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Week 6 (Parliament, Strasbourg, and More)

My finger has mostly healed, yay, so I can type again, whoohoo! Last post, I mentioned that the program took us to the EU Parliament in Strasbourg, France. It was an amazing session to see – the docket was Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, and we got to hear from many representatives about the various issues facing the two parties. Right now, as you may know, the negotiations have been deemed to have had insufficent progress, and the whole process is stalled. The reason for this is debatable. On the one hand, the UK has objections to some of the requirements the EU has placed on them to exit, such as one aspect in the protection of human rights; part of the concern on both sides is ensuring that EU citizens who have settled in the UK and UK citizens who have settled in the EU do not need to move back. In order to protect their abroad citizens, the EU has said they want the European Court of Justice to have oversight in matters concerning said citizens in the UK, as it has no guarentee that UK laws will remain the same and afford EU citizens the same rights they have in the EU. The UK objects to this. So far, definitive compromise has not been offered by either side.

The city of Strasbourg itself is very charming; it’s actually probably my favorite city of the semester so far, besides Freiburg. It is home to the oldest church of the middle Ages, which is stunning and has a giant organ. Overall the trip was a joy!

The day following this trip, the program had its first large scale mock debate. I participated as one of the debaters. It was a really interesting experience – I have never debated like we did, and while I have my issues wit hthe format we used, I learned a lot from the opportunity.

This week was really jam-packed, if you haven’t already gotten that impression – Thursday, I had my first German exam. As I found out today, I did very well, but again, it was a new experience for me, as my previous language studies have been of Latin; being a dead language, learning Latin is different than learning a modern language.

Overall, I was very glad for the weekend. I took a brief day trip through the program to tour some ancient castles in Germany. They were beautiful, and I even got the chance to attend a Renaissance fair!

A shot from the debate, and the organ in the church in Strasbourg

Week 5 (Family Visits and a booboo)

Ths past week, my parents flew in from California to spend the week with me! It was wonderful to have a piece of home with me for a time. As much as I really like everyone at the program, I really enjoyed the time to catch up with my family and hear more English being spoken.

We took some day trips while they were here, first to Colmar in France, then to Basel in Switzerland, both of which are just over the border from Germany. In both places, we went to amazing museums and saw paintings by artist like Monet, Rembrandt, Piscasso, and Van Gogh. It was amazing to be so close to such masterpieces!

A Self Portrait by Van Gogh, Basel, Switzerland

Today, Tuesday the 3rd, the program took us to the European Parliament to watch a plenary session on Brexit and the UK’s exit from the EU. It was fascinating. There was no vite that we saw, but the gist of the arguments was that the UK feels the process is taking too long, and almost everyone outside of the UK thinks that’s because the UK government is divided on Brexit. At some points, politicians through shade the the UK representatives, which was very amusing. Unfortunately, my day was made less enjoyable by the fact that I accidently slammed my hand in my apartment door on the way to catch the bus this morning. I’ll spare my readers the details, but I’m mildly disadvantaged right now, as I can’t use my right middle finger. Thus, I’ll leave off here, and come back next week with a much longer update on my adventures in the EU.

Week 4 (The Honeymoon phase and what follows)

Last week, I shared some of the really cools things I’ve been doing in the IES program. This week has been a lot harder. During orientation for abroad programs, the staff usually talks about culture shock and adjustment periods. They usually describe it as having an initial honeymoon period where everything is new and exciting, followed by a crash. I’m currently having that crash. Classes started on Monday, and while many seem very interesting, I’m struggling to adjust to being in school again, and the shiny-new feeling of being abroad is wearing off. I’m in a sorority at school, and we have recruitment at the beginning of the fall, so now I’m seeing the pictures of all my friends back home. It’s made it actually hit home that I’m around 6000 miles away from almost everyhing I know. I’ve also gotten a cold, and so I’m battling that in a place that is almost entirely foreign to me; I can’t go to a drug store and buy brand name tylenol or cough syrup, nor can I easily call my mom for support and comfort. With my health and energy so low, I’m really feeling the distance.

That said, Germany has been very interesting this week. We just had the national elections which resulted, as predicted, with Angela Merkel winning another term as Chancellor. Here’s a quick breakdown of German’s governmental system:

After World War Two, it was decided that the executive branch, ie the president, should not be allowed to make a powergrab like Hitler did before the war. Thus, the constitution created in 1949 ensured that the presidency is mostly a figurehead, kind of like the queen of England. Instead, much of the power is between the Chancellor and the Parliament. There are also balances on the Chancellorship so that a Chancellor could not easily make a powergrab either. The system is also multiparty, with each party putting forth candidates for the Chancellorship, like Martin Schulz, or just representing the party. Accordingly, elections are two fold: citizens vote for both a candidate and a party. Thus, even if their candidate does not win, there is a chance the candidate can get into Parliament for their party. A party needs to have at least 5% of the vote to get seats in Parliament.

In this week’s election, the political party AFD, controversially known for being strongly against Islam and immigrants, and having counter-progressive views on women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights, won an astounding 12.6% of the vote, getting seats in the Parliament for the first time every and becoming the third largest party in Germany. This could spell changes for the country, and not necessarily ones that Freiburg will agree with; we’ll see!

Here, look at this pretty lake in the Swiss Alps (taken on a hiking trip) and take your mind off frusturating politics