GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Aditya Shah

Goodbye Europe

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.

  1. Be ready to pay for water and bathrooms in Europe.
  2. Carry an umbrella every time you step out. It rains a lot.
  3. Be prepared to walk a lot. My step count ranged from like 8000 steps to 30000 steps.
  4. Take out time to spend with your host family. You can learn a lot from them.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Last meal in Brussels with my host parents.

Last meal in Brussels with my host parents.

French Ministry of Foreign Affairs

As requested by Dr. Birchfield, this blog will be related to our visit to the French foreign ministry. This was our second site visit in France. It was a fascinating visit in terms of finding out the French perspective on current issues especially Brexit! Both in my view and according to the recent lows of the markets in the UK and within member states of the EU go to prove that Brexit was probably the wrong decision. However on the other hand this is probably one of the most interesting times to be pursuing a minor in international affairs. The EU and its future could possibly never be more interesting. I fortunately also got the chance to travel to London on Saturday so my past three days have been Friday in Brussels, Saturday in London and Sunday in Paris. I’ve got a whole range of perspectives this past week regarding Brexit and the most crucial point I noticed which I will talk about later in this blog as well is “Uncertainty”.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs located on the Quai d’Orsay is the oldest French administration building. It handles a budget of approximately 4.5 million euros and has had some significant events that have taken place at this monumental location. We got a tour of the place before we started our visit and all of us could agree that the French are in another league of classiness. Room, bathrooms, doorways and almost everything you see is decorated with gold. Few of the rooms that we saw included the ground floor drawing room which is where the 1919 Peace Conference was held to bring an end to World War 1 and another important room was The Clock Room which was the setting for Robert Schuman’s declaration on Europe in 1950 and the signing of the ECSC the following year (the first stage in the road towards the present day EU).

A picture of the group taken in the Clock room which was the setting for the Schuman Declaration.

A picture of the group taken in the Clock room which was the setting for the Schuman Declaration.









Our first speaker was Sophie Delet, a French official working with the French government since 2007. She shared with us her valuable knowledge regarding Brexit. Just like the general atmosphere around Brussels and the UK she too was uncertain about the future of the EU. According to her the possibility of Marine Le Pen winning the upcoming presidential elections in France is uncertain however the important part is that the French need to realize that being part of the EU is vital to both their peace and stability and their economic standards. It’s not at all surprising to see that after Brexit The French CAC closed around 8 percent lower on the day. The European Single market is a crucial part of the European Agreement and the French would find it hard to survive in a market without the EU. She clearly stated that she regretted the Brexit result as it’s going to take a lot of time and energy to deal with this matter and that due to this the EU will be a smaller player in the international field. All in all she wants the deal with the UK to be completed as fast as possible to reduce the amount of uncertainty whether its regarding the single European market, people’s jobs and healthcare, border checks, the Erasmus+ scheme we learnt about during our study abroad or something like roaming charges. It will all become clearer if the deal goes down quickly and I completely agree. I honestly believe that the UK should have not left but I do also feel that the UK could sustain the economic downturn if it reduces uncertainty. It was the best time to shop in the UK this Saturday, the pound was at a 35 year low and in my opinion its just stuck in “Limbo Land” and that the Pounds days are numbered and that it would fall further as long as this cloud of uncertainty hangs over the UK.

Three French officials conducted our following lecture. They were desk officers to the United States; one of them closely followed the elections in the States while the other two were studying French relations with all countries. Most of our talk with them surrounded the 2% pledge by all NATO member states. It was interesting to see how they defended what France is doing in terms of defense spending was adequate. According to the French officials the 2% was just a number and they value quality more then quantity so they are not worried about meeting the 2% of the GDP requirement on defense spending. They did mention that they already contribute way more then other member states and complained about the lack of political will other member states have to increase their defense spending in certain areas. My classmate Rad and I had opposing views on France’s contribution to European/NATO defense (I happened to agree with the French officials while Rad believed otherwise) that made me wonder how frustrated US officials would be with most NATO member states that rely heavily on the US for defense and just free ride without any sense of responsibility for sharing the burden for defense. On the other hand I being an Indian citizen felt like France is contributing heavily to many parts of the world especially in Africa and it is effectively using its military to help fight terrorism.

After our visit to the French foreign ministry the rest of the day we had some free time. So I took that opportunity to go watch the Italy vs Spain game that was being played in Paris. I went to the stadium without a ticket and I have to admit that I was really lucky to have gotten a ticket for the game at face value. It was a rather entertaining game that was quite unexpected given that both teams were tagged as defensive teams coming into the match. I am a huge soccer fan, I have probably missed out on just a couple of games in this euros and this Italy vs Spain game was my second ever football game I am watching live in a stadium. It was truly exciting! I’d like to throw in a quick word about the security at the stadium. It was extremely tight and in my opinion even though it took rather long to catch the train after the match, the guards handled the crowd really well. After all at our visit to the ministry that afternoon they did mention that around 90,000 personnel were added in France to protect everybody and I surely did feel safe and secure through the entire experience.

Stade de France for Italy vs Spain

At Stade de France for Italy vs Spain

The trip in Paris has almost come to an end but I’ve enjoyed every bit of it from visiting all the different museums, our different site visits and lectures, to touring around Luxembourg gardens, Montmartre and obviously the Eiffel Tower. It’s definitely seems like it’s going to be really difficult to leave Paris however I look forward to see what else our study abroad has in store for us.



A walk through history

Today we got the opportunity to visit the beautiful cities of Ghent and Bruges. I felt like I was in a time machine that would at times take me to the beautiful treasures of the past and at other times transport me to a beautiful modernized world. Both the cities were really compact and authentic where the past and present could co-exist in a perfect balance. Walking through the city, you turn the corner and just like that, you go from the fourteenth century to the twenty-first.

Our day started off with a great orientation about the College of Europe. That was our first destination at Bruges. The college of Europe is an independent university institute of postgraduate European studies with the main campus in Bruges, Belgium. Founded in 1949, it promotes “a spirit of solidarity and mutual understanding between all the nations of Western Europe and provides elite training to individuals who will uphold these values”. It has approximately 420 postgraduates from over 50 countries and even though it’s situated in the Flemish region of Belgium, a Dutch-speaking area, the college does not use Dutch as one of it’s working languages. We learned about the ERASMUS student network during our lectures but actually learned how beneficial that network is from an ex-student who was giving us the introduction to the course. He was from France and he told us about the great scholarship opportunity he received at the college of Europe due to the network. Right after his informative orientation we prepared ourselves to take Dr. Birchfield’s class’s exam. The exam was actually not that stressful as we were taking the exam in such a calm environment.

Right after our exam we went for a canal tour, that was probably the best tour of the city we could have gotten in the limited time we had left in Bruges. It was interesting learning about the history of this place and getting the chance to see all the fabulous Flemish art and architecture, w1orks of art and structures. The picture on the left is of the bell tower in Bruges. It’s importance was that it regulated the lives of the city dwellers, announcing the time, fire alarms, work hours, and a variety of social, political, and religious events. It is one
of the city’s most prominent symbols; the bell tower formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives, and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other danger. Similar to this during our walking tour in Ghent we learned that the belfry is a proud symbol of Ghent’s independence. On top of the 95-metre tower the dragon has been watching over the city since 1380. (The dragon never sleeps, so no better animal to have as your guardian) The city’s festivities are still announced by extraordinary carillon concerts. It’s interesting to see the similarities between Bruges and Ghent’s histories but also important to note how history sometimes tells us a beautiful story. If we think about it most of Belgium is flat land so that actually gave both the French and Germans (specially Hitler) the incentive to fight on Belgian land instead of their own land. So in a way to protect their lands, Belgians had many of these tall towers to spot danger. Also another common story that our respective tour guides shared with us was about beer. People who lived in Bruges would drink beer from a young age, as it was really cheap, pepper was more expensive. While people who lived in Ghent would allow their children to drink beer from the age of 6 when they started getting their adult teeth. Again it’s interesting to see that history has played a role to define how alcohol is perceived in Europe today. Due to the acceptance of beer since so many years, today many places in Europe have an open container policy and it isn’t looked down upon when you buy beer. Comparing this to the States, we all know how people look down upon you when you buy alcohol or even cigarettes. Basically whether you realize it or not history plays a key role in determining values today. One piece of work I couldn’t go without talking about is the ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’. It’s without a doubt the world’s most besieged and coveted artwork. The Van Eyck brothers painted this unique altarpiece in 1432. It is the highlight of the Flemish Primitives. It’s just unbelievable that so many years ago people could be masters of the oil medium and use it so splendidly to portray a robust and realistically detailed vision of the world  around them.

Finally we got back home and I think this blog wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the Euros. It is the most anticipated event in Europe this summer. Every country is looking to win the euro and secure their dominance through the game of football. The picture below is of the opening ceremony of the tournament. The game is played with a lot of grace and respect however it saddens me2 that people would turn it into a violent act off the pitch. The fight between the English fans and the Russian fans just isn’t hooliganism. It’s extremely political! I’m happy that UEFA has taken measures to prevent alcohol near the stadiums and threatened to disqualify both the teams incase of any future acts of hooliganism by any of the teams or fans. The game should be played the way it is supposed to be played with elegance and mutual respect amongst teams and fans.

Visiting Bruges and Ghent and not to forget our time in Brussels has been just perfect! I look forward to our 10-day visit to Scandinavia and hope to learn much more about European integration and European history.

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