Bonjour! My name is Emma Smith and I am a Masters student in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech. This summer, I am travelling with Dr. Vicki Birchfield and 18 undergraduate students on the European Union and Transatlantic Relations Study Abroad program! I participated in the program as an undergraduate in 2015, and I’m very excited to be back in Europe as a teaching assistant and graduate student.

My first day in Brussels, 2015.

We arrived in Europe a week or so ago, on Monday, May 15th. For the first month of the program, we’ll be staying at Georgia Tech’s campus in Metz, France, called Georgia Tech Lorraine. Since we arrived, it’s been a whirlwind of activity getting to know a new campus in a new country on a new continent!

Aside from getting settled in our residence and trying not to get lost on the Metz bus system, we’ve also been learning a lot about this city and region. On Tuesday, we took a train tour of the city and saw many of the major Metz landmarks. We’ve also taken a walking tour of Metz’s beautiful cathedral and visited the Centre Pompidou Metz.

Attempting to navigate Metz public transit, 2017.

On Friday morning, we visited Fort Queuleu, a site important to the history of Franco-German rivalry. The fort was built just before the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, and changed hands along with the rest of the Moselle department several times until the end of World War II. During World War II, the Fort was used as a holding point for French Resistance fighters. We heard from our tour guide, Pascal, about the brutal treatment these prisoners experienced at the hands of the Nazis. On Friday afternoon, we learned more about the history of Alsace-Lorraine and the Franco-Prussian War at the Gravelotte Museum. These tours put the importance of the Alsace-Lorraine region to European politics into perspective. What is now peaceful French countryside near an open border into Germany was once the heart of a bitter rivalry that caused three wars within a century.

In the classroom this week, Dr. Birchfield introduced the class to the European Union as she views it and laid the foundation for what we’ll learn this summer. As I learned two years ago, Dr. Birchfield views the European Union a peace project. The idea of an ever-closer union has helped to sustain peace in a region previously plagued by power politics and bloody wars. However, not everyone sees the European Union this way.

Two years ago, Brexit seemed an unlikely and distant possibility. Since I last participated in the EU program, populist movements throughout Europe and the United States have rapidly gained ground. Resentment towards the bureaucracy of the European Union and the divide between Northern Europe and Southern Europe have only grown. While Europe faces many new challenges since the last time I was here, there are also many reasons for optimism. The European project will always face difficulties as European leaders try to navigate a changing world, so revisiting what I learned two years ago in a new context and with the knowledge I’ve gained since then will hopefully offer new insights on the fate of the European Union.