"Dispatches from Europe" Blog Contest

Are you planning on traveleling to the European Union this summer? Submit a post to be featured on our Across the Pond blog and win prizes!

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Blogs

The third Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class traveled to the Arctic Circle in summer 2014. Check out their blog entries from this summer!

Ringing the Bells at the Banner of Peace

Landscape Architecture Doctoral candidate Caroline Wisler reflects on her travels to Bulgaria.

Zach Grotovsky's Summer 2013: 14 Cities, 15 Weeks, One Long Adventure

University of Illinois graduate student in Germanic Literatures and Languages Zach Grotovsky documents his travels throughout Eastern Europe in the summer of 2013.

Polar Bears

The Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class spotted polar bears in Norway!

Peaceful Opposition in Izmir

MAEUS student Levi Armlovich describes his experiences with the protests in Izmir, Turkey.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Renewable energy the focus of study abroad tour in Greece

Five University of Illinois students, funded in part by the European Union Center under a U.S. Department of Education Title VI grant, visited Greece this spring to learn about renewable energy. They explored the difference in EU and US approaches to environmental sustainability, and experienced the Greek economic crisis along the way. See below for the full press release.

URBANA - Five students from the University of Illinois spent a month in Greece this spring, studying renewable energy alongside students from the Agricultural University of Athens (AUA) and the University of Thessaly in Volos. Amy Girlich, Alex Heidtke, Grace Nelson, Rachael Ramsey, and Sarah Shimizu were part of a team-based collaboration that allowed students from both countries to experience the process of identifying and solving real-world engineering problems.

This is the third year Stephen Zahos, a lecturer and Senior Design Capstone Coordinator in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE), has coordinated and led students in the “Cradle of Democracy” study and cultural tour.

“The students learned about various technologies in renewable energy systems such as biofuels, photovoltaics, wind energy, and solar energy, through field trips to installations, and via lectures and demonstrations at both AUA and Thessaly,” said Zahos. “This year we added a hands-on aspect to the trip. Students collected data at a university farm, using instruments that measured soil conductivity and other parameters. Then they used sophisticated software programs to produce three-dimensional plot plans of the ground that they covered.”

“The practical use of that in renewable energy was to maximize the growth of energy crops that are planted specifically for energy use,” Zahos continued. “In Greece’s case, it’s principally sunflower seeds, and other non-food crops, for biodiesel production.”
Because this trip occurred earlier in the year than the previous trips, the students in Greece were still in school and the U of I students were able to work closely with their counterparts.

“Spyros Fountas is an assistant professor at Thessaly, and he set up the program there,” said Zahos. “This wasn’t a typical experience for the students in Greece. They don’t get a lot of hands-on experience – they mostly attend lectures. But Spyros earned his Ph.D. at Purdue, so he was familiar with the American style of teaching and instruction. His students seemed to enjoy the alternative method as well.”

Zahos noted that the installation and application of renewable systems in Greece is guided by European Union directives, which sets goals for each of the member countries. Currently Greece uses approximately 9 percent renewable energy sources, but the goal is 20 percent by the year 2020. “It’s going to be difficult to reach,” said Zahos, “but progress is being made, as evidenced by several installations that popped up since 2010.”

Amy Girlich, a junior in civil and environmental engineering, said the experience was an excellent opportunity to learn more about her intended career path. “I’m looking to focus on environmental engineering and this was a great way to obtain some hands-on experience and learn about biodiesel and sustainability,” she said. “It was interesting to note that Europe and the United States view environmental concerns differently. Almost every house in Greece has a small solar panel on its roof. Many buildings have no air conditioning but instead are built using marble on the inside to keep the air cool. In the United States as a whole, we don’t think as much about what impact we have on the environment.”

“So often, students in a university setting, especially engineers, are spoken to only in terms of the technology – this is what it is, this is how it works,” Zahos said. “But the political, societal, and economic components are the 800-pound gorillas in the room.”
That’s why Zahos was pleased when students were able to attend a lecture by two U.S. Embassy personnel almost immediately on their arrival. “They gave a great talk on sustainability and spoke about all the components of renewable energy, acceptance, sustainability and operation,” he said. ”That provided the students with grounding and a framework for them to be thinking about.”

Zahos said another educational – albeit unintended – aspect of the trip was observing the current economic upheaval in Greece. “We happened to be there at the time their legislature was debating whether to accept the austerity measures required by the EU for a loan bailout,” he said. “I encouraged the students to pay attention and to think about some of the conditions that exist there, and compare and contrast them to what we’re possibly facing here in the States. It’s not good that it’s happening, but I knew the students could learn from the experience.”

The students lived together in an apartment in a typical Athens neighborhood, surrounded by markets, shops, restaurants and ordinary citizens. “They got plenty of exercise walking,” said Zahos, “and we made good use of the city’s well-developed public transportation system.”

Of course, a trip to the beautiful country of Greece has to include seeing the sites, and Zahos said the balance of work and play was about equal. “After travel time, we probably spent 12 days in classes and 12 days sightseeing.”

Sightseeing included a four-day bus trip to learn about the history of Greece, traversing the Samaria Gorge on the Island of Crete, and a one-day, three-island cruise near Athens. Katerina Kassimati, a young woman from Patras who had studied with the department of ABE the previous year, went on the cruise with the visiting students, and then welcomed them to her family’s summer home near Athens. The students spent a day touring the area and enjoyed a home-cooked meal prepared by the Kassimati family.

The five students took it on themselves to plan another excursion, a trip to Santorini for a weekend, which was “amazing,” said Grace Nelson, another junior in civil and environmental engineering. “There were so many memorable experiences in Greece, it’s hard to pick just one. We saw the ruins all over Greece, we saw black sand and red sand beaches, the sunset at Oia, and we met some awesome people at our hostel. This study abroad experience in Greece couldn’t have been better,” Nelson concluded. “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

The students were even able to connect with Illinois alumni while in the country. The first meeting of the University of Illinois Club of Greece, started by a recent graduate, George Lokkas, who received his master’s in finance at Illinois, was held on the roof garden of the Athens Gate Hotel in full view of the Acropolis and Parthenon at night. Approximately 25 UIUC and UIC graduates, now living in Greece and other parts of Europe, attended the event. Zahos is proud charter member number 25.

Support for the program was provided in part by the Illinois European Union Center under a U.S. Department of Education Title VI grant, the Transatlantic Bioenergy Network, the Illinois College of ACES, the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and the Illinois International Programs in Engineering office.


Monday, August 22, 2011

EU Center Students Named Fulbright Recipients

Two students affiliated with the European Union Center are among fourteen current students or recent alumni at the University of Illinois who have been offered fully funded opportunities to research, study, or teach English in other nations through the US Student Fulbright program.

Richelle Bernazzoli, of Portage, Pa., a doctoral candidate in geography, EU Center Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellow in academic year 2009-10 and summer 2009, and EU Center graduate assistant in summer 2011, will study the Euro-Atlantic integration process in Croatia. Bernazzoli has served with the U.S. Army National Guard in Kosovo, and she plans to volunteer with disabled veterans in Croatia while carrying out her dissertation research. She plans an academic career focused on the European Union and NATO.

Jerry Vassalla, of Downers Grove, Ill., has been awarded a Fulbright English teaching assistantship to Germany. Since completing his bachelor’s degree from Illinois in 2010, Vassalla has been pursuing a master’s in European Union studies through the EU Center at Illinois. He received FLAS Fellowships from the EUC in academic year 2010-11 and summers 2010 and 2011. Vassalla would like to work as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. government.

Read more about the University of Illinois Fulbright student grantees in the full news article here.


U of I, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm Form Alliance

A new partnership between the University of Illinois and Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology, called INSPIRE, was agreed upon yesterday. INSPIRE is funded in part by European Union Center grants, and EUC-affiliated faculty are at the forefront of the initiative. See the full press release from the University of Illinois New Bureau below for details.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The chief executive officers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have agreed upon a long-term strategic alliance designed to benefit students and faculty members at both institutions. The agreement on academic and research cooperation seeks to serve and engage the civic communities and economic interests of Sweden and the state of Illinois.

KTH and the University of Illinois are among the world’s pre-eminent public research universities. Faculty members and administrators from the two institutions have identified a broad range of common research areas and educational activities, as well as public engagement and corporate relations efforts.

U. of I. Interim Vice President and Chancellor Bob Easter and Peter Gudmundson, the president of KTH, envision a sustained partnership with substantial benefits for the two universities.

“Our emerging strategic partnership with KTH is a key component of our broader international engagement,” Easter said. “We’re also looking forward to leveraging KTH’s existing relationships and shared research initiatives with Stockholm University and Karolinska Institutet to broaden this alliance. This will create a consortium of outstanding institutions with considerable strengths over a wide range of academic disciplines.”

“This long-term cooperation with the renowned University of Illinois is an important cornerstone of KTH’s continuing international development,” Gudmundson said. “At the same time, the Stockholm region is one of the most technologically innovative in the world, and our extensive research and education network can help strengthen the U. of I.’s programs.”

The cooperation with KTH and engagement in Sweden compose the flagship project of the new Illinois Strategic International Partnerships initiative. The initiative seeks to develop a network of sustained, multidisciplinary linkages with peer institutions around the world to benefit the core missions of research, education, public service and economic development among all partners.

More information about the initiative and INSPIRE – the Illinois-Sweden Program for Educational and Research Exchange – may be found at http://ilint.illinois.edu/partnerships/ISIP.html and http://inspire.illinois.edu.

Also see: Nordic Exposure

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Death of Europe Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

It is quite fashionable to bash Europe right now. In the ongoing debate about the American budget crisis, my congressman (Paul Ryan) continues to warn about America becoming more and more “socialist” like Europe. How he continues to get away with this baffles me. The debt crisis of the “PIGS” (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) is said to be proof that the European model is not sustainable. The implication is supposed to be that Europe must become more like America. Given America’s own fiscal difficulties, this is almost humorous.

Recently, the financial crisis in Europe was averted as the “big boys(girls)” (France, Germany) gave assurances that Greece could not be allowed to default. The Norwegian tragedy and the death of Amy Winehouse stole the headlines from the bankers. Also, immigration returned to the discussion as it was first assumed that the shootings in Norway must have been done by an immigrant (probably a Muslim).

A crap newspaper in the Murdoch Empire bites the dust. Meanwhile, (in my opinion), at least three newspapers in London alone (Independent, Times, and Guardian) are still all superior to any American paper. The media in England may largely be losing money, but there are serious discussions going on in the public sphere as they try to survive.

In Heathrow, far more burqas were seen than normal. It was interesting to watch how the English border agents dealt with it. A female agent would handle the viewing. She would ask, “May I see your face?” The female would then quickly lift the material so the agent could identify her. It was all very humane. Newspapers explained that the burqa ban in France has led to an increase of tourism for families to take their excursions in Britain.

The point for me is that the death of Europe has been greatly exaggerated. The euro has survived this current crisis. The EU staggers along as federations often do. The tension between nationalism and internationalism endures. The United States urges the EU to spend more on defense, but the EU resists. Expansion slows down as the EU has to attend to current members’ woes before taking on more. None of this is surprising. There is a reason people continue to immigrate to Europe and the United States. There are bumps in the road for both, but the future is still bright. Paul Ryan needs to remember that there are many roads to peace and prosperity. The United States does not have a monopoly on the good life.

Chris Bryant
Trevor, Wisconsin

Chris Bryant is a social studies teacher at Lake Forest High School (Lale Forest, Illinois). He has participated in numerous curriculum development activities of the EU Center. Chris was in Cambridge for a Gilder Lehrman Institute on the Cold War. He also traveled to London to see the play, "Yes Prime Minister!" Chris has been going to England for over twenty years visiting friends in Penrith, Cumbria (Lake District). His favorite museums are the Imperial War Museum and the Churchill Museum.