GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

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Week 3: EEAS and CEPS

Week 3 of our time in Europe has seen some more excellent site visits.  On Monday, the students visited the European External Action Service (EEAS).  As the EU’s proto-foreign service, the EEAS manages external relations where the EU has a foreign policy competency.  The students got excellent briefings providing an overview of EU-US relations, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and cybersecurity.

Students hear from EU staff first hand on the most pressing foreign policy issues confronting the EU

As usual, the students asked some very astute questions, and the staff providing the briefings ranged far and wide over the subject area as our students explored the complicated terrain of EU policy.  This third week also represents an inflection point of sorts, as the students start to bring together the various threads they have been exposed to in class and in past briefings to begin to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the EU.

This ‘synthetic moment’ (as in synthesize, not fake) was very apparent as the students took briefings at the Centre for European Policy Studies on the issue of climate change.  Everything from TTIP to Ukraine to industrial espionage factored into the students’ questions as they sought to make sense of one of the EU’s signature policy areas.

Students and faculty briefed on an EU signature policy area: Climate Change

Tomorrow the students will have even more exposure to the issue as our own Assistant Professor Janelle Knox-Hayes will give a lecture on the history and operation of the EU Emissions Trading System.

Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

On Wednesday, the students visited the military side of NATO: Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).

Students and faculty at SHAPE with Lt. Colonel Ochyra

Along the way we passed the historic Waterloo battlefield.

Waterloo in passing on the bus to SHAPE

The headquarters was originally in Paris, but when France withdrew from NATO unified command in 1966, the headquarters moved Mons, Belgium, where it remains today.  We were hosted by two excellent officers: Lt. Colonel Claus Richter (Germany, middle of photo) and Lt. Colonel Miroslaw Ochyra (Poland, right side of photo).  The students also heard from Commander Krasimir Kiranov of the Bulgarian Navy (left side of photo).  The students had a very rich experience, with briefings from a range of officers on a number of aspects on the military side of NATO.  As usual in these types of situations, we cannot provide any further details on what the officers discussed.

Students have a chance to question officers at SHAPE

The first week in the EU

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.


Welcome to GT in the EU

Welcome to GT in the EU.  This is the official blog of the only Georgia Tech study abroad program focused on the European Union.  Headed by Professor Vicki Birchfield, GT in the EU  is an extraordinary 10-week program that gives students a hands on knowledge of Europe and the EU through a stunning range of experiential activities.  Students travel to Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and Metz.  There they meet with government officials, EU policy makers and representatives from NGOs and corporationswhile living with host families that give student participants unparalleled exposure to local culture.  In addition, students earn credits for 4 courses: European institutions, EU/US relations, European Security, and human rights in Europe.  Here we post blog entries from our faculty and students reflecting on an amazing experience.

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