With another week gone, I’m starting to get comfortable in Europe and can see more of the benefits this program has to offer.
The site visits from this week really put into perspective how much more I will learn here than I would have in a traditional classroom. MEP Corbett was a very insightful speaker and the topics he touched on provided a unique internal perspective of British politics and the UK’s relation with the EU. The fact that the parliament is conducted in each of the 24 languages of the European Union is really something to appreciate. The parliament represents the people of Europe and it is beautiful that the Union preserves the diversity of Europe. I also enjoyed the lecture on climate change, particularly since it is something I studied from the perspective of the UN last semester. The EU’s decision and ability to ratify the Kyoto Protocol without US support was something I was aware of, but did not fully appreciate until I learned of the details of the agreement. It legitimized the power of the EU as a global power in non-military matters. It also highlights a large cultural and political difference between the US and Europe. Global warming is accepted for the science it is in Europe while a significant portion of our country dismisses it as a myth and ignores hard science. In my opinion, this is due in part to the power corporations hold in American politics and the belief of many voters that government should not be allowed to regulate the market.
The political differences between America and Europe can be traced back to their respective histories. We gained our independence from England during a time of technological advancements rapidly appearing all over the world. America never had the chance to form a culture based outside of technology, efficiency and money. This is reflected in the history of the country and even more so in negotiations such as TTIP and climate change. America’s culture is to be technologically advanced, economically efficient and inherently free of any ruling entity. Europe, on the other hand, is rooted in centuries of culture, war and a variety of governments that range from oppressive to anarchic. Europe has seen first hand what ignoring a problem can do and its interests are set in preservation of its lands and culture. Americans are rooted in freedom and the opportunities that come with limited market regulation. No one has the authority to say whether the other is right or wrong, and nor should they. These are two very different worlds that should be applauded for willing to work together while attempting to respect the other.
Another thing I appreciate about this program is the opportunity to live with a host family. I’ve lucked out with a great family, one that reminds me of my own. They have gone out of their way, not only to make me feel welcome, but to show me a good time. Pierre, the father, is very knowledgeable and moderate in his way of thinking. Sabine loves taking pictures and spending time with her kids and may as well be the Belgian version of my own mother. Antony reminds me of my brother and even myself when I was younger. He is at a stage in every teenager’s life where he doesn’t spend time with his parents and family because he doesn’t view them as his friends. I was there a few years ago and my brother is there now. I love seeing these similarities because it reminds me that all people are different and the same. There are three different cultures between Antony and I, yet our lives are largely the same. I look forward to the rest of this program and the insights it has to offer.