GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Natalie Dunnahoo

Au Revoir, Brussels!

Today was our last day in Brussels! It’s incredible how so much time can pass without realizing it. We’ve spent roughly six weeks here, learning the ins and outs of this incredible city. It’s been a pleasure to learn so much about Belgian life through our host families and our many interactions with citizens. It’s bittersweet to think of all the hours spent in our favorite restaurants and bars and the countless trips to Maison Antoine that will end today. There are many lasting memories that we made and lots of times we’ll wish we could go back to. With one day left, there remained one final site visit in Brussels.

Late afternoon, we arrived at the Council of Europe where we were greeted by Ivan Volodin who holds the title of political advisor. Before we got to it, he presented us with a short video that outlined what the Council of Europe is exactly.
Often confused with the Council of the European Union, the Council of Europe is not an EU institution at all. It is composed of 47 member states that total about 820 million citizens. Each country in Europe is a part of the Council with the exception of Belarus. Established in 1949 after World War II, the focus of the Council was to create a safe place for countries to share and exchange opinions and values.
A human rights driven institution, the Council has 118 conventions to this day covering everything from torture to sports. The most notable being the European Convention on Human Rights (4 November 1950). The Convention abolished the use of the death penalty. The only European country that hasn’t signed is Russia, which hasn’t used the death penalty in over 20 years. Conventions aren’t limited to European countries though. Not all European countries must sign conventions and some are open to non-European countries.
There are several working parts that keep the Council functioning making it a complex body: the European Court of Human Rights, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Secretary General, and monitoring bodies. The European Court of Human Rights is composed of 47 judges (one from each member country) and hears cases regarding human rights from individuals, groups, or even governments. The Commissioner for Human Rights, not having much power, promotes awareness and protection of human rights and can provide criticisms of countries taking part in human rights violations. The Committee of Ministers is the primary decision-making body of the Council of Europe. Again, there are 47 foreign affairs ministers (one from each member country) that decide on policies and plans of action. The Parliamentary Assembly is the deliberative body made up of 318 members. The Assembly meets four times a year to make recommendations. The Secretary General co-ordinates activities and focuses on strategic planning and the administration of the Council’s operational program. Finally, the monitoring bodies are responsible for checking up on countries that have had to make reforms due to human rights violations. There are both independent experts and governmental evaluations. Definitely a complex institution, it was great to follow up Dr. Fabry’s earlier lecture on the Council of Europe with an informative visit to back it all up.
Last week in Paris, Dr. Birchfield asked us to consider how somewhere so foreign can feel like home so quickly. As I’ve reflected on it since, I begin to think about my first day in Brussels versus my final days. I was extremely overwhelmed on my first day. My host mom had me download the app that told what times the buses came at our stop and I recall scrolling through what seemed to be a never ending list thinking, “How will I remember this?” Not surprisingly, the first day that the program met up, I walked the 27 minutes. Upon realizing that I desperately needed to pull it together, I learned the metro, which happens not to be like Marta in the slightest, and the bus lines. It wasn’t that difficult and I’m glad that I did it early on.
As each of us on the program met every day and got closer, it made it easier to be away from home. We began realizing that a lot of us were in the same boat: new city, new friends, new experience. We figured it out together and got to know each other in the process. Each day was a new challenge until it wasn’t a challenge anymore; it was just normal. Every day it felt more and more like home. While it’s easy to sit back and think, “Yeah, it feels like home because I know what to do here”, that isn’t the entirety of it. It feels like home because of the people I’m surrounded with.
I think that if I were here on my own after this program, it wouldn’t quite feel the same. I would discover Brussels as my home in a new way, but it wouldn’t be the same as this summer. There’s something beautiful about being able to readjust your life in such a way that calling somewhere new “home” in a few short weeks feels okay.
Looking back, I realize that I’ve relied heavily on a lot of people during this trip to make Brussels “home” and they’ve become some of my best friends. Without those friends, I don’t know if I could call my parents from Stockholm and say “On my way home!” (meaning Brussels, but confusing them). Having people to lean on is what makes somewhere a home to me and it was easy to find that home in Brussels once I looked for it.
This is an incredible program that allows you to do unfathomable things, creating lasting relationships along the way and truly being an extraordinary experience.

Copenhagen in 5 Days

As our first trip away from Brussels comes to a close, I thought I would reflect on some of the highlights of our time Copenhagen. Most of Sunday we spent all together, which was nice. It gave us all an opportunity to enjoy an incredible Danish meal together and catch up. Being spread out amongst our host families in Brussels makes it difficult to frequently chat with each other, but getting to spend the past few days together has definitely helped us develop better relationships. After returning to the hotel and settling in for a bit, we decided to go on a walk with no destination. The weather couldn’t have been better for getting lost in Copenhagen. Wandering around helped my friends and I decided where we should visit for our coming free day.

The Danish Refugee Council was our first site visit in Copenhagen. My classmates and I can agree that it was one of the most interesting and informative visits that we have had. Hearing the Danish, Copenhagen, and even our presenter’s perspectives was an awesome experience. We haven’t heard much of that from other presenters. It’s always nice to hear a little more than just the basic facts. Following our presentation, our presenter led us to the rooftop where we were able to see a beautiful view of the city. After several pictures, we headed out for lunch before meeting up at the hotel to head over to the University of Copenhagen together.

Once we arrived at the university, we were greeted by Ian Manners, a Professor of Political Science. He talked about a lot in such a short two hours. Of course, once the questions began, we went over our set two hours by about thirty minutes. Manners gave us a wonderful presentation and had a lot of information to share with us. It was cool to hear his opinions on problems such as migration and a possible Brexit. It was a nice way to end our first day.


The Little Mermaid

Tuesday was much more relaxed and finding things to do was all on us. After gathering friends after breakfast, we set out for the famous Little Mermaid statue. Our first stop along the way was Rosenborg Castle, a renaissance castle. It was originally built as a country summer home in the early 1600s. It is home to the crown jewels and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and a park. After briefly walking around the castle and through the gardens, we returned on our path to the Little Mermaid. We were once again side tracked, this time by St. Alban’s Church.

Not often do you come across open Anglican/Episcopalian churches in Europe, so it was especially touching to me as an Episcopalian. Immediately upon entering, I noticed similarities to my church at home in everything from the structure to the linens used. The church was built in 1885 and is the only Anglican/Episcopalian church in Denmark. After spending a little time inside, we finally headed for the Little Mermaid statue. The statue happened to be a little underwhelming, but it was still a wonderful opportunity to see such a famous piece of art.

After all of this exploring, we had really worked up an appetite. We headed for Papirøen Copenhagen Street Food. It is essentially a waterside marketplace that features independent food stalls and trucks that sell snacks, meals, and drinks. I enjoyed a pulled duck sandwich (similar to a BBQ sandwich, but better) and fries that were double fried in duck fat! It was hands down one of my favorite meals in Copenhagen. With this, our first free day was in the books. We returned to the hotel to watch lots of soccer together.

Wednesday morning was all booked up with our second site visit. After a short thirty minute walk, we arrived at the Danish Foreign Ministry where we were briefed by two gentlemen. About an hour and a half later, it was time for lunch. We all went together to another street food type market. This time I indulged myself in some tacos. Once everyone had finished eating, we headed for the parliament building where we climbed (rode the elevator) up to the top for an incredible view of Copenhagen. By the end of our visit there, we were all ready for our canal tour. A lovely hour boat ride accompanied by lots of history was the perfect way to wrap up the long day.


View From the Parliament Building

Today being our last day here, we were all up for different things. Some of us checked out a few museums while others took a day to catch their breath and relax a little bit. Copenhagen is a beautiful city with a lot to offer. Five days isn’t enough to take in any city, especially this one.

Resting Up After an Afternoon at Parliament


Flags representing the 28 member countries of the EU.

Our first week in Brussels was quite a busy one. We spent the week at ULB learning important information about the European Union and its institutions in preparation for our site visits. This week has been equally as packed with new information and even more things to do. Yesterday, May 25th, we had the opportunity to visit NATO and the European Parliament. Following lunch at NATO, we headed straight for the Parliament building where a plenary session awaited us.

Before the plenary session, we were briefed by a representative of the European Parliament. She went in depth about the basic structure of the European Parliament and its political parties as well as explained where it fits into the institutional triangle of the European Union. Since we had already covered so much material in our lectures, she could tell we knew a lot and was able to answer a few questions and speak more on the issue of transatlantic data flow.

After introducing the agreement’s official name to us, the EU-US Privacy Shield, the representative further explained how the agreement would better protect EU citizens and their personal data. The agreement ensures that U.S. companies wishing to import personal data from Europe will have to follow strict procedures on how data is processed and how rights are guaranteed. Transparency is also a new requirement that has never been mentioned in previous agreements.


The floor of the European Parliament

As soon as our briefing ended, we were escorted into the gallery to view the ongoing plenary session. There sat roughly twenty MEPs preparing for their turn to speak. Upon entering, we were able to catch the tail end of discussion on preparation for the G7 Summit. Up next was the debate on transatlantic data flow. It was fascinating to hear MEPs from all different countries and parties give their opinions and suggestions. Lucky for us, we were able to hear from Sophia in’t Veld, an MEP from the Netherlands and member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). It was awesome to have the opportunity to watch the session take place.

Today, May 26th, was a free day. Much of the day was spent exploring parks and enjoying the most beautiful weather we’ve had thus far here in Brussels. A few friends and I popped into La Brace, a pizzeria near the Commission, where we enjoyed delicious margherita pizzas. It was a much needed day of rest for all of us. Back to work tomorrow!

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