Today we have a free day in Krakow and as suggested by our tour guide Conrad, I’m sitting at a coffee shop writing my blog and feeling the flow of the city of Krakow. In this blog I’m primarily going to reflect on our 10-week program. This would help future students get an idea of what to expect from this study abroad and also at the end of this blog I’m going to leave some useful tips for future students.
Dr. Birchfield likes to change a few things around every year, this year our group visited 8 different cities. Our base was in the always-raining city of Brussels. The other cities we visited were Copenhagen, Stockholm, Paris, The Hague, Berlin and Krakow. Every city had something unique about itself hence there was something different to learn from each city. I’m not talking about our site visits and lectures in each city, more about the general atmosphere in each city for example Paris’s classicalness, Copenhagen’s happiness or Berlin’s ever-lasting exuberance. I even got the opportunity to travel quite a bit by myself before and during the program. I visited Leicester, Milan and Munich before the program started while Frankfurt, London and Bombay during the program. I’m even planning to go back to London for a bit after the program. So bottom line the opportunity to travel is there it’s completely up to you if you wish to take it. I love experiencing new cultures and that’s why I spent almost every free weekend in a new city.
Coming back to our course, along with learning about the culture of cities this course has been rather exciting. Just recently having picked up a minor in International Affairs I wasn’t sure what to expect from this study abroad program. However the program didn’t let me down at all. There are many ongoing problems in Europe and getting different and high ranked government officials and a variety of lecturer’s perspectives on most of the problems was thought provoking. We discussed issues such as TTIP, Greek debt crisis, human rights violations (even the Holocaust), data privacy issues, terrorism, Brexit, the migration crisis, and the rise of the right wing. All topics were interesting but I’d like to comment on the later 3 topics that I mentioned.
Brexit – The reason I wanted to talk about this is because I think this decision has the possibility of completely changing Europe and the level of European integration. The night before, the result of the vote was to be announced I slept soundly expecting the UK to remain. I was remembering professor Manner’s lecture where he reassured us that the polls aren’t always the best judge of the final outcome in the UK. Polls suggested that the UK might leave however I thought the more sensible decision would prevail and that’s why the citizens of the UK would decide to remain. I actually had the opportunity to travel to London the day the vote was announced. Initially I think Brussels was more upset than the UK that the UK left however after the pound reached a 35 year low that really kicked some sense into the citizens of the UK. It’s shocking even after all that Boris Johnson was appointed Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Right after the vote was announced the most common Google search in the UK was “What is the EU?” Is there a possibility of a second referendum, only time will tell? However it’s estimated that the UK would leave the EU by 2017 and it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of deal they negotiate with the EU especially regarding single market access.
Migration Crisis and the rise of the Right Wing Parties – During our site visit to Human Rights Watch our presenter described the importance of NGOs brilliantly with the use of a famous quote by a politician. “We know what is to be done but don’t know hot to get elected after.” There are a lot of issues surrounding the migration crisis but a conversation I had with my host parents really sums up the biggest problem according to me. According to my host parents it’s against all humanitarian values to not allow refugees into Europe however how can we find the correct balance. How do we stop Europe from getting overpopulated? An increased population means a higher burden on European countries with a possible loss of identity and possible increased security threats. It’s interesting to see how governments try to achieve this balance, which is almost impossible to find. This is one of the leading reasons that is leading to a rise in support for the Right Wing parties across Europe. The cliché saying those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it is really apt in this scenario. The right wing parties may be fronted with softer faces now however their underlying ideology of nationalism remains unchanged. Whether it be the UKIP party in Britain, AfD in Germany, France’s National Front Party or Austria’s Norbert Hofer all far right parties are firm supporters of anti-immigration. This nationalist dynamic makes it harder to resolve the refugee crisis and will possibly lead to a reduced European Integration. The fear of Marine Le Pen winning France’s upcoming presidential election means the possibility of a Frexit would be up for discussion. This sight is extremely scary! However in my opinion the solution cannot be suppression or “more Europe” – that will have the opposite effect – but the urgent creation of what David Cameron called in his Bloomberg speech a Europe of “flexible cooperation, respecting national differences”.
Europe’s future is filled with uncertainty but I hope I’ve done a decent enough job for future students to not be as clueless as I was before the program started and after reading this blog you all will get a feeling of what to expect to learn from this program. I’d like to mention a few tips for the program as well.
- Be ready to pay for water and bathrooms in Europe.
- Carry an umbrella every time you step out. It rains a lot.
- Be prepared to walk a lot. My step count ranged from like 8000 steps to 30000 steps.
- Take out time to spend with your host family. You can learn a lot from them.
- Don’t lose patience with your classmates. 10 weeks with the same group of people can be a lot, but there is just a lot to learn from each one of them and these friends have the possibility of becoming your best friends.
- Finally have a good work-life balance. Study hard, be attentive during class, and ask good questions but don’t forget to enjoy this opportunity to travel around so many different cities and still be able to feel like at home in each city.
I’m really going to miss this trip specially the random people I met in Europe, the fresh food, the culture, the beer, my host family, and most importantly the group of friends that accompanied me on this study abroad with whom I have created a bag of happy memories. This is my second study abroad program with Tech and I wish I could do one more but it’s time to graduate. Thank you Dr. Birchfield and thank you Tech.