"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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


The Illinois International Photo Contest invites students to submit a photo and accompanying essay of their studies abroad. Recent MAEUS graduate Lauren Turk was awarded 2nd place in the Personal Connection category for her essay and photo of the Louvre in Paris.  Lauren's essay originally appeared in the Study Abroad July newsletter.

by Lauren Turk
Paris is an overwhelmingly enchanting city; the buildings adorning the streets exude beauty and brilliance, while the contents within these buildings hold endless art, history, and intrigue. On Wednesday evenings the Louvre is open late. One of my favorite pastimes was to go to the Louvre, alone, on those Wednesday evenings, to explore and contemplate the endless artifacts of history. I began feeling a personal connection with the museum and with my favorite artists. As I learned more about them through their artwork and masterfully conveyed messages, I also learned about myself. Many might never believe it to be possible to find yourself alone in front of the Mona Lisa, or the majestically grand rooms throughout the Louvre—but it is. Roaming the Louvre solitarily is fantastic; for I wasn’t alone at all! Millions of emotions, expressions and pieces of history were staring at me in the eye. The city of Paris taught me more about art, love and emotion than I had ever imagined. This particular Wednesday evening was my last in Paris; as I looked out upon the city from within one of the most historic buildings in the world, I knew that my love for the city would never fade, for that which we love we never truly leave—it becomes a part of us.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Embracing Arctic Nature: Glacier Valleys

by Robert Nystrom and Miriam Zarate

Our sixth day at 78 degrees north provided another exciting adventure for us all. The day started off with a hike from our guesthouse in Longyearbyen to Endalen and Advent Valley with the intentions of studying reindeer and also learning more about the environment as a whole. Ironically the only reindeer we saw on our hike was on our way out of the city of Longyearbyen. This fact however did not make the hike any less valuable or breathtaking. On the way out of the city we experienced another frightening encounter with arctic terns. These birds are extremely aggressive and will peck at your head in order to protect their territory, leaving "a pecking you won’t soon forget” according to our Swedish instructor. Luckily for our group we were able to scamper through their territory with only a few close calls. After escaping the arctic terns we passed by the lodging facility for the sled dogs in Longyearbyen, then right on the edge of the safe zone we stopped to take pictures with the famous polar bear sign.

Once out of town the real hike began. We walked alongside the mountains and looked at some of the cultural heritage remains from old mining infrastructure. There was a long series of Aerial coal transportation towers along the majority of the hike. While cultural heritage sites on Svalbard are technically anything constructed before 1946 a special exception was made in order to preserve the mining infrastructure.  We also discussed how to tell the difference between a valley created by a river and a glacier. A glacier valley will have a U-shape while a river valley will have a V-shape. When we finally reached Endalen Valley we hiked up the mountain a bit until we had a good vantage point over the valley and stopped for lunch. During our lunch we were annoyed by mosquitos, which we did not expect to find.

After lunch we listened to Professor Bruce Fouke lecture on the Arctic in the changing climate. He pointed out many interesting statistics and facts. He pointed out that from 66 degrees and north it is expected to warm at twice the rate of the global average. Professor Fouke also made it clear that the real cause of rising sea levels is not the melting of sea ice but the melting of glaciers. He informed us that it is estimated that the sea level when arctic glaciers melt by 2100 will by 60 cm higher. Professor Fouke then discussed that the Arctic has a higher albedo as the snow and ice melts and as a result will warm more rapidly in the future. He wrapped up his lecture explaining one last effect of melting permafrost. When permafrost melts it releases methane. Methane is the second most effective greenhouse gas, following water vapor, with the third most effective being carbon dioxide.

After the lecture by Professor Fouke we hiked a bit more over to Advent Valley with hopes of spotting some Svalbard reindeer but were unlucky. Since this would be the last day that Professor Fouke would join us, we decided to celebrate his last day with dinner at Kroa, where some of the students opted to try whale meat. The dinner was both a farewell to one of beloved professors and a great way to relax after our adventurous hike through Endalen and Advent Valley.

Robert Nystrom is a sophomore studying Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois. He is from Villa Park, IL. 

Miriam Zarate is a junior studying Earth, Society, and Environment with a concentration in Science of the Earth System. She is from Bartlett, IL.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Below the Surface

by Sarah Rivard and Nick Musso

Friday the 13th turned out to be a great day despite superstition. As usual we woke up bright and early, had breakfast and set out for another day of interviews and exploration, this time about what lies beneath the surface of Svalbard. First, we met with Morten Often, the Vice President of Exploration for the Store Norske Spitsbergen Coal Company. Mr. Often presented a PowerPoint that offered information such as Store Norske’s history on Svalbard, its current practices in two of its active mines and future plans for Norwegian coal and also gold mining on the archipelago. The presentation was then followed by coffee and many questions that we were eager to ask. Having the opportunity to talk to a representative from the Spitsbergen Coal Company was very valuable for us and our research. It has given us a better understanding of Norwegian intentions regarding the outcome of Svalbard’s future.

Later that same day, we were lucky enough to take another boat ride to Janus Mountain. This particular mountain in Svalbard is famous for its large amount of fossils, from the smaller, shelled marine organisms to the large marine animals such as the plesiosaur and ichthyosaur. As we hiked up the mountain, we learned about the different marine environments that formed the terrain we walked over, depending on the depth of the water at that time. Once we got to the site, we used the shovels and rock hammers available for tourists and set to work hunting for the perfect fossil, from bivalves and clam-like fossils to cone-shaped squids to the coveted spiral ammonites. Some even had dreams of unearthing a new plesiosaur! We had a lot of fun digging for our own fossils, and it was a great feeling to crack open a rock and be the first person ever to see what was inside. We all left Janus Mountain with bags and pockets filled with our souvenirs. We did, however, have to dodge attacks by an Arctic Tern, one of the most aggressive birds of the tern family, as we trekked back to the beach. Fortunately we were taught how to handle these attacks by raising our walking sticks into the air, causing the tern to attack it instead of us, and everyone came to each other’s aid.

On the ride back to Longyearbyen, we stopped just outside of the harbor to hear another story from our guide. After he had finished, a few of us looked over the edge of the boat and happened to see some jellyfish! Our guide spent several minutes explaining the different types we saw, and even borrowed a water bottle to catch some for us so we could get a better look. It was strange to see them this far north, especially since a lot of us had never seen any wild jellyfish before! All in all, Friday the 13th turned out to be a very lucky day for all of us.

Sarah Rivard is a senior studying Integrative Biology with a minor in Atmospheric Sciences. She is from Kankakee, IL.

Nick Musso is a junior studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Human Dimensions. He is from Oak Lawn, IL.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Goodbye Barentsburg!

By Rebecca Herrmann and Aaron Letterly

 Our second and final morning in Barentsburg found our group enjoying a traditional Russian breakfast of eggs, sausage, fruit, and drinkable yogurt! After filling ourselves to the brim, we went on a visit to the Pomor Museum.  There were exhibits on Geology, Nature, History, and Art.  There was little information in the exhibits so we had a tour guide, Vadim F. Starkov.  Starkov knew very little English, so we had a member of our group, Georgy, translate for us.  The museum centered on Pomor history.  The Pomors were Russian and hunted walruses and whales.  They claim to have come to Svalbard in the 15th Century, while Norway says that the Pomors did not come until the end of the 18th Century.  

Calendar used by Pomors
After the museum, we visited the research station to talk to Alexander Tebenkov, the Chief Geologist.  In the room where we sat, there was a map of Svalbard with signatures on it.  If you work at the research station for more than two Arctic seasons, you get to sign the map.  As a geologist for Arktikugol (the Russian coal company), Tebenkov’s job is to look for coal and study the continental shelf.  Tebenkov spoke of the frustrations he has when he has to get permission from the Governor of Svalbard to do research.  But he is also glad that the Governor is from Norway, because the environmental protection laws keep the land nice.

When the visits were complete, we got a few more hours to explore the unique and imposing built environment of Svalbard’s largest Russian settlement. The delta where the town’s power plant empties into the Greenland Sea is a peculiar blend of natural environment and human interference; the glaciers shine pristinely in the distance, but a dilapidated steel ship and oily outflow from the coal plant tarnishes the view from almost every perspective.

We returned to Longyearbyen via Zodiak fjord boat, and the calm seas allowed our adventurous pilots to partake in the arctic version of water sports. The two groups alternated soaking each other with sea spray by motoring through our wakes. A lone bearded seal on the docks of Longyearbyen greeted us upon our return, and we nearly forgot about our soaked life suits as we eagerly photographed one of the more entertaining examples of Arctic wildlife. 

Rebecca Herrmann is a Junior studying Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois, with a focus in Environmental Engineering and Sustainability.  She is from Batavia, IL.

Aaron Letterly is a Senior studying Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois, with a concentration in Climatology/Atmospheric Chemistry.  He is from Latham, IL.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Barentsburg, Svalbard

by Dariusz Hareza and Lauren Ceckowski

Our third day in Svalbard began our adventure to Barentsburg, a Russian mining town.  To get there, we were split into two groups to journey across the arctic waters by zodiak! Our adventurous tour guides at Spitsbergen Travel suited us up in survival suits and lifejackets for the ride of a lifetime. On our way out of the dock we got our first glimpse of a seal basking in the sun beside the boats. Our two hour boat ride was exciting, but also full of learning experiences. We stopped along the coast of Spitsbergen to listen to a lecture on the history of Grumant City. It was a Russian mining settlement established in 1912, and abandoned in 1965, leaving behind an eerie ghost town of the Soviet Era.  Also along the way, we paused along a massive outcropping to observe hundreds of Arctic Puffins who had built nests precariously perched on the cliffside.  Then we were off again with the wind and the spray of the salty Arctic Ocean in our faces!

Wind burned and wet, but nonetheless exhilarated, we docked in the small port of Barentsburg, Svalbard. Barentsburg was established in 1932 by Arktikugol, a coal company, which still controls the settlement to this day. As we walked up the steps from the dock we first felt as if we were transported back in time to Soviet Russia, a much different feeling than arriving in Longyearbyen.  The center of town held a statue of Lenin as well as vacant buildings of a time past.  A single road cut through town connecting the school, hospital and sole hotel and restaurant.  As we looked past our initial impressions we realized that Barentsburg was not only a town of the past, but looking towards their future. Buildings were under construction, the hotel was remodeled and new murals were beautifully painted.  Barentsburg seemed to see a future outside of just a coal mining settlement.

After making our observations of Barentsburg, we got together as a group and prepared for another hike. This time we were planning to explore the shores for possible tidal pools so that we could get a better understanding of the abiotic and biotic factors involved in such a unique ecosystem where organisms had to be able to survive in both a marine and terrestrial environment. As we walked out of Barentsburg we arrived at our first sign that warned us that we were leaving the Safe Zone and that is when the threat of meeting a polar bear became chillingly real to us. As true tourists, we stopped to take a number of photographs with the sign. As we neared the end of our hike, Dr. Avango pointed out the Russian helipad off in the distance. He told us that it was built in response to the airport that had been built in Longyearbyen. Yet, though the Russians say that its purpose is solely for helicopters, we were driven to think that they may have had other intentions for its use since the runway was much longer than a helicopter needed to land. We will leave the political intrigue for another time.

After a thorough talk about the effects of erosion, we turned back since it was about time for dinner. When we arrived to eat, we saw our tables at the Barentsburg Hotel covered with a great assortment of Russian cuisine. The tables were covered in foods we had never seen before and after such an excellent feast we all broke into songs from our various backgrounds and had a most jolly evening. We could hardly wait for what Barentsburg still had to offer us the next day.

Dariusz Hareza is a junior studying Molecular and Cellular Biology with Honors Concentration, minoring in Chemistry, and is Pre-Med. He is from Oak Lawn, IL.

Lauren Ceckowski is a senior studying Earth, Society, and Environment with a concentration on Society and the Environment.  She is from Gurnee, IL.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Talk Radio with Bryan, Tom, James & Todd

Todd Gleason, Farm Broadcaster, University of Illinois

The European Union Center on the University of Illinois campus has taken a group of high school teachers to Brussels, Belgium. In this 20 minute conversation, Director of the European Union Center Bryan Endres joins WILL Radio host Todd Gleason and trip participants Tom Bruno and James Garcia to discuss the Summer Study Tour.

Listen to their conversation here.


The Glacial Trek That Induced Muscle Memory

by Sarah Buckman, Pratik Patel, and Alex Li

We finally arrived to the most crucial and exciting part of the Arctic Summer program, which is Svalbard. We visited Spitsbergen, a big island that is part of the beautiful archipelago known as Svalbard. We made camp in Longyearbyen, where glaciers covered the mountainsides all around the valley. The sun seemed never to set, but rather it circled the valley throughout the day like a merry-go-round. Due to the warm ocean currents near Spitsbergen, Svalbard is also called the tropical island of the Arctic. After arriving to the most northern city in the world, we feasted on a big breakfast and headed out for our first hike near Longyearbyen. Hiking through the beautiful terrain was not only difficult but also satisfying. It was our way of challenging the hostile Arctic environment and experiencing a small part of the obstacles other explorers have in history.
Today we conquered Longyearbyen. We started to cross the creeks. Although the water seemed very shallow, it was very hard to achieve balance because of the rocks. We spent 45 minutes and finally found a plateau to have a rest. At the same time, Bruce started his lecture about rocks and landscapes. After 10 minutes rest, we put on our jackets and backpack and moved forward. We climbed up a slope covered with snow and ice to get to the top of the mountain. We had to be really careful because this was extremely slippery. Although we were hiking in weather around 5 degrees Celsius, people were sweating and took off their jacket. Everyone was out of breath. Finally, we made our steps to the top of the mountain that was embraced by the glaciers and fjords. It was the most beautiful view we had ever seen so far. Now, we were allowed to have a longer rest. We took out the sandwiches and started to eat. After that, we cleaned up the place and prepare to head to the other side of the glacier.

As we began to walk, Dag, our leader of the glacial hike, informed us of the crevasse that he saw ahead of us. For those who do not know what a glacial crevasse is, it is an alarming melting hole that can be found in parts of the main glacier that has begun to receive most of the melting water that feeds all the way to the bottom of the glacier. Very tentatively, we kept in our single-file line while passing the crevasse to our right. Yet, there was something very suspicious to the left of our pathway that consisted of a dirty bodily imprint of large proportion with a piece of reindeer meat. It could be suspected that this place around the glacier was once an area for a polar bear. As we continued to walk, we learned about rock formations that make a conical structure out of the terrain and occur due to the rotation of rocks and distinct melting patterns of underground glacial areas, our geologist Bruce informed us that they are called “pingos”. After taking many pictures, hearing lectures, and enduring the trek across both snow and muddy permafrost, we finally reached the remnants of an old mine located on the valley of Longyearbyen, one that had experienced a rock collapse that filled the entrance. Carefully, we meandered down the mountainside and took great pleasure in the warmth of our restful beds where we could relax from the long hike. 

Pratik Patel is a senior studying Atmospheric Sciences with a concentration in Atmospheric Dynamics/Chemistry. He resides in the Northwest Suburbs near Chicago. 
Sarah Buckman is a senior in both Global Studies and Spanish with a concentration geared in environmental sustainability. She usually resides in the city of Chicago.

Alex Li is a sophomore studying Agricultural Engineering. He is an international student from China at the University of Illinois.


Welcome to Svalbard

by Rachel Bonet and Matthew Borden

The group at Arlanda airport.
The start of our journey can best be described with the saying “good things come to those who wait.” Each subway train, bus, commuter train, taxi, escalator, and moving walkway seems to take an eternity when you realize that you are heading to a place few have been before; a place you have read about and dreamed about going. Today is the day we head off to the Arctic, and all we can think about is how long this bloody flight check-in line is. Though the waiting seems to be without end, our spirits remain high for the expectations of what we are about to experience are already dancing around in our heads. If you wished to join us one must simply take a plane to Oslo, another to Tromsø, and one final plane to Longyearbyen. There you would have found us standing on a tarmac surrounded by Arctic waters, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and an un-setting sun. The air is fresh and crisp and the smiles are the widest they have ever been. It was quite late into the night before we finally settled in, but that did not matter. We made it. We are here. Hello Svalbard.

Landscape in Svalbard around 2:00 am.
Despite a unanimous feeling of exhaustion generated by nearly a full day of travel, we strapped up and headed down into town to UNIS (University Centre in Svalbard) for our first interview with Eva Therese Jenssen, an Information Advisor and researcher at the university. She gave us a very enlightening and enjoyable lecture about the university, its programs and goals, as well as information on Svalbard and the various topics that often receive the most attention in both Longyearbyen and Svalbard. Following a quick tour of UNIS’ beautiful complex we found ourselves enjoying our first of many self-prepared lunches before hurrying off to our next meeting at the office of the Governor of Svalbard.

Group presentation at the Governor's office.
At the Sysselmannen’s (Governor’s) office, we were welcomed by both cultural and environmental advisors who gave a presentation about the history of Longyearbyen, the responsibilities and workings of the Governor’s office as well as a number of interesting facts and ideas about the cultural heritage and environmental history of both Svalbard and Longyearbyen. Without even realizing it, we had spent almost two hours at the office discussing these various topics along with more recent issues and questions such as current environmental practices, foreign interaction with Svalbard, future endeavors of Norway, and the issue of global climate change. The Governor’s office gave us a much needed perspective into the inner workings of Svalbard and we would like to thank them again for all of their efforts and time spent with us.

After a short post-lecture discussion on a hillside overlooking Longyearbyen, we headed back to the Spitsbergen Guesthouse for some greatly needed and appreciated rest and relaxation. With day one of our adventure coming to a close, our band of tired and weary researchers slowly crawled into bed for a goodnight’s sleep.

Rachel Bonet is a senior studying Anthropology, Animal Sciences, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She intends to study Environmental Law. Rachel comes
from Darien, IL.

Matthew Borden is a senior studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, concentrating in Human Dimensions of the Environment. Matt hails from Oak
Forest, IL.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tracking Gnomes and Auditing their Books

Todd Gleason, Farm Broadcaster, University of Illinois

The European Union Center on the University of Illinois campus has taken a group of high school teachers to Brussels, Belgium. Most of them are history teachers, and learned how agriculture, in large part, underpins the common European society. Listen to the fourth and final of Todd Gleason’s journal entries from the weeklong trip, and follow along with the transcript below. Also check out Todd Gleason's blog on the experience, featuring posts, photos, and a map of the study tour.

Friday June 29, 2012

You cannot visit Belgium without a brewery tour. Ours took place in farm county a couple of hours outside of Brussels, near the French border and just an hour from Luxembourg. We went to the Brasserie d’Achoufe. The Achouffe Brewery. Achouffe is the word for sneeze, I think, and the name of the town. The brewery isn’t that old, established in the early 1980’s. They’ve a nice little story to go with their bier about the Gnomes of Ardennes forest wanting something different to drink than the crisp clean spring water. We’ve some extra time here, finally. One of our crew wants to walk to the restaurant – bar – where we will have lunch. It’s four kilometers away and I know the two-and-half-mile trek is all up hill. We’re on a blacktop, mostly Simmental or Simmental Charolaise cross cattle dotting the pastures on both side of the roadway—at least where there aren’t pine forests. The barkeeper looks like a French strong man with a red nose and a beret. Classic. I cool off not with a bier, but with water.

I’m not cool for long. Our hotel in Luxembourg is not air-conditioned. No big deal really, even the buildings with air condition have been stuffy at best over the entirety of the trip.  Bier at noon – the brewery tour - and then back into the classroom late in the day. This time we are at the University of Luxembourg. It is on our itinerary mostly because – as has been the case almost always when I’ve traveled with the University of Illinois – the two campuses are searching for common areas of interest and ways to trade students. We are there long enough to learn the University of Luxembourg is not expensive to attend either as a local, or an international student. I calculate the costs, housing and tuition, is just about the same as attending a community college here.

We spent Thursday evening in city center watching soccer on a big screen with a crowd of maybe a couple thousand - maybe just a thousand; all very young, with bier available. Strikingly, they were quiet, intent, not drunk and extraordinarily cordial. It meant very few policeman were needed. I think Americans need to work on being more European in this case. 

Friday morning we head to the European Court of Auditors. The ‘federal budget’ for the European Union is about 1.6 billion U.S. dollars. The U.S. budget is more than 3 trillion dollars by comparison. The Court of Auditors does exactly what you think it might do, but in a more small townish way. For instance our group is traveling on a grant from the European Union. The auditors we are meeting with could very well ask to see the receipts we turn in. We’re told stories of going to farms and counting cows, and national borders to count jeeps used to patrol them. The budget is small, because each country mostly takes care of its own. The auditors say that’s where the financial crisis lies.    

The teachers on our trip are excited. We’re headed to high school. The schools in Luxembourg “track” their kids a whole lot more than would ever be acceptable in the United States. Starting in about 7th grade the children are picking out careers and following a corresponding course of work. The school, despite being one of the worst in the city we are told, is clean, up-to-date, quite – the kids are in class – and our high school teachers are envious at almost every turn – well, with the exception of the tracking part.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Granddad can we go to the U.S. mission?

Todd Gleason, Farm Broadcaster, University of Illinois

The European Union Center on the University of Illinois campus has taken a group of high school teachers to Brussels, Belgium. Most of them are history teachers, and learned how agriculture, in large part, underpins the common European society. Listen to the third of Todd Gleason’s journal entries from the weeklong trip, and follow along with the transcript below. Also check out Todd Gleason's blog on the experience, featuring posts, photos, and a map of the study tour.

Wednesday June 27, 2012

When the sun sets around 10 o’clock you go to bed about 1:30 in the morning. Well, I did last night. That’s a bad deal when the alarm rings at 6:30am. Fortunately, we get to sleep-in an extra hour on hump day, but we are out and running quickly. A few of the younger folks have been burning the candle at both ends a bit harder than me. The hour-long bus ride this morning gives time to sleep…not enough to recuperate, but everyone is operational. I wonder, with a little smirk on my face, how they’ll take to the chocolate factory. It should be odiferous.

Barry Callebaut is situated in classic small town Americana. At least that’s how we are introduced to the company. Wieze Belgium is a little burg of about 2000. And, judging by the size of the chocolate factory, everyone in town probably works or is related to somebody who does work here. As it turns out, I’ve likely been eating chocolate made by this company for decades. It is the chocolate supplier to the chocolate makers. About 70 percent of Belgium chocolates start with a Barry Callebaut base; one in four chocolates on the planet. Wow! I am at the candy man’s house. It has over 2000 recipes, employs 6000 people in 27 countries, and controls 40 percent of the industrial open market. Illinois based Kraft/Cadbury soon to be spun off as Mondelez is the next biggest followed by Mars, Nestle, Hershey’s (half as much production by the way), Cargill à now we’re talking ag, Blommer, ADM and Lindt.

Barry Callebaut is ‘concerned’ about Cargill and ADM. And while it wasn’t said, it’s a pretty good guess THAT is because those two companies have direct contact with cocoa growers. So, does Barry Callebaut and it makes no beans (pun intended) about the importance of growers in Africa. Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest cocoa producer. Callebaut is putting genuine effort into what it calls Sustainable Cocoa. On the outside that sounds like doing good works, and I suppose it is in part, but I’m more production oriented and it is clear sustainable means teaching growers how to produce a better quality bean. We tour the plant. It smells yummy, and Callebaut sends on our way each with about 4 kilos of chocolate. I tap out a note to the wife… about 8 pounds of Belgium chocolate in hand, will purchase more only upon request. She and I agree on this point.

We board the bus and head back to Brussels for lunch and a visit to the United States Mission to the European Union, passports required for entry. Once again, like our visit to NATO, all of our loose belongings – phones, wallets, cameras, change in our pockets - is collected and stored. We pass through security climb a set of stairs and enter a posh conference room. I’m one of the last to arrive, and take the seat at the opposite head of the table. The journalist, that’s me, is quickly identified and later in the briefing the words “On Background” are uttered. In my world, that means you can hear it, but not attribute it. The mission is like a mini Washington, D.C. housing reps from the Departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Treasury, Justice, Defense USAID, USTR, and NOAA. A tourist from Arizona managed to join our group for this briefing. He was traveling with his grandson. Note to self: Do that with your grandchildren. I don’t think my kids would stand for it, but when Granddad says we are going to the U.S. Mission à that is cool.

The European Commission Prison

Todd Gleason, Farm Broadcaster, University of Illinois

The European Union Center on the University of Illinois campus has taken a group of high school teachers to Brussels, Belgium. Most of them are history teachers, and learned how agriculture, in large part, underpins the common European society. Listen to the second of Todd Gleason’s journal entries from the weeklong trip, and follow along with the transcript below. Also check out Todd Gleason's blog on the experience, featuring posts, photos, and a map of the study tour.

Tuesday June 26, 2012

Oh my, our second full day in Belgium is starting just as early as the first. 6:30am for breakfast and then we’re off to the European Commission building. It is a foreboding structure. Almost prison like from the outside because of louvers that line its curve and then a tower – a prison tower dead center. I’m sure the commission would not approve of my description, none-the-less this is how I see it from the street. Inside we pass through security checks and eventually settle into a warm be very comfortable conference room. It’s a bit UN’ish. We are arranged in sweeping oval, the center of which is open. We each have a microphone in front of us, a set of headphones stashed in the desk from which we could listen to the interpreter if there were one. There is no need.

Our briefing, and I believe that is truly the correct word, is lead in the first hours by a Fin. Who know the Finnish people were so dry witted. The high school teachers are engaged in the geo-political discussion. The give and take is easy, and the PowerPoint presentation is dismissed altogether as it is quickly apparent the three days spend on the University of Illinois campus preparing for the trip has paid dividends. There was little need to recap the history of how the European Union came into being. We delved into the current challenges and the financial matters at hand; Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland; the possible expansion of the Euro Zone; the prospects for Turkey’s entry and that of Iceland. The time passes swiftly.

Our second briefing is not nearly so entertaining nor engaging for most of the group, but I am enthralled as we pick through U.S. / E.U. trade relations and the ground work being laid this year for a future Free Trade Agreement that could harmonize regulations across the two areas. It might for instance create a common-emissions standard so that automobiles could move more easily from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Paying attention to the regulations would allow the globe’s two largest trading partners to set the bar by which all others might have to play.  Now that is good stuff. We have one more lesson before lunch on the streets of Brussels. CAP, or the Common Agricultural Policy.

NATO is next. It is a lengthy, hot and humid transit bus ride to the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Save the razor wire, this building is not nearly so ominous as the European Commission. One of our group thinks it looks like a big high school inside and out. Maybe, but most high schools don’t require a passport for entry. All our electronic devices are stowed at the gate. We arrive on an historic day. The members of NATO are deciding what do, if anything, about the downing of a Turkish military jet by Syria. The NATO reps discuss possible actions, and then as is the case we are told for each and every decision the final question is if there is any opposition. The agreement is made in silence. If no opposition is voiced then the action is taken…classified, but taken.

Dinner is at 7:30. It last a few hours. Unlike NATO our group is not silent. We’re loud, very loud!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Caterpillar & a Bucket of Mussels

Todd Gleason, Farm Broadcaster, University of Illinois

The European Union Center on the University of Illinois campus has taken a group of high school teachers to Brussels, Belgium. Most of them are history teachers, and learned how agriculture, in large part, underpins the common European society. Listen to the first of Todd Gleason’s diary entries from the week long trip, and follow along with the transcript below. Also check out Todd Gleason's blog on the experience, featuring posts, photos, and a map of the study tour.

Monday June 25, 2012

We arrived three hours late in Brussels yesterday. I am hopeful our return trip to Chicago will not be delayed. Once on the ground our troop of 21 began to move quickly into the city, checking into the Thon Hotel near the European Commission buildings. Tired, but excited we began a more than two hour walking tour of what has become essentially the capitol of Europe. Our guide Sasha loves this city and took great pains to tell us its story building by building. And then, while it was on our itinerary, we spent a couple of hours eating our first evening meal in Europe at the Spicy Grill Indian restaurant - really good, but a bit more international than expected. It was the first of many global surprises. Sunday night’s sleep was restless for the group. I’m in bed before sundown. Most spent part of the wee hours awake at one point or another as the time differences is seven hours.

Breakfast must be the most important meal of the day! The Thon buffet, especially at 6:30am, is overwhelming; hard breads and cheeses, pastries, boiled, fried, and scrambled eggs, cold cuts, bacon, and link sausages, fruits, vegetables… the list goes on. I wanted coffee, but only found the espresso machine.

By 9am Monday we had traveled an hour and 15 minutes to the Caterpillar plant in Gosselies. What a beautiful site it was as we peered from the tour bus windows to see the familiar yellow and black of Peoria’s pride. I had set next to a Cat engineer on the plane ride over and knew we’d see the beginnings of a line being retooled in this plant tour. Gossilies produces excavators and wheel loaders for Europe and export. It looked and smelled a lot like what I remember seeing as an FFA’er in high school on tour in East Peoria. Those plants have long since been leveled, Where told Caterpillar managed its way through the economic downturn not because of its global footprint in Europe, but rather the plant in Asia. Those plants and a strategic plan in place before the fall are the reason the Peoria headquartered company is now turning bigger profits. It is a global market place. There are 40 Caterpillar competitors operating in Belgium.

We ate lunch in the Cat cafeteria, boarded the bus and headed back to Brussels for an afternoon meeting with AmCham EU or the American Chamber of Commerce. We spent the first of many hours sitting in a very warm room watching an interesting – but not always fully engage because of a full belly and warm temperatures – power point. AmCham lobbies the European Union on behalf of American companies. We finish up at 4:30, are a twenty-minute walk from the hotel, and the group decides to mostly eat together for the evening. We head for the fish restaurants and dine on mussels, king crab legs, and crawfish. Our meal ends about 8:30pm. The sun sets around 10:30pm. We make our way back to the hotel slowly, stopping to indulge in Belgium’s pride. I like Duvel. It’s a good bier. 


Fourth of July and a Trip to Denmark

by Georgy Petukhov and Noel Piatek

Today we celebrated the United States’ independence here in Sweden, where the fourth of July is seen as any other day. We still went to class, the shops were still open, and there were no parades. To fix this lack of excitement we all came together to have an awesome Fourth of July barbecue at the grills behind our residence halls. Noel brought potato salad and chocolate strawberries but there was a myriad of delicious dishes, such as: grilled hot dogs, veggie burgers, sausages, fruit salad, corn on the cob, watermelon, fudge, apple and blueberry pies, and ice cream. All in all we had a great time representing America and showing our patriotism abroad, sans fireworks. Later in the evening we retired to the beach and had a bonfire and roasted marshmallows.

Since Sweden is surrounded by many interesting countries, three of us (Georgy Petukhov, Nick Musso and Hejun Li) decided to go to Denmark. In order to not to miss classes they went there on the weekend: left on Saturday morning and came back in the evening on Sunday. That amount of time was enough to see most of what Copenhagen has to offer, especially if you have bikes. It would not be a lie to say that the capital of Denmark has the highest density of bicycles per square meter. There are designated lanes everywhere, and even traffic lights for bikers. It was indeed very easy to travel by bike. They were able to see a lot of places, including those that are usually not visited by tourists or even locals: a factory and a wind power station that are located in the outskirts of the city. But, of course, they have also seen well-known sites such as the famous Little Mermaid, Strøget, Nyhavn and Rosenborg Castle. The city is beautiful. Copenhagen is definitely worth a visit and would be a very nice place to live, as well. 

Back to Stockholm... Unlike any other city it is not only known for what is above the ground level – there are also many famous and beautiful subway stations that just cannot be overlooked. They share a similar awe-inspiring style, but, nevertheless, you can never confuse one with the other. They are mostly located on the blue line and today Georgy went to see some of them. The one he liked most of all is called Solna Centrum. The ceiling of this station is completely covered in red paint; however, the extreme irregularity of its surface makes an eye-pleasing pattern of shadows and light appear. He had never seen anything like that before and he bets you haven't, either!

Georgy Petukhov is a sophomore studying Computer Science Engineering and minoring in Chinese. He is from Moscow, Russia. 

Noel Piatek is a senior studying Integrative Biology with a concentration on Conservation and Ecology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is from Homer Glen, Illinois.


Demystifying the Arctic

by Alexandra Wright and Jane Rivas
We ended our week of lectures with a lesson on Actor Network Theory and the role it plays in Arctic sovereignty. We talked about how it is not only people and organizations that influence the narratives presented regarding claimed territories, but how physical structures also demonstrate this. This is especially apparent when comparing the two mining towns, the Russian settlement Barentsburg and the Norwegian settlement Longyearbyen. The struggles over physical sovereignty are expressed by the number of people, museums, sign boards, research, and mining facilities present. These are some of the methods that we will be using when addressing climate change and the future of the Arctic in our final reports. We incorporated our previous knowledge on whaling, mining, and Arctic exploration with this new form of analytical description as a means of fully understanding the intricate relationships that existed during these events. It is the hope of our professor Dag Avango that by using this form of narrative interpretation that a more complete and transparent view of the Arctic can be gained as a means of establishing better international relations with regards to this changing region.

With this knowledge we feel better prepared to embark on our Arctic adventure! The past few weeks have definitely taught us to look beyond the external romanticized and enlightenment ideals that are often present with the interpretations that surround this region. We hope that by physically engaging with the environment and people in Svalbard we will be able to bring these concepts full circle and contribute to a modern Arctic narrative. This narrative will function as a new means of reacting to climate change and how the powers at play are affecting and using it. The multidisciplinary integration of science, history, and anthropological investigation will work to complete this. It is important that this type of approach receive further exposure so that much of the confusion surrounding this issue can be dispelled. By removing disillusionment surrounding the Arctic, a more practical plan of action can be devised in the face of the effects of climate change.

Alexandra Wright is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Human Dimensions. She is from Chicago, IL

Jane Rivas is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She is currently studying in the pre-medical field and pursuing a duel degree in Chemistry and the History of Art.  Jane is studying in Stockholm, Sweden with the Arctic Summer Program.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Day 26: Museums, Frogs, and Parkas?!

by Robert Nystrom and Miriam Zarate
As we continue on our quest to a better understanding of the history of the Arctic region, we continue to investigate the lives and culture of the region's indigenous people. The history of Sweden's indigenous people can provide valuable insight into both the environment of the Arctic and the changes that have occurred over time.

We visited the Nordiska Museet today as a class, primarily to gain more knowledge about the Sami people, or Laplanders as they were once called. The Nordiska Museet, like Skansen, which we visited earlier in our trip, is dedicated to promoting and teaching the cultural history of Sweden. The museum, while still extravagant and immense, was originally intended to be three times its size. The architecture of the museum also succeeds in celebrating and promoting patriotism by adding an authentic Swedish culture feel.

The exhibit that was specifically pertinent to us, as alluded to earlier, was the Sami. The Sami exhibit had an incredible display of authentic artifacts including, boots, knives, coats, hats, tools, a sacred drum, and more. The exhibit included accounts of how these artifacts were gathered. Most of these objects were initially brought back from the North as expedition trophies. However, some indigenous groups are asking that these artifacts be brought back to their place of origin due to issues regarding the ethical means by which some objects were attained, such as the sacred wooden Sieidi. While the exhibit of the Sami people appears to be out of place with other exhibits, the Sami’s heritage and lifestyle are an integral part of Sweden’s cultural make up.

In addition to the Museum, we (17 UIUC students) decided to have our own journey that evening. We went to the Ice Bar located in Stockholm to experience some chills of our own before our journey to the Arctic. The theme of the Ice Bar, "Northernmost Attraction," seemed incredibly fitting to us. The Ice Bar is open year round at the Nordic Hotel and is kept at a chilly -5 degrees Celsius.  The walls, chairs, tables, and even the glasses themselves are made entirely of pure, clear ice. The ice used at the Ice Bar is imported from the Swedish Lapland, which is located in the northernmost part of the country. We were given parkas and gloves to wear in order to keep us warm during our time in the Ice Bar. Our time at this icy attraction made us all even more eager to travel north to Svalbard and experience the Arctic.

Robert Nystrom is a sophomore studying Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois. He is from Villa Park, IL. 

Miriam Zarate is a junior studying Earth, Society, and Environment with a concentration in Science of the Earth System. She is from Bartlett, IL.


EU Center visits University of Luxembourg

Photo: Todd E. Gleason
The EU Center's recent Summer Study Tour included a visit to the University of Luxembourg. Check out the University of Luxembourg's blog post on the subject below or by clicking here.

On 28 and 29 June, the University of Luxembourg welcomed a group of visitors from the University of Illinois’ European Union Center, in the framework of their study tour to Europe.

The group included the Director of the European Union Center, Prof. Bryan Endres, the Associate Director, Matthew Rosenstein, as well as several other representatives of the University of Illinois, as well as high school teachers and Illinois state representatives. They were received at the University of Luxembourg by Prof. Franck Leprévost, who gave a general presentation of the university. They also met with François Carbon, coordinator of espace culture s and were invited to a reception at the university with Paul-Michael Schonenberg – chairman and CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg and of several university representatives.

The group spent a week in Brussels and Luxembourg in the framework of a study tour entitled Illinois and the European Union: Seeking Sustainable and Secure Connections in Food, Energy and Governance. In Luxembourg, they also visited the European Court of Auditors and were received at the Lycée technique du Centre for a presentation of the Luxembourgish school system.

A cooperation agreement between the University of Luxembourg and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was signed in 2010 and a small group of PhD students and professors in the field of law from the University of Luxembourg visited the prestigious College of Law in Illinois in 2011. Another such visit is planned this year.

Prof. Bryan Endres and Matthew Rosenstein also took this opportunity to discuss further possibilities of cooperation with their counterparts at the University of Luxembourg. During their visit, they met with A.Prof. Corrado Malberti and Anne-Marie Vesdravanis from the Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance as well as Prof. Robert Harmsen and A.Prof. Harlan Koff from the Faculty of Languages and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education.

Exploration Near and Far

by Sarah Rivard and Nick Musso

As we enter the second month of our program, everyone is getting excited for our trip to the Arctic. In preparation for this, we've been learning about past expeditions. Monday's lecture was about the book "The Ice Balloon," which told the tale of S. A. Andrée's attempt to reach the North Pole by flying in a hydrogen balloon along with a brief history of Arctic exploration. Andrée studied at The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, the very same university we Illinois students are studying at. After being backed by Alfred Nobel and the King of Sweden at the time, Oscar II, Andrée set off on his expedition with two other men, Knut Fraenkel and Nils Strindberg. Unfortunately it was the last time the men would be seen. No one knew what happened to the expedition until over three decades later, when Andrée's skeleton and diary detailing what happened were discovered. Lecture finished with a discussion followed by a film of the Amundsen-Ellsworth Arctic expedition.

We've learned of many expeditions, geopolitics, and history of the Arctic in class. We have explored museums such as the Vasa Museum, the Natural History Museum, and just recently the Nordic Museum. We have visited historical sites throughout Stockholm such as the Royal Palace, Parliament, and even the narrowest street in all of Stockholm. Many of us have also explored other countries throughout Europe including Finland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain. Yet it is quite interesting that we know little of our own host university. Very few of us have explored the Royal Institute of Technology, or Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan (KTH). With that said, we decided to do just that and find out what this campus has to offer.

After doing some research, we found out that KTH was founded in 1827, four decades before the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Royal Institute of Technology has about half of the population of our university, with over 14,000 undergraduates and roughly 1,700 graduate students. The primary focus of KTH is science and technology and over the years this institute has made partnerships with many universities across Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States. The alliance between U of I and KTH began just last year in 2011, but both universities have agreed on a long-term strategic alliance. This union will enhance the academic and research areas for both universities and both countries. In our opinion, it is already making progress! We're the first students to take part in the Stockholm Summer Arctic Program, one of the results of the partnership between the two universities. Hopefully this progress will continue and more amazing opportunities such as this summer program will arise in the near future.

Sarah Rivard is a senior studying Integrative Biology with a minor in Atmospheric Sciences. She is from Kankakee, IL.

Nick Musso is a junior studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Human Dimensions. He is from Oak Lawn, IL.


Monday, July 2, 2012

New Adventures in Old Town

by Rebecca Hermann and Aaron Letterly

We concluded the second week of the Arctic portion of our class with a lesson on polar research for science, industry, and geo-politics.  Historically, polar research has been based on the linear model.  This model states that scientific research leads to technological development and industrial renewal in a linear fashion. This model is heavily criticized by scholars studying the innovation process, as it was created to convince investors to put their money into more Arctic research.  Coal mines such as the Svea Mine are claimed to have come as a result of the linear model, when in fact knowledge of these coal seams has been around for decades before the research. Historically, periods of technological development from research have led to brief economic booms due to huge investment by both private partners and national governments. The mines "discovered" due to the linear model actually led to a limited industrialization of the Svalbard region; coal mining settlements facilitated some of the first permanent infrastructure on the island. Specialized docks and lift systems were constructed to cope with the brief season in which the ice around Spitsbergen had completely melted away. While it seems that this technological development and industrialization came directly from the research done on Spitsbergen, it may have come about from prior knowledge of the coal seams from other sources.  In this way the linear model is misleading.

After class on Friday, we decided to try a new restaurant and headed to Hermitage for a vegetarian buffet!  The buffet was situated in a small building in Gamla Stan, and could barely fit the 17 of us.  The food was even put in drawers to save space. Though we were stuffed to bursting, some of the group still couldn’t resist the draw of a nearby gelato cafe.

As evening came, a few people went for a stroll around the small islands of Skeppsholmen and Kastellholmen.  At Skeppsholmen preparations were being made for AF Offshore Race, a sailing race from Stockholm to Gotlund.  There were lots of exhibitors with their boats on display for the public.  On Kastellholmen, there is a small castle called Kastellet, which was originally built in 1667 and rebuilt in 1848.  This castle is there because these islands were historically used for military purposes.

On Saturday, a group went on a tour of Stockholm City Hall. The building itself hosts the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, and is a popular site for weddings and picturesque views of the bustling harbor in the off season. Built in 1911, the bell tower stands at 106 meters, about half a meter higher than Copenhagen’s city hall.  This was a victory for Stockholm in the contest to construct the tallest civil building in Scandinavia. The conservative facade actually houses a room made entirely of 23-carat gold within its interior, not to mention a regal auditorium where Peace Prize ceremony is filmed. It is definitely a sight to see for someone visiting Stockholm!

Rebecca Herrmann is a Junior studying Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois, with a focus in Environmental Engineering and Sustainability.  She is from Batavia, IL.

Aaron Letterly is a Senior studying Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois, with a concentration in Climatology/Atmospheric Chemistry.  He is from Latham, IL.

The Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet

by Dariusz Hareza and Lauren Ceckowski

This week we took our learning outside the classroom with a visit to the Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet, also known as the Natural History Museum.  Professors Dag Avango and Mark Safstrom took our class to explore exhibits such as "The Diversity of Life", "Polar Regions" and "Mission: Climate Earth" all of which related to topics we had covered in class. Some of us found a connection to home by relating the Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet to the Field Museum back in Chicago.

"The Diversity of Life" was a display of plant and animal specimens compiled from collections that were started as early as the 1730s.  Some of the specimens on display were gathered during Arctic and Antarctic expeditions of the 19th century.  Many of the collections belonged to the aristocracy, as displays of the odd and exotic were a sign of wealth and status. Many historical figures were represented in this exhibit including Carl Linnaeus.  Linnaeus was a Swedish botanist, known as the "Father of Taxonomy", who is a very popular figure in Swedish history.  The museum even had a wax sculpture of Linnaeus on "display" along with his collections.

"Polar Regions" depicted the flora and fauna characteristic of the Arctic and Antarctic regions of the globe. Massive whale skeletons hanging from the ceiling greeted us into the exhibit and left a feeling of awe. The polar bear, elephant seals, and musk ox gave us a view into the ecology of the arctic regions we will soon be visiting.

"Mission: Climate Earth" was a fascinating exhibit conveying the growing concern of climate change.  It discussed the potential effects on the environment and the world population and how the individual can do their part to decrease their impact.  We all found it amazing that even though we all are studying different disciplines, we were able to collectively relate to the issues presented in this exhibit.

As we have spent more time in Sweden we realize just how extensively English is used in society. We became so used to being able to use English and be easily understood that we were shocked to find out that the museum exhibits were mainly only in Swedish. This both added and took away from the experience at the museum. It was frustrating to not be able to understand what some of the exhibits were trying to portray, but we were extremely lucky to have our Swedish classmates there ready to help translate anything we were confused about.  This was the first time we had a good chance to interact with them and we took full advantage of this opportunity.

Overall, we were very excited to learn more about natural history, especially that of Sweden, throughout the visit to Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet. Making a connection between the exhibits and our studies was a rewarding experience.  With a little taste of the Arctic, we are itching to get some hands-on knowledge in Svalbard!

Dariusz Hareza is a junior studying Molecular and Cellular Biology with Honors Concentration, minoring in Chemistry, and is Pre-Med. He is from Oak Lawn, IL.

Lauren Ceckowski is a senior studying Earth, Society, and Environment with a concentration on Society and the Environment.  She is from Gurnee, IL.