After getting settled in with their host families and acclimated to Brussels with a walking and bus tour, the students dove right in to learning about the EU and transatlantic relations. The students had their first official site visit, a day of meetings at NATO headquarters in which they met with the head of the Polish delegation as well as representatives from the US and French delegations. They also had the opportunity to hear from a member of the international staff on issues in Russia and Ukraine. Unfortunately the meetings were off the record, so we cannot disclose any more information about what was discussed. But suffice it to say the students came prepared with excellent questions and represented Georgia Tech well.
Students and faculty in front of NATO headquarters
The next day the students had a tour at the European Parliament and briefing on structure of the institution as well as dynamics in the upcoming election. One of the key takeaways from the meeting is the eclectic nature of the European Union an institution, particular the complex web of relations amongst nation states and the European collective as composed in the Commission, the Parliament and the Council. This is a particularly exciting time to be in Europe with EU elections slated for May 22-25, the first since the Lisbon Treaty took effect in 2010. As the election tagline goes, “This time it’s different” and the students have a great opportunity to see that in person. Following the briefing, the students had the opportunity to take a first hand look at the Hemicycle, one of two locations (the other is in Strasbourg, France) where the entire elected body representing the peoples of Europe makes policy. Interestingly the seats are broken into wedges for each of the major parties, and MEPs sit alphabetically from front to back, with their leaders at the front.
Students with professors Birchfield and Hayes line up with the flags of Europe
Students hear about the dynamics of the European Parliament in the Hemicycle
In the afternoon the students were treated to a guest lecture by Professor Mark Cottle from Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture on the Art Nouveau movement in Europe. He highlighted the ways in which architecture, like other forms of art, often reflects the social, cultural, even political ideals and tensions of any period of time. Art Nouveau, like the Arts and Crafts movement in the UK, arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in part as a reaction to the industrial revolution, and the style bears unique characteristics from that specific social and political milieu. Thus, the students were also encouraged to consider the artistic and cultural influences of their generation. Following the lecture, Professor Cottle took the students on a unique walking tour of Art Nouveau architecture in Brussels, including buildings designed and built by the famous Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta.
An example of Art Nouveau architecture from Professor Cottle’s walking tour of Brussels
The students had the weekend free, but many took the opportunity to attend the Europe Day – EU Open Doors, including a debate amongst members of the European Parliament on a wide range of issues confronting Europe. On this day, the Parliament, Commission, and Council open their doors to the public with festivals, information sessions, and tours of otherwise off limit areas like the presidents’ offices, to allow citizens to better connect with the EU institutions. The students and faculty on the program took full advantage of the opportunity, which included a rare sighting of Europe Man.