GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Lauren Bidwell

Amsterdam Day Trip

Today was our day trip to Amsterdam! After a filling breakfast at the hotel, we departed on our journey. We arrived at the beautifully architected train station in the mid-morning and had a nice walk through the city to the Anne Frank house, snapping pictures of the flowers, canals, and the city’s plethora of bikes.

When we arrived at the Anne Frank House, we were given a presentation by a tour guide on Nazi Germany and the life of Anne Frank. We learned about Germany’s economic crisis in the late 1920s and 1930s and the rising anti-Semitism in Germany, two factors which contributed to Hitler’s rise to power. We saw many pictures and artifacts from this period. The one that struck me the most was this image (below) of two Jewish school children being made to stand in front of the classroom while the non-Jewish children read a message on the blackboard that states that “the Jewish people are the root of Germany’s problems.“ It makes me so upset to think of the innocent children being humiliated by their own teachers in front of their classmates.

Next, we learned the Frank family’s story. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, witnessed the highly concerning discriminatory laws in Germany towards the Jewish people, so they immigrated to the Netherlands while they could still leave Hitler’s oppressive regime. They enjoyed a few years of safety living there, but then went into hiding when Anne’s older sister, Margo received a notice in the mail that she was to report to a concentration camp. The family of four spent two years in hiding along with four other Jewish people in the annex of Mr. Frank’s business. In 1944, the Franks were betrayed (who turned them in is still debated) and all eight of the residents were sent to concentration camps.

Otto Frank, the only survivor, published the diary Anne kept during her time in hiding. Anne had eventually wanted to publish a book about her experience, entitling it “The Secret Annex” and her father wanted to carry out her dream after her death. The book has since been translated into 70 different languages and has been turned into famous plays and moves. Anne Frank’s legacy has lived on for so many years because of its deep insight into a family’s struggle for survival in the face of grave danger.

After the presentation, we began the tour of the house with the audio guide. We moved slowly through the narrow staircases and cramped corners, trying to put ourselves in the Frank family’s shoes. One of the things I found most impactful about the visit was the video on Anne Frank’s legacy at the end of the tour. The video contained quotes about the impact of the book/tour on readers/visitors. Nelson Mandela was videotaped speaking about how reading the diary gave him hope during his imprisonment. A US Army Veteran wrote in the museum’s signature book that he now realized why he fought at D-Day. John Green writes in his book “The Fault in Our Stars” about the vastness of the number of people killed in the Holocaust, remarking that there were 4 Arron Frank’s who died with no mourners, memorials, or museum to remember their life and legacy. We mustn’t forget that Anne Frank’s hardship is only one of the 6 million Jews murdered.

After our tour, we walked to the museum quarter of the city to say our goodbyes to the beloved Dr. Markley. We wished her a great rest of the summer. Next, we ate lunch at the “hipster” food trucks in the park, enjoying some delicious veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, or chicken sandwiches. For dessert, some of us went to try some of Amsterdam’s famous delicacy, Stroopwafels!

For our free afternoon, some of us watched the England-Sweden match of the World Cup, while others walked around and explored the city. A handful of us, myself included, chose to go to The Van Gogh Museum. I loved getting to see the famous Sunflower painting as well as the Almond Blossom painting. I feel so lucky to have been able to witness some of the world’s most famous masterpieces during my time abroad. I also learned a lot about Van Gogh’s troubled life and struggles with mental illness through the museum’s extensive audio guide.

After the museum, we walked around the city for a while and then some us went to get a delicious meal in Chinatown to end a rich day in Amsterdam. I feel fortunate that we got the chance to visit a city with so much history, art, and culture.

Council of the European Union and China Presentation

Continuing on our tour of the various European Union (EU) institutions, we visited the Council of the EU this morning. We were lucky enough to have received two briefings from key advisors in the council. We loved seeing the ornate modern architecture of the Council building, as well as getting the chance to visit the Council as it is about to transition from the Bulgarian to the Austrian Presidency in a few days on July 1, 2018.  We also saw the Nobel Peace Prize display. The medal was given to the EU in 2012 for it’s global advancements in peace, democracy, and human rights.

Our first briefing was from a representative from the Secretariat of the Council. We received an overview of the roles, functions, and priorities of the Council of Ministers as well as the European Council. He provided a clear and concise explanation of the EU trilogue system of passing legislation between the Council of the EU, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. He also explained the nuances of translating legislation into the 24 official languages of the EU. The Council employs special senior translators, referred to as “loyal linguists” in order to ensure that the law retains its intended meaning across all the member state’s languages. Additionally, we learned about the multi-layered revision processes within the Council, starting with revision in the small working parties and committees, then moving on to revision in the COREPER structure (a revision body made up of permanent representatives to the Council), and lastly moving up to voting of approval by the Ministers in the Council.

Next, we were briefed by Susanne Nielsen, a specialist on the migration crisis. We learned about the multiple different challenges facing the three main routes of migration into Europe; Sub-Saharan Africa to Spain, Libya and Northern Africa to Italy, and The Middle East to Greece through Turkey. We discussed the EU’s plans to invest in northern Africa and the Middle East, as well as work with migration officials in Turkey in order to fix the crisis to decrease the flow of migration into Europe.  EU coordination on development aide in these regions is critical at this stage in the crisis. We also learned about Frontex’s coordination with the Italian, Spainish, and Greek naval forces on a few very important maritime missions. They are working to rescue the migrants fleeing to Europe on insufficient makeshift rafts, which often capsize in the Mediterranean Sea, leading to numerous drownings. The work these organizations are doing is saving a ton of lives.

After our visit to the Council building, we were off to to Euroflat Hotel for a briefing on “The Dynamics Between Europe and China” from Theresa Fallon, Director at the Center for Russia Europe and Asia Studies (CREAS). We learned about China’s increasing foreign direct investment into Eastern Europe, as well as their one billion dollar infrastructure investment through the One Belt One Road initiative, designed to increase international trade to China. We also discussed Europe’s fears of a “G2” world order with the US and China as the world’s two competing superpowers due to China’s rapid rise to power. Some key areas of concern are the unbalanced trade and investment relationship between China and it’s trade partners (specifically the US and the EU), as well as China’s inadequate workers rights, lack of environmental regulation, and heavy censorship. We all thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Fallon’s talk about China’s relationship with the EU.

Lastly, Hamid, a student on the program, gave us an extremely informative presentation on the history of US-Iranian relations. We covered the history of the primarily amenable but now more adversarial relationship between Iran and the US government, starting from the 1953 coup in Iran until present-day. For me personally, the history of the Middle East is a topic that I am not very knowledgeable about, so I found it very interesting to learn things like the US’s long history of supporting Iranian military development as well as the 1979 Iranian revolution, including the peaceful stepping down of the Shah (the Islamic monarch at the time) and his replacement by the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. I also didn’t know that this revolution was the impetus for global conflicts such as the energy crisis of the late 1970s, the Iran-Iraq war, and the Iran Hostage Crisis.

For me, the most interesting part of our day was listening to Hamid’s personal anecdotes on the state of his home country of Iran. He shared with us the chilling story of a family friend who is trying to inspire progressive social change in the nation, however he is being heavily persecuted for his views, which oppose the nations traditional Islamic values. This gentleman was giving a speech at a political gathering in Iranian Assembly, in which he shared his progressive ideals. He received shouts of insults claiming that he “should be buried right underneath the nuclear power plant reactor.” The man left the podium in tears. Hamid relayed to us his disappointment in the current state of Iranian politics, and his concern that the USA’s unexpected decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Deal will only further escalate the political problems of the country. It was inspiring to me to see a fellow student so actively engaged in the global political dilemmas, and his will to change the troubled state of the Middle East today. Through our daily exposure to key issues facing the world stage, I hope that this study abroad program fosters that same sense of commitment  to build a better future for us all.

European Parliament and Strasbourg Tour

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

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.

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