Weeks 8 + 9 (The Academics)

Hi again! Sorry for the delay in my update; like I said at the end of my last post, I had midterms followed by Fall break the last few weeks, so I’ve been busy! But I’m back! Here’s the news. I’ve had three exams, a final, and a test, two of which were the week of the 23rd-27th, and two of which were this week. I’ve also had assorted papers due in this period as well. The system in Europe still surprises me; for the most part, grades are determined solely by one or two exams as well as a few papers. Almost no classes give homework, and each assignment usually accounts for around 25% of your total grade! Reaching all these exams caught me by surprise because I haven’t had the usual homeworks, quizzes, and projects to help me judge how well I know the material. Also, unique to my program is that one of our classes begins and ends early; my seminar class, which has focused on the political situations of the EU, started almost as soon as we arrived, and has ended just this past week. In its place, we now have preparation for the simulation EU meetings that we will be holding at the end of the semester. The program has split us students into two parts; one for the heads of state, which will make up the European Commission, and one of the foreign ministers. I am representing Greece, which is wonderful for a few reasons. The first, I have Greek ancestry, so it’s fun to learn more about a part of my heritage. The second is that so far, I have written 3 papers about Greece while here, and I have at least 1 more to write abou it. I’m feeling like I have a good handle on the country because of my experience so far. I also get the chance to talk a lot and contribute in this preparation and in the actual simulation since Greece is so embedded in the current issues, like immigration and the debt crisis. Like with the mock debate, this is going to push me outside my comfort zone, so I’m doubly excited!

On a personal note, I’ve again been feeling the strain of the semester and being abroad. We had Fall break last week, which was a great time, as I traveled and had a blast. However, usually I use Fall break to sleep, rest, and catch up with my family. Since I am a, in Europe, and b, I chose to travel for break, I’ve been feeling much more tired than I usually do. Coupled with coming back to more exams and stress, I’ve started looking forward to coming home to the US, if only because I need a long period of rest. I’m trying to shake it off; next week I travel yet again – yes, it seems like I’m never atually in Freiburg. I’ll be visiting Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where I’ll be learning about energy and other relevant issues, like the Catalonian question in Spain, and the increase in refugees arriving in Italy. When I come back again, I have about a week or so before finals start, then the week of our EU simulation before I come home again. Hopefully being away from direct academic work while I travel will help me bounce back. If nothing else, I know I’ll be enjoying good food, good weather, and amazing culture. My next post, (probably to come later tonight) will about all my travels and adventures over Fall break. I have lots of stories and pictures to sharem and the tone will probably be more positive 😀

P.S. I got good grades on the two exams I’ve gotten back so far, yay! Just three more to go!

Week 7 (Another Field Study Trip)

I have just returned from the second field study trip on the docket for my program, and was it a blast! This trip was what is called the Institutions trip, meaning we visited institutions of the EU, like the Commission and the Consul, as well as the European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice. We were seperated mainly by area of study, so as a mathematics/economics major, I went to the European Central Bank (to be referred to as the ECB in this post). We also had a series of independent meetings with people from think tanks, lobbyists, and members of governments.

The speaker from the ECB was fascinating! He was probably no older than his early-mid 30s, but it was evident that he already had an established career at the bank. He went through a general explanation of the ECB’s structure and function, then spoke some about how it compared to the US’s Federal Reserve bank (the Fed). HE then spoke some on the US recession, and how that spread to Europe, and where Europe is now. He concluded with talking some about programs that he is a part of. One I found very interesting are the Deposit Protection/Guarentee schemes, which would work to ensure that, if another crisis happened in Europe, and people wanted to withdraw their money from the banks, they would be able to do so. As I understand it, enacting an EU-wide adoption of this policy is in the works.

Tiny me in the ECB

From Frankfurt, we made our way to Brussels, which is the seat of the European Commission and Consul. Our first day there, we visited the Commission and listened to presentations from two men, one, the Deputy Chief of the EU’s counterpart to our Border Control, and the other, the Director – Head of the Support Group for Ukraine. It was very interesting to learn about how refugees get into the EU, and what is being done to lower the death rate of those who drown when they come by sea.

Later in the day, we had course-specific excursions. Our professors and program leaders had set up meetings with personnel relevant to our studies so that we could get a more hands on perspective of what we’re learning in the class room. I attended a meeting with the Head of Communications of the lobbying groups WSBI and ESBG. I knew nothing about lobbying, so it was so interesting to be able to get an in-depth, professional perspective.

Mimi, also of Whitman, and myself at the European Commission

The city of Brussles itself is very interesting; it is the only real place in Belgium where the French, German, and Dutch populations intermingle; the rest of the country is divided by spoken language, with the North being Dutch, or Flemish, the south French, of Walloon, and a tiny bit to the east, German speaking. The groups rarely inter-marry, and, as seems to be the pattern in Europe, people rarely move away form where they were born. Brussels, in contrast, is a huge melting pot. At one point, a native said it was the second most diverse city in the world, after Dubai. While French was definitely the dominate language, there was Dutch, German, English, and other languages being spoken all over. I had a blast wandering around some on my own and using the public transportation. The city also has amazing chocolate! I got a relatively large box for not that much, and I’m slowly working my way through it~

Myself eating my chocolate 😀

One of Brussels’ covered markets

Paris was also gorgeous. We spent less time in meetings there – we had two or three, depending on our studies. My favorite parts were the independent trip I took to the Musee d’Orsay, which is the amazing Impressionist museum. I got to see a lot from Monet, my favorite artist, and saw Degas’ famous statue, La Petite Danseuse. It was an amazing experience! Paris, besides Freiburg, is definitely my favorite of the European cities I’ve visited this trip.

I have midterms and papers these next two weeks, then Fall break, so updates will be a little sparse until after all that, but I’ll be back with more exciting adventures to share!

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