GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Laura Schilling

Getto krakowskie

Our second packed day in Kraków we started off with something a bit lighter than the before at Auschwitz. We began our day by walking to the Kazimierz, or Jewish, neighborhood of Kraków while our guide Konrad was pointing out different locations that the movie Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg was filmed. For me, this was incredibly interesting because I had recently watched the film again before coming to Europe this summer and I was able to clearly recognize the different places he was pointing out to us during the tour. For example, we went to one place in Kazimierz that looked just like a regular alleyway with a restaurant in it but, it was the filming site for an important part of the film where the Jewish citizens are trying to escape and hide before the German SS officers can get to them and take them away or kill them.


After viewing some of the filming locations for Schindler’s List we went to the New Square of Kazimierz where there was a charming little flea market that was just getting started for a quiet Tuesday afternoon. In that New Square there was also apparently the best place in Kraków (or Poland depending on who you’re asking) for zapiekanka in Nowa Square. I did not get to try it but hopefully I can get some by the end of the trip. One Polish delicacy that I did get to try were pierogis during our lunch break. They were absolutely delicious and reasonably priced which makes me wish I could pay Polish prices in all of Europe, especially Scandinavia. I was warned that the food here would not be as great as the other countries we have been to but, I think it’s all about making the most of what is available to you.


During our walking tour we also got to see two synagogues in Kazimierz. One was the only synagogue that is still being used in the neighborhood and the other was the oldest synagogue in Kraków that is no longer active but serves as a museum now. Both were very interesting and gave us a peek into what was involved in the life of Polish jew living in Kraków throughout the years including a wonderful picture gallery of the Jewish culture during the Nazi occupation of Poland.



The hardest part of the day was visiting the former Kraków Ghetto across the river. It was easy to tell when you entered the ghetto because of the breathtaking and thought provoking display of chairs in the square to represent all of the generations of lost families in the ghetto. There was only one section of the wall that separated the ghetto from the rest of Kraków near a children’s playground but otherwise, the former ghetto was open to the rest of the city. It was hard to try and imagine that the streets we were walking upon were once covered in bodies of the victims of the holocaust as the result of human ignorance and maliciousness. In the ghetto we also got to visit the factory in which Oskar Schindler employed all of the Jewish people who he was able to save through his generosity and kindness. The factory is no longer in use and most of the original is not there anymore, but there is a wonderful museum in the former factory with a permanent exhibit on the Nazi Occupation of Kraków from 1939-1945. The exhibit was very interactive and included many photos of Kraków during the occupation that included rooms with different atmospheres that really helped facilitate a more physical and emotional connection to the plight of the Jewish Poles living in Kraków during the time. It was put together and designed extremely well so that I was completely absorbed in the exhibit the whole time. Overall, today was a great chance to understand what really went down in the city of Kraków that terminated an sizable portion of the population that left the city to only have 200~ jewish inhabitants today.


A Day at the French Parliament

Following our exciting and mind-blowingingly awesome days in Paris was an unimaginable day in the French Parliament. Instead of having a regular briefing at the Assemblée Nationale we had a guided tour through the historic building. Our tour guide was amazing and she told us the history behind the building and how it used to be the home of Louise-Françoise de Bourbon and the other part of the building was the home of her lover so she could stay out of the politics in Versailles. The Palais Bourbon was breathtaking and the artistry and attention to detail in all of decorations was very impressive. The Palace was overtaken by the future Parliament after the aristocrats left Paris in order to escape the revolution.


During our time in the first room we were informed in, we learned all about the history of the French Parliament and its roots. The French Parliament really started during the French Revolution and France’s first attempts at being a Republic. With its roots in the Council of the Five Hundred meeting in the Palais the building has since been a representation of the French legislative body. In fact, the terms left-wing and right-wing came from the French Parliament because of their seating in parliament in reference to the President of the Parliament. Already feeling like I was in an amazing place, the tour guide then showed us to the library. With paintings by Delacroix done on the ceiling in six panels. Words cannot describe the beauty of the room and all of its 700,000+ books was a wonderful sight to see and experience


After the library we were taken into the main chamber of the French Parliament and got to see where the parliament meets, discusses, and votes on legislation. The room itself was just as beautiful as the rest of the Palais complete with a painting by Raphael and remnants of the reign of Napoleon still hanging on the wall.


Then, we were given a special tour the rest of the Palais and the beautifully designed Hôtel de Lassay and its themed salons. During that portion of the tour we even got to see the desk of the president of the President and where he works on legislation, but does not sign it because of superstition placed on desk of all paperwork signed on it failing. The tour concluded with that tour but, I got the unbelievable chance with Madison and Meghan to return later that day and view the parliament’s questioning of the government.


It all started with the arrival of the President of the Parliament through the Palais to the main chamber lined with guards of the Republic to represent the unity of the people and the Republican guard. Seeing the President of the Parliament was beyond amazing and I also got to see the Minister of Education as well casually strolling by right in front of me. Little did I know who I was about to see in the chamber. We got great seats in the chamber right in the center first row on the first balcony and we got a clear view of the Prime Minister of France himself who was there to personally discuss France’s new labor reforms.


During the questioning such topics as the labor reform, Brexit, and agriculture were discussed and argued upon. The whole thing was exhilarating because of the freedom of the members of parliament who were yelling and booing at each other when somebody from the opposite party spoke or said something disagreeable to them. It was entertaining to see the members there reading a newspaper the whole time but then put it up just to yell at the other members, even though it was hard to hear what the real speaker was saying. We sat through about an hour of the questioning and then ended our day by spending a free night in the beautiful city of Paris. I feel extremely lucky to be able to attend this session and am grateful that I decided to learn French in high school so I could be able to attend it and understand what was going on. It is fascinating how the French government works and I learned a whole lot today about the parliament and how it works as compared to the US system. I was interested to see how much the EU was brought up during their discussions and it proved to me that France is an important player in the EU that takes its position seriously and uses all of its power to try and make Europe a better place.

Pastries at the Polish Embassy

Today we started off at our first embassy visit of the program at the Polish embassy. After getting turned around about where to meet, I was still able to make it on time for the briefing. The first thing I noticed was how nice and modern the embassy building was and how polite everybody was being towards us. We were then pleasantly escorted into our briefing room where there was a wonderful arrangement of pastries and tea and coffee. I personally felt that we were treated very nicely at the embassy and they even gave us free goodies.


Our briefing was given to us by three people. One of the people briefing us was a Polish representative from NATO, a Polish representative from the EU, and a representative from the Polish embassy. I enjoyed this variety of speaker because we got to see how the country differed under their different hats and institutions. The briefing began with a short overview of Polish interest by the representative who was not associated with NATO or the EU  and then he switched over to to his EU colleague for the Polish perspective in the EU. This man started off with discussing the focus of Poland’s interests, which is currently the East, or Russia. From the Polish perspective in the EU, Russia is still a threat and Poland is actively trying to work with its Eastern neighbors to try and work on this threat. Even though they are not very similar to the Eastern states, they all seem to want to come together to try and figure out what they need to do about Russia especially since their illegal annexation of Crimea. He also briefly mentioned pressure from the South, but stated that Poland believes that their borders should be maintained and the border of its partners should be maintained as well.

Then, the representative from NATO spoke to us about the differences of threat perception in NATO and what Poland viewed as its most pressing threat. Obviously again, it was pressure from the East. She discussed this in terms of the upcoming Warsaw summit and Poland’s goals at the Summit. The problem in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia’s snap exercises were mentioned for goals to address during the summit. Another goal for the Warsaw summit was the enhancement of the Eastern Flank and the challenges Poland has doing that while not trying to provoke Russia. The lady also mentioned their principle of solidarity in terms of pressure in the South with the rest of their NATO partners, a need for common understanding in NATO between member states, a need for other countries to start spending more on defense, and the need to address rising security threats in hybrid warfare.

The briefing finished up with some insightful questions from my fellow students and one was interestingly strategically avoided by the Polish representatives on their recent slap on the rest by the EU. Overall, today was an interesting day that helped us to understand the views of one of the largest countries i the EU who is facing anew era of security challenges today.

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