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.

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