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

Today’s events! What a fantastic day we had. A bit rainy in the morning, thank goodness for the metro! We went to meet with an European People’s Party (EPP) rep, which was very informative. His EU 101 presentation really helped to make everything “click” into place from yesterday’s speaker, then off to see and touch a piece of the Berlin Wall. How amazing, even though we span generations in this group, we all remember and understand the profound importance of this momentous historical event. What an opportunity to be able to actually touch history like this.

Lunch- food was excellent, no surprise there. Michael Ruhle from NATO spoke to us about the past, present and “future” role of NATO in foreign affairs. He had a wealth of insight into the agency and its functions. He was able to approach topics dealing with speech writing, issues with France and decisions with Bulgaria in the 1970s, to present day issues concerning cyber attacks and how the NATO as a military entity has or possibly should be dealing with these issues. For me personally, Michael was the highlight of the day. Out of the “norm” our “informal luncheon” seemed to give the group a new open forum to discuss past and present policies as well as possibilities for the future. Michael was a very charismatic, gracious and informative speaker.

Megan Fuga
Cornell High School


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

So after the anxiety of a cancelled flight out of Pittsburgh, arrival at National airport, transferring to Dulles, and the overnight flight to Brussels I have finally arrived in Brussels.  It is so wonderful to be back and I have such high hopes for a stimulating week.  To me, nothing that I do back home can match the excitement of traveling to Europe. I know it is not possible to travel with my young kids but there is just something in the air here that makes what I teach come to life.

After getting to the hotel and dropping off our luggage, we did a walking tour of the city.  It is a complex maze of streets and cobblestone.  We had a fabulous breakfast at a little shop – Le Pain Quotidien with fresh breads and coffee, of course. Everything was scrumptious and seemingly almost decadent compared to my life back home.  The spreads for the breads and croissants were amazing and I think that the group became a huge fan of the brunette spread which was a hazelnut spread (similar to Nutella).  I contemplated bring back some of it home, but the thought of carrying it and having not break seemed overwhelming.

The walking tour of the city brought us to a little plaza with sculptures around it. The sculptures were of Renaissance thinkers built by the powerful guilds of Brussels. We got to see the Mannekin Pis, which is to commemorate the Belgians trying to keep Louis XIV out during his wars of expansion.  In our free time, we went to the local art museum that focused on 15th and 16th century art. It was a great museum in that we were able to walk through it in a short period and it hit upon many of the artists that are covered in European History class.

We had an informal dinner (Tavern du Passage) tonight with two speakers focusing on Belgian politics and culture.  The restaurant was part of the local arcade not far from the hotel and we sat inside at a long table to hear the speaker Dr. William Chew and Virginie Goffauz from Vesalius College in Brussels. Dr. Chew was interesting as he is an American transplanted for several decades in Brussels raising his children here.  I thought that the other speaker, Ms. Goffauz was interesting in that she was a veterinarian by training now working in the director for the Study Abroad program. The college that that work is very small but I think that classes are all taught in English. It sounded like an interesting liberal arts program that my students may like.

Lauren Vales
North Hills High School

Summer Study Tour to Europe – View of Vienna

The teachers are enjoying their time in Vienna, and just to show that it’s not “all work and no play,” wanted to share a few pictures from their visit to the top of Stephansdom.


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