Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Brussels, Belgium: More than Waffles, Frites, and Chocolates

by Sarah Bahn

My first Belgian Waffle with whipped cream and Speculoos
From June 17th 2013 through June 20th 2013, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the European Center of Excellence’s Brussels Study Program. This program was organized by the UNC EU Center and I was able to participate through a travel grant I applied to and received from the University of Illinois European Union Center. Before our journey into the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, all other participants and I were e-mailed a tentative schedule of all of the European Institutions that we would be visiting such as the: European Commission Headquarters, European Parliament, European External Actions Services, Council of the European Union, and a few other smaller yet certainly important European Institutions.

Before my week in Brussels, Belgium, all that really popped into the mind of a foodie like me when thinking of Brussels were: waffles, frites, and of course Belgian chocolates. In order to try to save myself from the impending jetlag and to familiarize myself a little with the city, I arrived a day earlier in Brussels than other participants. After checking myself and bags into First Euroflat Hotel, I decided to start my adventure by checking out the smaller streets and shops located around the hotel. Being a helpless American foodie tourist, no one could save me from what my first two “European” purchases would be: a Belgian Waffle topped with a mountain of whipped cream and Speculoos, and the first of many more boxes of Belgian chocolates to come. However, once the program really began I would learn that  Brussels and Belgium was much more than waffles and internationally known chocolate brands such as Neuhaus and Godiva.

In front of the European Commission with two other participants
After all the formal introductions and overviews of the programs were over with after all of the other participants arrived, we started our journey into the European Union’s headquarters at the European Commission Headquarter and then after, at the European Parliament. At the European Parliament (EP) we were privileged to receive a lecture by the Head of Secretariat on the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs, Silvio Gonzato. We were also able to attend a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament in which David Usuphashvili, Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia spoke on the recent developments in Georgia. It would take hours and possibly days to be able to comment on every single lecture heard at each designated institution visited. However, each institution spoke of their roles within the EU or Europe, as well as its relations with Europe, the U.S, and the rest of the world.

My last night in Brussels, at the Grand Place
Although each institution has technically different roles within the EU and Europe, there was an overarching theme within each of the speakers’ lectures. In order for each of these institutions to be successful in fulfilling their roles within Europe, there needs to be cooperation in all issues that effect the governing and livelihoods of each European country. This is what makes the European Union such a unique institution, that despite each country’s cultural, religious, and historical differences, they are able to come up with policies that each country needs to discuss and agree on. The recent addition of Croatia as the EU’s 28th member country, not only shows this institutions uniqueness but its relevance to the European community.

Photo credit: Sarah Bahn

Sarah Bahn is currently a junior majoring in political science and minoring in French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This coming fall, she will be the newly elected vice president of model European Union, an up-and-coming RSO formed last year. She will also be preparing for LSATs, and hopes to attend law school after graduating from U of I with the dream of working in the international or immigration law field.


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