"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.

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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Monday, August 12, 2013

The Fate and Frites of Europe: A Saucy Study in Brussels

A plate of moules frites Chez Lyon.
by Nicholas Wood

In April, I applied to the University of Illinois European Union Center to participate in the Brussels Summer Program, organized by the UNC EU Center on behalf of the EU Center of Excellence Network. Soon after, I was selected out of many applicants for a travel grant in June to attend meetings and discussions proffered by representatives of the European Union on topics of international cooperation; issues facing the Euro, environment, and racism in the EU; and the guidelines and hierarchy that direct the European Union.
The Grand Place on my first day: drizzling yet radiant.

My flight into Brussels was unique for me in that I did a substantial amount of research on the European Union and its governing bodies, but did very little research in terms of things to see. Stepping out of the Gare Centrale in downtown Brussels, I realized that this granted me the opportunity to see everything without bias or prejudice, and jauntily I started down towards the Grand Place to begin my first day in Brussels. I arrived three days earlier than the other students, so that I could get the lay of the land and finish touristic sightseeing before we embarked on our professional endeavors. Fortunately, I couchsurfed with a wonderful host who was able to recommend to me not only the aptly seen attractions, like the Atomium, Mannequin Pis, Chez Lyon, churches and museums, but also the hidden gems of Brussels, like where to get the best fries in all of Brussels, and where to go if you’re an ex-pat on a Wednesday evening.

The Atomium
Parting ways with my host, I made my way to the Hotel Euroflat, nestled right behind the European Commission, to attend our opening meeting. After breaking the ice and having the first of many coffees, many of us strolled down the Rue de la Loi to find dinner around the Grand Place. Despite our efforts to find something more celebratory, we commemorated our first night chowing down on the deep-fried delicacies that are Belgian fries and seeing the sights Brussels has to offer before retiring for the full days ahead.

I won’t dare to go into detail for every meeting and session we attended, but suffice it to say, the experience as a whole was remarkable. When one considers that Europe had regularly been at all-out war until a few decades ago, the fact that those nation-states could come together in the pursuit of human rights, international partnership and trade, and celebration of culture is simply astounding. Indeed, the speakers to whom we were introduced proved the merit in cultivating, renewing, and maintaining this Union of European states: no matter how dry the topic of their work (regulations on the mirrors of tractors, for example), everyone was both well-versed and moreover excited about their contributions to the EU. This experience demonstrated that states coming together in good faith to discuss and debate the issues which face our world today can and will move seemingly immovable mountains.
27 flags for 27 countries. Now 28; welcome Croatia!

Despite the de facto appellation of Europe’s capital, Brussels is still in many ways just the de jure capital of Belgium, a small nation-state about the size of Maryland snuggled in between the economic superpowers of France
and Germany. In many ways, I think this is one of the most poetic aspects of the mission of the European Union: in a democracy, no country reigns supreme, and even the smallest of them speaks with a voice as equally strong as the largest.
Belgian fries with sauce andalouse




Photo credit: Nicholas Wood


Nicholas Wood is graduating this August from University of Illinois with a BA in French Studies and minors in Linguistics, Russian, and Global Studies with a concentration in Governance, Conflict, and Resolution. After studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey; Paris, France; and Moscow, Russia, he is looking forward to an international career to make use of his language skills and cultural interests.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Visiting Store Norske

Today, we started the day with sharing our observations, analyses and interpretations of the built environment of Longyearbyen. Most project groups compared Pyramiden and Longyearbyen, stressing differences such as the fact that Pyramiden is a carefully planned city, while Longyearbyen is more a result of the shifting main locations of Store Norske's mining operations. Other differences are the choices of building materials. Students had also interviewed cruise ship tourists about their impressions of the Arctic region.

After lunch, we moved to the harbour area to visit Store Norske, which is the only Norwegian mining company active in Spitsbergen today. Store Norske has been operating since 1916. Malte Jochmans, a senior geologist of the company, warmly welcomed the group and shared his knowledge and insights into Store Norske's present mining activities and its visions of the future. According to Jochman, the company’s main goals are to exploit the coal in a safe and profitable manner and to match the high environmental expectations from governing bodies and public opinion. So far the company projects their production until 2030, but their visions of the future also includes the idea of turning Svalbard into a hub for Arctic Ocean shipping.

We ended the day by studying and analyzing the exhibition at the Svalbard museum, under the guidance of museum director Tora Hultgren. Most course participants spent the evening preparing for presenting their essay projects.

Photo credit: Swedish Polar Research Secretariat

This article is one in a series of blog entries written by University of Illinois students who traveled during summer 2013 to Stockholm, Sweden and Svalbard, Norway to participate in the interdisciplinary course, “Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic,” provided by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and co-organized with KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Course participants from both universities learn about issues related to climate change and the Arctic, capped by an excursion to conduct field research near the Arctic Circle. This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a European Union Center of Excellence grant, and is an initiative of the Illinois-Sweden Program for Educational Research Exchange (INSPIRE). Student blog entries also appear on the web site of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat
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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Exploring Longyearbyen

After one of the most terrifying boat rides of our lives, hot showers, and a good night of rest, we finally awoke in the comfort of Spitsbergen’s guesthouse. As we reluctantly left our warm, rock-less beds, we gathered with our groups to explore the town.

Now that we are back in Longyearbyen we started the day by looking at the built environment in some areas. We focused on buildings similar to the ones that we observed in Pyramiden last week. The weather was cloudy but not cold. The little town of Longyearbyen was full of tourists traveling with a cruiser, loaded with about 2 000 people. This gave light to the fact that there are no sidewalks here. The traffic suddenly felt a bit chaotic. So, although Longyearbyen is a great tourist attraction no effort has been laid on this matter until today. The houses are mostly built by wooden material and the buildings are quite new and modern. The settlement area in southeast of Longyearbyen gives a Scandinavian feeling and it also looks modern with its minimalistic style and living colors.

After exploring on our own, we hiked up to one of Store Norske’s abandoned mines on the side of the mountain. Since it was built before 1946, the mine is protected as cultural heritage. Protected sites represent valuable history and the legacy of Longyearbyen’s development as a town. Even though the old mine is no longer in use, the site is maintained with minor repairs to keep the building stable and safe. Tourists are allowed to enter the mine and freely explore the old mechanisms and technology of coal mining. Inside, we saw how workers transported coal from the entrance of the mine through sorting rooms, conveyor belts, carts, and down the mountain on an aerial ropeway.

After touring through three floors of the mine and finally stopping at a “NO ADMITTANCE: DANGER OF SUFFOCATION AND EXPLOSION” sign, we retraced our steps past rusty carts, gaping chasms, and creaky stairs out to the rocky mountainside. Looking down on the winding roads of Longyearbyen, we hiked down and returned to our dormitories ready for real dinners, hot showers, and warm beds.

Linda Qiu, Nathalie Hamsund and Dongwan Kim

Photo credit: Swedish Polar Research Secretariat

This article is one in a series of blog entries written by University of Illinois students who traveled during summer 2013 to Stockholm, Sweden and Svalbard, Norway to participate in the interdisciplinary course, “Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic,” provided by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and co-organized with KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Course participants from both universities learn about issues related to climate change and the Arctic, capped by an excursion to conduct field research near the Arctic Circle. This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a European Union Center of Excellence grant, and is an initiative of the Illinois-Sweden Program for Educational Research Exchange (INSPIRE). Student blog entries also appear on the web site of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat
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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Illinois Farm Bureau Members Tour EU Farms

Participants of the IFB EU Animal Care Study Tour pose on a UK
crop/livestock farm.
Members of the Illinois Farm Bureau recently toured farms and met with agriculture industry officials in the European Union during the EU Animal Care Study Tour.

The tour was designed to give Illinois livestock producers more insight into how animals are raised in the EU.

The EU this year implemented a ban on the use of gestation stalls in the swine industry. Producers there also face strict regulations on the use of antibiotics.

IFB members learned some European hog producers chose to exit the business rather than invest in new housing systems. Others expanded their operations to spread the costs across more animal units.

IFB members Abe Trone, Stephenson County, and Mitzi Sharer, Henderson
County, get a bird's eye view of laying hens at Rondeel Egg Farm in The
Netherlands.
Livestock producers in some EU countries received government subsidies to help offset the cost of changing housing systems. There has been a private push in the U.S. for similar livestock housing systems, but to date there has been no indication that U.S. farmers will receive assistance to invest in their operations similar to their European counterparts.

Consumer buying trends and perceived perceptions of consumer demands are key drivers of changes to the livestock industry in the EU, according to reports during the tour.


Paul Anthonissen, a farmer from Belgium, herds a Belgian blue bull on his
farm during the IFB Animal Care Study Tour.
IFB each year takes a select group of members on market study tours to locations around the world. This year was the second IFB study tour to the EU.












~ Daniel Grant, FarmWeek Senior Commodities Editor

Photo credit: FarmWeek

This blog was reprinted from FarmWeek. The full reports on the Tour can be found here (pages 8-9) and here (pages 8-9).
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Friday, August 2, 2013

Polar Bears

Day two began bright and early with a 6:30 AM wake up from our camp guide Oskar. After a filling breakfast of bread, cheese, dried ham, and a surprisingly tasty fruit soup, we packed our sandwich bags and headed North further into Petunia Bay.

We crossed the braided river system just outside of camp with little trouble, and headed up slope a bit for our activity of the day. Today we probed the ground in different places to create a topographic profile of both the surface and the permafrost underneath. We attempted to use our data to gain a general idea of what the active layer above the permafrost, and below the surface looked like. For each area we surveyed, we placed a marker into the permafrost so that we can return to the same sites later on. Hopefully after surveying once more later in the week, we will see a change in the level of the permafrost.

For dinner we ate freeze dried bags of food. On the menu tonight was lamb stew. Everyone also made sure to finish up their personal ration of ten pieces of bread per day.

As people were finishing up their dinner, we heard eagle-eyed Jonathan Tomkin ask for binoculars. Everyone quickly realized that he had spotted the polar bear family. We had been previously coached in proper polar bear situational behavior, so we knew what to do. We gathered in a central group to make ourselves appear larger, with the line of armed people in the front. We were prepared to make lots of loud noises to scare them away if they got too close.

However the bears chose to slowly wander along the water line, approximately 200 meters in front of us. The mother bear only briefly stopped to take a look at us before she decided to pick up the pace with her cubs following close by. As they walked away into the distance, the camp was filled with excitement and picture comparisons began. It was amazing to see such beautiful animals in nature with no glass in between us. At the same time, it is a reminder to us that they are wild animals, and that we must be prepared for the dangers that come with the territory.

Behind the keyboard,

Conor Healy, Allie Wroble and Lovisa Westermark

Photo credit: Swedish Polar Research Secretariat

This article is one in a series of blog entries written by University of Illinois students who traveled during summer 2013 to Stockholm, Sweden and Svalbard, Norway to participate in the interdisciplinary course, “Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic,” provided by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and co-organized with KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Course participants from both universities learn about issues related to climate change and the Arctic, capped by an excursion to conduct field research near the Arctic Circle. This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a European Union Center of Excellence grant, and is an initiative of the Illinois-Sweden Program for Educational Research Exchange (INSPIRE). Student blog entries also appear on the web site of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat

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