Mussels. High quality, pricey chocolates. Hand crafted lace and tapestry. Unique beers. The seat of the EU and NATO. Gourmet food. Cobblestone streets. Palaces. Museums. History. Culture. Brussels! These were my expectations at the start of my WAC adventure, and I have not been disappointed.
I have learned so much about the EU in just two days in Brussels. The thought has crossed my mind more than once how the world has changed since my cousin and godson was an infant in Warsaw.
Chernobyl had contaminated the milk supply throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Pawel—my cousin and godson—needed special injections of vitamin D. I had to have his script translated at Duquesne and filled by a Polish pharmacist. In his lifetime, Pawel has seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, Solidarity breaking down the barriers of Communism, Poland’s admission to the EU and the zloty exchanged for EUROs.
Today’s lectures clarified in my mind the workings of the EU: the Parliament, the Council, the Commission. I enjoyed the bookend lectures: EU 101 followed by a visit to chambers, and concluding with Natasha’s “insider’s view.” Having everything put into perspective made me acknowledge the greatest barrier to total integration: the Nation States. Listening to the reports of the three presidents and the corresponding comments at the Parliament by five of the political parties made both the process and the posturing come to life. Yesterday and today, we were exposed to various points of views: those of the EU inner circle and those of others on the periphery or with a connected organization. I agree that the economic goals driven by peace are lofty, but the reality is that the sovereignty and the nationalism of the member nations will make total integration a definite challenge. The economic, nationalistic, and education/communication obstacles will not be overcome over night.
One key component to today’s lecture is the apparent need for more open and more frequent communication with the citizens of the EU. All residents of member nations- student to adult- must become better informed about the actual programs, policies, and issues currently in the lens of the EU. The changes will not take place over night, but in order for substantive changes in the attitudes of the residents of the member nations to occur, citizens of each country who are also citizens of the EU must be informed of the rationales behind the decisions made by Parliament. The future off the EU will be an interesting chapter in the story of Europe.
Mary Lou Ellena-Wygonik
Hampton High School
Ah, my very first blog, and they have left me alone with the computer, my very first Apple! Trusting they are! So, where to start? Let me just say that I am experiencing this trip with an amazing group of individuals and I am learning about as much from their ideas as from the speakers. After these first two days of meetings, I finally feel that I think I understand the difference between the European Council, the European Commission and European Parliament.
Yesterday we met with Jan Techau, Director of Carnegie Europe. Did you know that the Carnegie is the only national endowment that is global? I learned from Jan why the EU was so dysfunctional—the absence of strategic culture. He then mentioned outsourcing. When I think of outsourcing, I think of jobs leaving the US and long hold times for tech assistance from someone in India. I quickly learned from Jan that, in fact, Europe outsourced its defense to the United States. I never looked at it that way before. No wonder the Europeans complain about us! I complain about my long hold times waiting for tech assistance! The Europeans outsourced their defense to the US and in turn that gave the US a permanent presence in Europe. As a result of the Transatlantic Bargain, there is a continuing demilitarization of Europe. That’s not to say that European countries have no military, we know many do; but certainly not to the extent that we do. It seems like yesterday when the EU had fewer than 10 members and today it has 27, with 22 different languages; and they strive for unanimity! Can you imagine Congress or the Senate having to have everyone in agreement?
Unlike most of my colleagues on this trip, I am a language teacher and yesterday I found a language teacher’s « Mine d’or »! Gold mine! We went to Info Pointe, which disseminates just about anything one could ever want about the EU. Free materials are always welcomed by teachers, but these materials are available in 22 different languages. One does not need to go to Brussels for them as they are also available on line, can be ordered in quantity and are shipped for free. www.ec.europa.eu/publications or www.europedirect.europa.eu
Here are a few examples:
Posters: the history of the EU, the 2011 theme poster stating « 2011 European Year of the Volunteer. Of course, I chose the French copy, « 2011 Année européenne du voluntariat, Changez les choses : Devenez bénévole.
Publications: from the history of the EU to the guide to the Treaty of Lisbon; 12 lessons on Europe; the fundamental rights of man; women, peace and security; the Euro; etc.
If you teach an AP language class, you will find everything you need to have discussions in your respective language about sustainability, climate change, agriculture, renewable energies, humanitarian efforts, struggle against discrimination, and the list goes on. A good springboard to the discussion would be to open the discussion with the fundamental values that the EU countries all have in common. You could then go on to the challenges facing the EU, the world and compare and contrast the EU position with that of the US.
If you like hardback comic books, they have them as well, and they address certain themes such as stories on people who have overcome adversity. For younger children, there are even coloring books about the EU.
I could go on, but I’ll stop.
One last note regarding energy efficiency: as I was in the subway today and about to take the « down » escalator, I noticed it wasn’t working. I was ready to walk down the escalator but as my foot touched the threshold before the first step, it activated the escalator and it started to work. That was my first experience with an energy efficient escalator.
I’m going to my room to pack. Wouldn’t it be a nice surprise to find that I have self-packing luggage. Au revoir, Bruxelles. Guten Morgen, Wien !
« Madame »
Teacher, North Allegheny Senior High School
Bonjour or Hallo from Brussels! I have the unique opportunity to be the first blogger for the 2011 Study Tour of Europe for Educators. This is quite appropriate considering that this is my first trip to Europe, and I was surely met with many awe inspiring moments as I walked down the beautiful cobble stone streets of Brussels and viewed amazing architecture, storefronts, skylines, markets, hotels, and, of course, chocolate shops. When I discovered that some sort that chocolate was generally available on every block, I knew this was the place to be!
We’ve had quite an eventful weekend so far. We arrived at the Pittsburgh airport only to find our first flight to Washington, D.C. was cancelled. After some wonderful finagling our fearless leaders from the Council were able to get us to D.C. on time, and we had an uneventful, although a bit uncomfortable, seven-hour trek across the Atlantic Ocean to Belgium. I have to admit, when I reached land, I visualized Pope John Paul II kissing the ground and understood a bit more about that need to take such an action! We took the train to our hotel which was right in the middle of everything that is significant in Brussels (Hotel Ibis), stored our luggage until our room was ready, and off we went on our adventures for our first day. Sleep? No way! Who needs sleep? We had way too much to experience!
We began our first day in Europe with an amazing breakfast of specialty breads, rolls and croissants at Le Pain Quotidien. This brightened our plane weary souls and gave us the energy to walk for the next several hours. Who wouldn’t benefit from warm bread, delectable spreads, and strong coffee?! From this point we toured the church of Notre Dame and its gorgeous stained glass windows, sculptures and gothic architecture. This was a high point for me — to see a church this beautiful and not have it be digital or in print was wonderful. We continued to walk around Brussels to locate key points of interest that we could earmark for return to later. This included for me, and several of my fellow educators, a trip to the Fine Arts Museum, an amazing Belgian waffle with chocolate and whipped cream (which sadly found its way onto the pant leg of my jeans) and some interesting shopping.
While the afternoon was ours for further exploration, we met again as a group for dinner and discussion with Dr. William L. Chew and Virginie Goffaux of Vesalius College. We had a lively discussion regarding Belgian history, politics, culture and the background and nature of Vesalius College. This was followed by authentic Belgian cuisine. My fish waterzooi was the perfect meal to end a long, but rewarding, day. As I sign off feeling like I have been up for twenty four hours (wait-we have!) yet feeling like I have experienced a week’s worth of adventure in one day, I say thank you for letting an inexperienced traveler participate in what is proving to be a rewarding week of life long learning opportunities!
Teacher, North East High School
On these sites you will find everything from photos, first person reports, videos, links to local blogs, etc. If you’re looking for a way to incorporate currents events into the classroom, you must check out the following sites:
- CNN Students News – Resources for both students and teachers.
- New York Times Learning Network – A news quiz and lesson plans.
- The Cyber School Bus – United Nations education portal with information and activities for both current events and geography.
- Time for Kids – Teacher’s page. By Time magazine.
But if you are looking for the basic country facts, the CIAWorld Factbook is one of the best.
Want to help? Don’t know how? Below are resources that will allow you to donate responsibly and effectively.
- The U.S. Department of State
- CharityNavigator – a nonprofit, independent evaluator of charities. It’s based on effectiveness and financial stability. It’s also the largest and is used by various news media outlets.
The World Affairs Council does not endorse any specific organization. We feel that selecting a relief organization is a personal decision that should be made after researching the various options. Below is a brief overview of resources.
- Red Cross: Text HAITI to 90999 ($10 donation)
- Yéle Haiti: Text YELE to 501501 ($5 donation)
- United Way: Text HAITI to 864833 ($5 donation)
- Intl Medical Corps: Text HAITI to 85944 ($10 donation)
For more information, or to purchase this book, please visit
The morning sessions continued with a list of experienced, bright and heavy “players” here at NATO. It was beyond interesting and informative for our group. Specific topics included th Afghan situation and the Holbrook Coherent Plan. We also discussed the pirate activity off the coast of Somalia and other current “hot spots”.
Our lunch was elegant and delicious in the executive dining room. Our hosts were gracious and the conversation moved quickly from sport to travel, and then back to international affairs and Darfur, What a memorable day!
This is our last night in Bruxelles—–we better have a few more beers and more chocolate! Off to Vienna in the morning!
>Another beautiful morning in Brussels! Spending my birthday in such a beautiful country was a present I will not forget. We only had one meeting to prepare for and the rest of the day was ours to spend as we wished. Perfect!
He was an excellent speaker, touching on topics from current missions linked with NATO (such as piracy off of the coast of Somalia, instituting the Rule of Law in Kosovo, and the police mission in Afghanistan). On matters of finances, Germany weilds 25% of production which accounts for 20% of the GDP of the EU, but has been outvoted on financial issues in the seven year budgets frequently. This, according to Herr is one of the problems the EU faces: consensus is needed in the Parliament in order to pass legislation. Consensus means unanimity. It is extremely difficult to get all 27 Member States on board on an issue in order to move forward as a collective group. As one of the largest and most powerful of the EU States, Germany has much power and, along with France and the UK, can use a “qualified majority” to discipline and negotiate with contentious Member States. Despite the special interests of the Member States that can keep consensus from occurring, the EU has been politically and economically successful. The EU is a haven of stability; Europe has experienced sixty years of relative peace and prosperity. To those who know History, that is a fait accompli that the Congress of Vienna boasted in the 19th century. Legitimacy and equilibrium are used to deter war instead of the threat of force. The Germans call this “Soft Power.” (Of interesting note: in 1815, Prussia (Germany) was only given 2/5 of a critical piece of land, Saxony, so as to keep them disjointed as the world was fearful of a unified Germany even then). This is a historic first that Germany gets along with its neighbors.
With all of its shortcomings, Herr and all of the dignitaries we spoke with agree that, while not giving up sovereignty totally, the supranationality that is the European Union is a good thing for Europe and those that are not called to be in this Union can be included in the ‘neighborhood policy’ and have friendly relations with Member States of the EU.
After our meeting concluded, Joanne, Joe and I walked back to our hotel and boarded a train for Bruges, a small town about 65 miles outside of Brussels. A quaint little town surrounded by canals, Bruges had the signature cobblestone streets laden with candy stores full of Belgian Chocolates. In order to see the town, we took a boatride through the canals. The architecture was magnificent; stone and brick buildings painted in brilliant colors lined the canals. Restaurants with balconies and opened windows overlooking the canals, were full of people enjoying the warm sunshine, cool breezes and delicious food. After our boatride, we visited many shops and walked to the outskirts of the town—where the indigenous Dutch and residents lived. How clean and neat their homes and streets were. Every home and shop had baskets and planters of gorgeous flowers, and everyone was so friendly. We must have walked six or seven miles, through commercial streets and parks. By 6:30, we were ready for dinner. Choosing a restaurant was not an easy task; there were way too many to choose just one! We opted for a little Belgian Restaurant on a back street. The large windows were raised to allow the cool breezes in. We ordered the local fare: vegetable soup and salade chevron chaude (salad with warm goat cheese). After our repas, we headed back to the train and back to Brussels. What a memorable birthday!
Thanks World Affairs Council, Sky, Christina, and the European Union; I am forever grateful.
~ Mary Ellen
>In my first blog post from our trip, you may recall that I mentioned a few of us were marveling over the view from our hotel room windows. Here is a picture I just took from my window that might help explain why:
We’re right behind the Grand Place, and the view is spectacular. In addition, we can hear the music from the Ommegang festival that’s taking place here right now. What a beautiful city!