GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Victoria Massaro

A visit to Google

Throughout this study abroad, we have learned about and visited the important institutions of the European Union. Today, we took a different look at the European Union through the lense of a multinational corporation operating within it, Google. Clara Sommier welcomed us to Google Brussels and began our visit with an information session. She explained that she is a former employee of the European Parliament and part of her position at Google is advising members of the European Parliament on different technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), related to proposed legislation.

When we went to the European Youth Event in Strasbourg, we learned about Google’s Art and Culture project. This project, in part, focused on digitizing museums around the world so that people would be able to see important exhibits and learn about different cultures no matter what country they reside in. We were able to ask Clara more about this project during our visit. She explained that Google has partnered with multiple museums for this project but it was a difficult process to get the museums to agree to be a part of this project. Naturally, they are protective of their artifacts. I found this very interesting because museums are a celebration of culture and an important tool for everyone to learn about important historical events. I assumed that these museums would jump at the opportunity to share their exhibits with the world. Thankfully, this initial hesitation has subsided and Google has been able to add virtual tours of many museums on the Google Arts and Culture portal.

In addition to explaining the Google Arts and Culture project, Clara showed us a new program that Google created called Project X. This project is based on the nth degree of separation theory and allows you to choose two paintings and then based on the style and influences the algorithm detects in the paintings, it will then populate a line of similar paintings. This project is a great example of how modern technology can enhance the experience of viewing historical artifacts.

The later half of our discussion focused on Google’s response to the GDPR and the issue of demonetization of YouTube videos based on an algorithm. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was implemented on May 25th and Google and Facebook were among the first companies to be hit with lawsuits following its implementation. The lawsuit claimed that Google did not take enough measures to comply with the GDPR. Despite this lawsuit, we were assured that Google is working hard to comply with the GDPR and all of its required stipulations. Google is the parent company of YouTube and because of this, Clara was asked about Google’s thoughts on the demonization of YouTube videos. She explained to us that an algorithm decides on where an ad is placed based on a set of selections that YouTube creators select and that the advertisers select. She acknowledges that the algorithm is not perfect but that it can only continue to be improved to solve this problem as it learns through its machine learning capabilities.

The intersection of technology and the European Union was a very interesting topic to learn about because we traditionally think of these organizations as strictly bureaucratic when in reality, they are advised by multinational corporations on a variety of issues to make sure that they make the most informed decision possible on a piece of legislation involving technology.

After our visit to Google, we ended the day with a visit to Maison Antoine for some fries before starting our first weekend in Brussels!

The Road to Brussels

Today is the day we say goodbye to our French bread and cheese and say hello to Belgian waffles and fries! On our way to Brussels, we stopped in Bastogne to visit the Bastogne War Museum. This museum is designed to show visitors a new perspective and an interactive framework on World War II through the Battle of the Bulge. We were able to follow the story of a young boy and his family throughout the war to give us a more personal story of the war. This was done through three different movie theaters within the museum. Because of the war, the young boy was sent to live at his uncle’s house while his parents stayed behind to take care of their bike shop. Unfortunately, this was the last time he would see his parents because they were both killed in a bombing. This museum gave us a better insight into the lives of civilians during the war and how they lived before, during the occupation, and after the war.

After the museum, we stopped for a quick lunch at an Italian restaurant. In addition to getting some good food, we also learned a fun fact about one of the program participants, Abbie. She does not like cheese, but her favorite food is pepperoni pizza……I know we were all questioning this too but she says as long as there is a good cheese to pepperoni ratio, she can tolerate the cheese. After lunch we hopped back on the bus to drive the remaining two hours to get to Brussels and meet our host families.

We were greeted by our host families at a meet and greet at a local restaurant. Our group was the first to arrive so we waited eagerly by the patio as our host families began to arrive. Although we were a bit nervous to meet them, we all could not be more thrilled with the families we are going to be living with for the next month! I want to give a special shoutout to me and Harper’s host family for being so wonderful and preparing us a traditional Portuguese dinner for our first night in Brussels!

Au revoir Metz!

Happy Sunday!

After a month in Metz, our last day is sadly here. We started our day with a tour of the Lorraine American Cemetery. This cemetery has the largest number of graves of United States military casualties from World War II in Europe. The guided tour offered some insights into three men who are buried in the cemetery. The first story we heard was about a Medal of Honor recipient named Ruben Rivers. He earned his Medal of Honor because he stayed in his tank for three days straight in order to provide coverage for his men. The death year on his grave stone reads 1944 but he did not receive his Medal of Honor until the 90s because he was an African American Soldier. The second soldier we learned about is unknown. The cemetery still has many graves with a headstone that reads “here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known only but to God.” The cemetery is actively working to identify these men and finally give peace to their families. These graves demonstrate to us that the men who fought in World War II lost more than their lives; they lost their identity. The last grave we visited with our guide is the grave of Charles Campbell. The most impactful part of his story is the last letter that he wrote to his father before he died. In this letter, he talks about his plans for after the war and his ideas about the future. Sadly, Charles would not see the end of the war but that makes his story all the more impactful because we are reminded that these soldiers were young men who were not able to live out their dreams because they sacrificed their lives to keep us safe so that we could have a future. At the end of the guided portion of our visit, our guide asked us one simple favor. She asked us that as we walk through the rows of graves to take a minute and read some of the names on the grave stones in remembrance of the soldiers to keep their memories alive.

After the cemetery, we traveled to Nancy where we were joined by Pooja and Harper who had a bit of a “prague-lematic” time getting back to France since their flight home from Prague was canceled. Before our scheduled ride on the tourist train, we had some time to explore the Place Stanislas. Known around the world for its architecture and beauty, this square is earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The square was constructed by the architect Emmanuel Héré and the iron gates were constructed by Jean Lamour. The square is a pivotal part of Nancy because it is home to the City Hall, the Opera House, and the Fine Arts Museum. The tourist train gave us a comprehensive overview of the city and its historical significance. But, I think we would all say that the best part of the train ride was that at the end of the tour, the conductor drove us to the restaurant where we were having our group dinner!

Our day ended with a group dinner in Nancy and a quick train ride back to Metz so we could finish packing to leave for Brussels the following morning. While we will all greatly miss Metz, we are excited to move on to Brussels and see what new opportunities lie ahead.

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