Today was the second day of our weekend trip with the Georgia Tech Lorraine (GTL) students. We loved getting the chance to show 15 of our peers what we have been studying for the past three weeks. We spent the day touring the beautiful city of Strasbourg, France!
After meeting at GTL for a bus ride through the French countryside, we arrived in Strasbourg at around 9:30 in the morning. We began our day by attending the 2018 European Youth Event. This is an annual event hosted by the European Parliament in order to inspire the youth of Europe to take charge of their future. There were plenty of booths providing information and interactive activities regarding the plethora of policy issues that affect future of the youth of Europe. For more info, check out the European Parliament’s web page on the event at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/european-youth-event/en/home.html.
Upon arriving, Dr. Birchfield found a French student participating in the Europe Calling competition, where youths of Europe compete in numerous debates in the presence of the European Parliament regarding the issues that affect Europe today, such as racism and crime. The young woman’s debate topic was entitled “Freedom of Speech: From Tinder to Facebook.” She asked us about some of our political views as Americans, and then we asked about her opinions on the current state of French politics. She explained to us that she wasn’t a huge fan of French President Emmanuel Macron at first, mostly because he was young and new to the political scene, and needed a few years to show the nation his ideas and values. However, over time, she has aligned with Marcon’s pro-European platform and his “neither left nor right” stance on the political spectrum. It was so inspiring to see other students who are the same age as us take such an active role in French, European, and even global politics. At the end of our talk, she took a picture with our whole group. Some of the robotic puppets who came through the festival as entertainment wanted to join in our photo as well!
After this, we were given some free time to explore some of the booths set up for the event. Dr. Birchfield expressed to us that this was the perfect time to talk to European youth about the issues that affect them most, so I went around to the various stations to ask questions to the young volunteers. At the mental health station, I spoke with a young woman from Rome. In response to a prompt on the wall, I asked her about how she felt about her country’s healthcare system. She explained to me that in her opinion, Italy’s public healthcare was very poor quality and ineffective, and that to receive proper treatment, people must pay for private health care. This bothers many Italian citizens, who feel that they are paying too much in taxes for a healthcare system that is so poor. She told me that she believes the system needs serious reform.
Next, some of us spoke to a young woman from Galway who was volunteering at the event. She told us that the Irish often feel disconnected from the rest of the European Union due to their geographical separation. She expressed her excitement about Galway being named as a culture capital for the 2018 European Year of Culture, and that there would be similar events in Galway to highlight the city’s unique culture. Lastly, she told us how excited she is to be in Strasbourg and to see the European Parliament, where she considers the center of European democracy.
One of the stations that attracted the most amount of attention was the Google Arts and Culture booth. Here, they had sample Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, highlighting Google’s new VR features related to European Arts and Culture. Here, I asked the attendant, Justine, about this project, which will be featured through July in alignment with the European Year of Cultural Heritage celebration. I had a long conversation about the efforts of the “find your culture” movement. She told me about her views on the recent push to foster a sense of European identity through the rich history of the continent, proclaiming to me that “European heritage connects us all” and that “heritage is alive.” I also learned that Google and YouTube are staging a large collaboration effort to create VR experience videos, so that anyone with internet access can experience a 3D view of some of Europe’s best museums and cultural sites. After our talk, it was my turn to experience the hype of the VR headsets. I loved watching the impressive 3D video of a dinosaur walking through a museum!
The last station that I went to addressed Europe’s commitment to safeguarding the environment, as well as a call for a common world language, Esperanto. The goal was to implement the language of Esperanto throughout Europe to connect the continent’s people, however citizens are expected to still keep their original language, and simply use Esperanto to communicate with people who don’t speak their same language. The lack of a single language has been a barrier within the EU, and the youth of Europe clearly recognize this and are making a strong effort towards European integration.
After our free time to explore the festival, we headed over to the Simone Veil Parliamentarium museum. Our favorite feature of the exhibit was definitely the interactive “Ode to Joy” speakers. We had a fun time dancing the hip hop and rock renditions of the European Union’s famous anthem.
Next, we went out to lunch, where Dr. Birchfield treated the group to typical Alsatian fair, tarte flambée! The meal is similar to a flatbread pizza, without marinara sauce but featuring delicious Munster cheese, the local favorite, as well as various toppings.
After lunch, we began our guided tour of the city, starting with the massive Strasbourg Cathedral, one of the 10 tallest cathedrals in the world! From its beautiful stained glass windows to its intricate external and internal architecture, it was an incredible sight. We learned all about the churches history of being Roman Catholic, then Protestant, and now Catholic again. I thought it was very interesting that there was no damage to the cathedral during any of the World Wars, but our guide did point out an unexploded shell lodged in a building just across the way. It was just meters away from hitting from the beautiful cathedral!
For the rest of our tour, we walked through the city as our guide highlighted cultural elements such as bakeries, the cheese shop, and the wine shop, as well as the “Petite France” district, and a local school. We finished off our tour at the famous Guttenberg statue. After a fun and informative day in Strasbourg, we headed back to the bus to go back to campus and rest up for our upcoming free day on Sunday.