Bleary-eyed and coffee-fueled, it was our last class before our first free weekend in Europe. As soon as class begun, Dr. Birchfield woke us from our dreams of travelling with a thought-provoking discussion no one saw coming. The conversation stemmed from our viewing of the Ted Talk, The Danger of a Single Story. The talk underscores the idea that we all have a deficiency to view a group of people who share a common attribute and identify them only as that attribute. We miss out on the individuality of people because we selfishly want to easily identify them. While these identifiers may be true in some cases, they are incomplete and stem from power relationships in society. A person’s position in society clouds their view of their relationships with others and helps to create these labels.
To dig even deeper, Dr. Birchfield asked us to describe ourselves and explain the single story we fear the most. As a class, we decided it best to not read them aloud. To me, this was because reading that single story makes it all the more realistic, and it is our duty not to perpetuate them but to defy them and become so much more.
To transition this into a more concrete example about the European Union, we discussed that people create identities “in opposition to”, and we, as residents of the United States, view the European Union in this same manner. We are able create narratives about nations against how we view our own. This was evidenced by the member state presentations of Greece, Spain, and Portugal.
These three countries were part of the second enlargement and have since experienced varying paths of growth within the European Union. Greece entered into the EU with a very poor economy. Although they were asked to take action prior to entering, their economy remains in a deep deficit. As they continue to pay off their debts, they are also experiencing other crises, including a refugee and an unemployment crisis. On the other side of the economic spectrum is Spain, with the European Union’s fifth largest economy. The largest ongoing crises in Spain has to do with the independence of Catalonia. The people of Catalonia feel culturally unique and have voted for independence from Spain. Spain does not recognize this and neither does the EU. Also, in opposition to the economic imperfections of Greece, Portugal had previous economic problems but effectively used austerity to correct them. They are one of the few economies were austerity was actually observed to work.
Our final class-oriented activity of the day was watching the film, Europe at Sea which began to explain the ever-changing borders of the European Union and the role of the Global Strategy. It detailed the Operation Sophia that has helped to save thousands of refugees travelling from Syria and Libya, as well as, taken action in northern Africa to stop human trafficking at the source. The film also spoke about European Union relations with other organizations, such as NATO. The Global Strategy continues to progress but not without setbacks, and as a few people in the class pointed out, the video seemed to only be portraying the Global Strategy from a positive light. While we may agree or disagree with the Global Strategy, it is always important to show both sides of the argument as to be fully informed.
As our discussion wrapped up for the day, many headed off on their travels. Some students left for Barcelona, some for Ireland, and a small few were left in Metz for the evening. A couple of us that would be in Metz for the evening ventured out to the fair. Walking in, we were immediately overwhelmed with the same sights and smells as the county fairs back home, only more grandiose. The prices were also more grandiose, as the one ride we rode cost 7 euros! But those 7 euros were made worth it at the top of the ride where we could see out onto the varying landscapes of Metz.
In continuation of our exciting evening, we met up with Dr. Birchfield for fondue. Throughout the meal, I couldn’t help but notice how evident it was that each of us are here because of our interest in international affairs. The conversation was littered with talk of future sight visits and the state of current transatlantic relations. And as the evening began to wind down, we parted ways with Dr. Birchfield in pursuit of our own adventure that we would set off for the next morning.