Monday, September 2, 2013

Brussels: Go for the Study, Stay for the Waffles

by Justin Ostrowski

Brussels was filled with breathtaking architecture
As I checked into the Euroflat Hotel I was still in disbelief of just how close I was to such a powerful entity. I excitedly rode the elevator to my room and, after meeting my roommate for the week, looked out of our (not-so-child friendly) hotel room window to admire the Commission building. 

This was the beginning of my European Union adventure in Brussels, which was much more exciting and stimulating than one would expect. I was inside the belly of the beast hearing of the inner workings of the EU from the people who work there every day, something that a classroom setting can’t quite emulate. Seeing the sights that EU diplomats see, walking the streets that they walk, experiencing the atmosphere that they experience! It’s all quite exciting and eye opening for a first time EU visitor, but it seems mundane and monotonous to the people walking around me, hustling and bustling to their next meeting to solidify trade negotiations with the United States, prepare the bureaucracy for Croatia (their newly added member), or discuss pressing political matters with visiting world leaders.
A view of the European Commission building
from our hotel room window

Although many of the visits we made were intriguing, my favorite was the visit to the European Parliament where we attended a Committee on Foreign Relations meeting with the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament. This meeting clearly demonstrated the day to day interactions of European politicians and showcased some partisan politicking that I didn’t really expect to see in the EU. After the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament finished his speech and the floor was open to EU Parliamentarian questioning, the room was clearly polarized while simultaneously maintaining and air of professionalism. Some members even took the time to criticize the existence of the EU and the significantly underutilized (and mostly unnecessary) location in Strasbourg, France. For someone who has never even been to Washington D.C. or an Illinois State Legislative meeting, this was an invaluable eye opening experience that helped me to solidify my idea of just what happens in these settings.

The Speaker of the Georgian Parliament (far right) addressing members of the EU
And then, of course, there’s Brussels. Cobblestone streets, quaint brick buildings crowded between grandiose neoclassical marvels, and waffles! Waffles big and small with infinite candy, syrup, ice cream, and fruit toppings that will turn your blood into pure sugar. The center of Brussels is dotted with little waffle stands between the tourist shops and seemingly ubiquitous construction, so naturally I visited three of them. After sampling this Belgian tastebud wonderland, I have to say that they were the best waffles I have ever had! Although there are so many things to do and see in Brussels, grabbing a waffle would be on the top of my list of recommendations for anyone visiting the capital of Europe. 

Delicious waffle covered in whipped cream
and chocolate sauce
Unfortunately, I could not stay in Brussels for long. After the study tour, I had to take off for my summer of playing the saxophone in Vienna. I bid farewell to this quaint yet magnificent city, but I will always remember the time I spent there. Whether I was learning about the EU, wandering the streets of Brussels, enjoying the Belgian beer, or just admiring the atmosphere, my EU adventure in Brussels was an amazing experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life.  

Photo credit: Justin Ostrowski

Justin Ostrowski is a senior in Political Science and Economics with a minor in LGBT/Queer Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a member of the Illinois Student Senate and can frequently be found playing saxophone around Champaign-Urbana. After graduating, he plans to attend graduate school and law school.


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