Summer Study Tour to Europe – Day 3

Today’s afternoon session was very interesting, especially from an educator’s perspective.   Our presentation was delivered by the EURYDICE network of the EU.  This stands for the Information Systems and Policies in Europe.    This is the organization that has been given the responsibility to create ‘benchmarks’ for EU educational integration.  It would seem the target year, (as with most things on this continent) would be the year 2020.

Our first speaker was Stefan Polzer, who works for the Ministry of Education, Arts & Culture.  He provided some materials for our presentation, and explained the ‘nuts & bolts’ of the EU education system.   His company has been collecting data and compiling statistics devoted to a specific number of educational standards & topics.  A lot of this information about Mr. Polzer’s company and official mission statement can be found at the following link:

A few of the more interesting Education facts we discovered:

  • In total, across the EU, teachers make up 1.5% of the population. (8.8 million people)
  • More than 60% of the teachers in primary and secondary education are women.
  • In College level or higher, only 40% of instructors are women.
  • Teachers are hired and paid by the government, not the individual districts.
  • Like America, students are subjected to assessment exams in years 3,8 & 9
  • Unlike America, as of 2009, only 14.4% of kids drop out of school, while our rate  is much higher.
  • Foreign language study begins at age 6 or 7, English is compulsory, & most graduate knowing 3 languages.

The second speaker was Reinhard Nobauer, who is the Director for Vocational Education and training.   His lecture was more about alternative education, and students options should they wish not to pursue an academic pathway in life.    School is compulsory up to age 14, at which time a student is given a choice to select either an academic track, or a vocational track.   There are also a few hybrids of each, which might take a student 5 years to graduate high school if this option is taken.

Their Vo-Tech programs are much in the same sort of line as ours, where students take limited academic classes, but focus more on their various trade skills.  Also, we were informed that Businesses help underwrite the cost of such education, and also provide a host of apprenticeships for students in their respective fields.  This would seem to be a government/private sector co-op, as there is an investment on both sides to see students succeed.   There is also an option to attend a vocational college, which include programs on engineering, fashion, tourism, nursing, Secretarial/Administrative, commercial services, agriculture & forestry.

Perhaps the best part of the session however, came during the last half hour, when we were able to talk and ask questions about each other’s educational format.  Our Austrian hosts were interested to hear about our American educational differences, and had several questions for us.  We returned a volley of questions, touching on important topics such as; teacher tenure issues, education & minority services, special education services & adaptive type learning environments, and a whole host of other neat stuff.
I think the group enjoyed the conversation, and it was a valuable cultural exchange being able to compare Austria’s educational system to our own.

Cullen Farrell
Karns City High School

Summer Study Tour to Europe – Day 2 (Part 3)

Day 2! Waffles, beverages and some amazing learning experiences!  To sum up day 2 is difficult in a short blog, since there were many planned and unplanned adventures.  To start, I had the best hotel breakfast I have ever had!  Ok, so being from Pittsburgh, my expectations were low, but honestly, it was delicious—pastries, cappuccinos, cheeses, ham, and eggs.  After breakfast was a journey to the European Union Commission.  We were welcomed like special guests and treated as diplomats.  The EU Commission had shared with us great speakers and lots of valuable information (see Lisa’ blog for speakers and topics).  Some of the “OH WOW NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT” moments included:

  • people seeking to be a member of the European Parliament can not accept campaign finances from companies and special interest groups
  • natural resources of the EU member states were regulated by the EU
  • the amount of sovereignty that the EU countries have given in order to be a global power—because alone, these nations can not compete with other large nations
  • Greece and their global crisis
  • Enlargement (not the best word to use in US classrooms) Policies and practices— this was really unique and a power tool to bring about change in countries who seek membership
  • Also that Morocco has applied to be a member 3 times only to be told that they are not on the continent of Europe

So, the EU Commission was really a great morning of learning!

Next stop- the Arc de Triumph!  Not Paris, but the one Leopold built in Brussels.  I truly think the “ Builder King” could have been a little less greedy and a little kinder to others cultures, but Brussels does have some amazing structures because of his strong desire to compete with other European capitals.

After lunch we talked with a wonderful and smart person from Carnegie Europe.  He was witty and clearly researched the EU and foreign policy.  Especially because of General Gates comments a few weeks ago, this was very timely.

Brussels is truly the center of the world (sorry cartographers-I am sure this is not true, but it feels like it).  With all of these international institutions having headquarters here, I feel like everyone I meet has brought a piece of the world and culture to me.  Even at dinner, we sat next to 2 airplane pilots from Israel—discussing current events with them was truly an unscheduled learning experience.  Also, riding the trolley, meeting great people and of course eating waffles made today fantastic!

Jen Klein
Fox Chapel Area High School

Summer Study Tour to Europe – Day 2 (Part 2)

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

Summer Study Tour to Europe – Day 2 (Part 1)

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.  or

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 »

Barbara Zaun
Teacher, North Allegheny Senior High School

Summer Study Tour To Europe – Day 1

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!

Jennifer Wilson
Teacher, North East High School

>Thinking Outside the…Classroom!


Hopefully you caught the Sunday’s editorial in the Post-Gazette by Ryan Oliver, a social studies teacher with City Charter High School.  He presented some pretty interesting ideas about education reform.  Currently, Ryan and 18 City High students are taking education to a new level. They’re on a “learning journey” in Costa Rica.  The goal? Self development through cultural exploration, service learning, and environmental study.
Follow their adventures through their blog — hosted here by the Post-Gazette.  (Look at the right-hand side, under “More World — Blogs Abroad.”)

>Haiti Information and Resources


On January 12, an Earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck Haiti; its epicenter just off of the capital city, Port-au-Prince.  As many details are still unknown, the best resources are news outlets. All of the major news networks have continuous updates.  To list just a few: CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, BBC, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, etc.  Check out official sites as well, i.e. United Nations and the State Department. 

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:

But if you are looking for the basic country facts, the CIAWorld Factbook is one of the best. 


Located in the Caribbean, Haiti is a small nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. The country has had its share of strife in the past.  The indigenous population, Taino Amerindians, was virtually destroyed by Spanish imperialism a couple decades after Columbus’ arrival.  In 1697 the Spanish ceded the western third of the island to the French.  The colony became one of the wealthiest through heavy slave importation.  By 1804 the slave population successfully rebelled and became the first black republic.  Today Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and has been subject to political violence.
Capital: Port-au-Prince
Population: 9 Million 

Want to help? Don’t know how?  Below are resources that will allow you to donate responsibly and effectively.

While it is important to donate, internet scams are out there.  The golden rule: If you’d like to make a donation, remember to protect yourself, and do your homework.
How can you tell is a charity is legitimate?  A couple of the more accredited sites that can help you determine if an organization is reputable are:
  • 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. 

CNN has comprehensive list of over 50 relief organizations and sites.  Each site listed has been highly rated by CharityNavigator. 
To name a few:
You can also text donations for Haiti relief from your cell phone. In addition to your donation amount, standard text messaging fees will apply.
  • 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) 

>MUN’s the Word


Whether you’re a student looking for a few Model United Nations tips or a teacher who’d like to incorporate a MUN into your curriculum, check out Kerem Turunc’s The Winning Delegate: An Insider’s Guide to Model United Nations.  Fit for anyone on the spectrum, be they high-schoolers or university professors, Turunc’s guide is comprehensive but easy to read.  Over the course of six chapters, the author breaks down everything from the basics to applicable strategies for success.

About the author:  Turunc is a graduate of Yale University, where he was Secretary-General of the Yale Model United Nations, the largest on-campus Model UN conference for high school students in North America. He also co-founded and headed his high school Model United Nations team at the American Collegiate Institute in Izmir, Turkey.

For more information, or to purchase this book, please visit

For more information about starting a MUN club, please visit the UN education site.

>Adventures from the Summer Fellowship to Europe


On our free day in Vienna, Jamie, Mandy and I decided to head east to Budapest, Hungary. This experience began with an interesting train ride, without air-conditioning, on a 90 degree day. After three and a half hours, we arrived in Budapest. We immediately changed our Euro into the Hungarian dollar. Although Hungary is now party of the European Union, their economy is still not strong enough to support the Euro. Our day revolved around a hop on hop off tour that took us to various areas of interest. For the most part, this city was still working through the effects of the Cold War. Many buildings were closed on our journey across the Danube to the top of a large overlook.
When we arrived at the overlook, our guide told us that we were looking at Pest and the main economic center of the city. He then explained that most of the people lived in the more mountainous area of Buda. We had lunch at a small café and spent a great part of the afternoon shopping through an open market. The people were all incredibly friendly, and we even made friends with a man from Taiwan on our journey, who told us of some must see sights of the city. After venturing around the Parliament and two of the most famous rejuvenating spas in Hungary, we boarded our train for a scenic trip back to Vienna.
— Ashlee

>Day 6 (Brussels)


We entered the NATO gates to 28 waving flags saying welcome! This is a 60’s style campus of buildings in need of renovation and modernization. Our first presenter, Dr. Stephanie Babst, Deputy Assistant Secretary General, Communications Coordination, Public Diplomacy Division (wow, what a title—wow, what a woman—wow— she was at Penn State for a year and earned her PhD at Harvard) outlined the agenda for NATO including a new strategic concept. This will adddress the core concepts and goals for the alliance during the next decade. Looks like NATO is planning for a lot of change to meet the needs of our every changing world! They also need to get rid of the window air conditioners and go green while reconfiguring their internal structure and facilities!

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!



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