s magnificent buildings and grand architecture, but on the other hand I was waking up with the knowledge that it was our last official day in Brussels. Our day started a little bit early, but I was excited because on our agenda today was a trip to Brugge! The train ride was awesome, I actually really liked seeing the Belgian country side and it was a nice change from the busy city. Seeing flashes of the classic red tiled roofs as the train rushed by and fields full of cows was still beautiful to see, even if it was in an unexpected way. The actual city itself was absolutely gorgeous. The traditional style streets and quaint building styles created an almost fairytale atmosphere. It was incredible watching the huge church in the center of the square slowly get bigger as we got closer. I don’t think I could ever get tired of seeing giant detailed churches and eloquently designed castles. The city looked amazing at any and every angle and there always seemed to be something to look at. We even got to visit the Church of Our Lady which was absolutely stunning. The high ceilings and extravagantly detailed art left me speechless, and I still can’t get over the fact that I actually saw a Michelangelo sculpture in person. For lunch we picnicked in front of another magnificent church and although it was a little chilly, the company was good and so was the city.
This trip has been such an amazing experience and has defied my every expectation. Every single day I’ve learned so much and seen so many incredible new things. The buildings, the people and the food have all been so good and I’ve loved every second. Overall I have learned more about Europe and the EU than I could in any classroom. This trip has not only reminded me of the value of learning, but it has inspired me even further to pursue my love of language, foreign affairs and history. I always love to travel and see new things because its a good reminder for me of what I truly value and care about. This city is beautiful, the people are wonderful, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. As heartbreaking as it is, one last time, bonsoir from Brussels 🙂 -Cat
Today was a great end to this wonderful trip. Brugge was more beautiful than Brussels because all of the architecture was older and there wasn’t the occasional new building to disturb it. I really liked seeing the art and sculpture in the cathedral and it was unlike anything I had seen before. The picnic was really fun and different from other lunches on the trip. I also really liked the train ride because I’ve never been on a train for a long time before, and it was really new.
Overall, I learned a lot on this trip in a variety of ways. I obviously learned a lot about the EU and how it works as well as about language. But I also learned a lot about traveling and interacting with people in a professional manner. I’m really sad we have to leave tomorrow, but it was one of the best experiences of my life.
We left the hotel early this morning so that we could catch a train to Brugge. The city was beautiful and rich with history, culture and art. I immensely enjoyed the architecture and quaint feel of the city despite all of the tourists. We ate lunch in a park in front of a cathedral making sandwiches from ingredients we had bought at a grocery store. I am immensely sad that we have to leave tomorrow morning, as I have loved the city of Brussels and its people. Everything about this place resonates with me from the mannerisms of the people to the culture to the long history of the city.
I have learned a great deal about the European Union and transatlantic relations since i’ve been here. I’ve learned how the EU is organized, which institutions have which powers, and have gotten many personal perspectives on what it is like to work in the various branches of the EU. I have also learned many policy points and plans that stem from the EU, but most importantly I’ve learned of the importance of the European Union. Without this structure, Europe would very easily fall into disarray and war. The lengths to which the people working at these various institutions go to make sure they are representing the whole of Europe is very impressive. With this union between countries nationalities are put aside, and progress and freedom for all becomes the focus. The EU makes life easier and safer for all of the citizens of its member states and I have gained even more respect for the necessary work that it does.
Today, in one word, is indescribable- because there’s absolutely no way the beautiful city of Brugge can be summed up in one word. We left the hotel at 8am (I think…it was early ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) and walked to the train station! We took a double-decker train to Brugge, and walked into the absolutely gorgeous city. It had a feel to it that you could turn back the clock tens, even hundreds of years, and the only thing that changes would be the clothing people wear. We explored the two famous steeples, and got to see the famous Michelangelo sculpture, and had a charming little picnic lunch. We also stopped at a really good chocolate company – but then again, we’re in Belgium, what’s not a good chocolate company?
After we finished our time in Brugge, we took the train back to Brussels and, in the pouring rain, shopped a bit for souvenirs! Then the rain let up as we walked back and we had a little dinner in the quaint, beautiful courtyard in our hotel.
It’s absolutely unreal that tonight is my last night here. This experience has been so fun (again, how can I pick one word?) and so informative, it’s amazing. I’ve learned so much about trans-Atlantic relations and the EU, I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with the people in my community, both at a school, state, & national level. I’ve loved talking with officials who work here and truly understanding the EU from these people. This experience is one I’ll never forget, so merci to Mr. Knoll, all the absolutely fantastic people who have volunteered their time to meet with us, our families back home, and Twitter for making this trip possible. For the last time, & in my mother tongue, goodnight, all. Thank you for following along on this adventure!!
Katie B. Today we took our trip to Bruges! From Brussels it was just a short hour train ride, and I’m so glad we went. The town is so beautiful, from the quaint and lovely homes to the second tallest brickwork tower in the world, everything about Bruges’ architecture is stunning. The highlight of our little trip for me was definitely getting to go into the Church of Our Lady. Among all of the beautiful artwork, and the tombs of the last Duke of Burgundy and his daughter, there was the infamous Madonna and Child by Michelangelo behind the altar. Walking into the church and seeing the sculpture that I had been anticipating since I found out we were going to Bruges was so surreal(I may have cried a bit).
Overall this trip has been so incredible, and I’ve learned so much. I got to learn more about how people view the different parties, and how the smallest of communities aren’t left behind within the huge system that is the EU, and how Sweden plans to eliminate the race to the bottom seen in the labor market. These are only a few of all the great things I have gained from this trip. I’m so thankful to have gotten this opportunity and I really hope to be back to Europe soon!
**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).