I spent last week traipsing around Belgium and a little bit of Luxembourg for the Fulbright EU Seminar that the Belgian Fulbright Commission organizes every year for all the Fulbrighters in Europe. (You can find their blog about the week here. It was a very steady schedule that I won’t go into below.)
It was an eclectic group since it included all the programs in Europe. English Teaching Assistants just out of college, some with plans for the future, others exploring their options. Research students finishing their Masters or Ph.D. And finally, the smallest group, the Scholars, who were pursing topics in their expert fields. Although this group was diverse in age, experience, and knowledge – everyone was doing something interesting.
I learned about Swedish campaign finance, nanotechnology, immunology, the psychology of gaming, sustainable energy, education programs in Finland, working as a journalist, art houses in Berlin, Roma populations in Romania and Bulgaria, Hungarian foreign direct investment, Portuguese imperialism and culture, the EU’s efforts to harmonize university education standards, competition law, the Common Agricultural Policy, slow food in Italy, researching the Spanish Revolution, clearing checks in Cyprus after the banking crisis…and more.
Experiencing this level of intellectual interaction is not common, even as I live in the world of academia. Those who were recent graduates or graduate students were the people you always pray you will get to teach in your classes. The Scholars were true peers of intellect and support. One of the first things I noticed, as someone who does not generally feel comfortable around groups of people I do not know, was the high level of comfort. The knowledge that you were part of the Fulbright experience meant that everyone felt at ease. We jumped from conversation to conversation eager to discover what the next person was doing.
It was also, we quickly learned, an opportunity to “geek out.” I assure you, as a geek (and nerd) myself, I consider it an excellent thing indeed. In short, it was an intellectual and geek safe zone. No stone was left unturned – gaming, comics, music of all genres, old school technology, etc. etc.
Anyway, since many of them were unfamiliar with the European Union, the seminar’s main purpose was to get them to as many EU institutions as possible in 4 days. I think only a few of us were experts in these areas, and I used the opportunity to make contacts for my research, which made it a very productive week. However, even when I wasn’t talking about my work (believe me being “on” for 4 days can get tiring) it was a joy to speak with officials to get their views on a variety of subjects – off the record of course.
So highlights of the trip: (Photos can be found here on their Flicker stream.)
1) The reception at the residence of the US Ambassador to Belgium. Beautiful house, great food, wonderful performance by a former Fulbrighter and his wife (piano and violin), and hilariously many of us swiped an official hand towel from the bathrooms because they were embossed with the State Department seal. The consensus was that it was just “too cool” not to. Don’t worry, we left plenty.
2) Sitting in a hearing at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Imagine every court case being heard in multiple languages at the same time. There are booths on both sides with translators narrating the proceedings and ear pieces for everyone in the audience. Much of it was in German so I could follow pretty well. There was the plaintiff, a German corporation, advocates from any state that might want to comment (Germany and France in this case) and the lawyer for the European Commission. While I’m not going into the facts of the case, I will say that as a lawyer it’s important to listen well to questions from the bench – least you get a little smackdown.
Oh and the ECJ has a fantastic art collection.
3) Tie – NATO & the College of Europe in Bruges
I wish I could prove that I’ve been to NATO HQ but they confiscated our phones! After the presentations we had lunch there and I got to talk a little International Relations with a member of the Policy & Planning office. The last time I was in a NATO facility it was at the now defunct CAOC in Eskisehir, Turkey, which was a great experience too.
The College of Europe trains future EU leaders and is a 9 month Masters program, in both French and English. However, there are many students who attend that go to international careers in the pubic and private sector outside of Europe. Prof. Marco Rimanelli, another Fulbright Schuman Scholar, gave a fantastic overview of transatlantic relations to the students (there was nothing but praise afterward), while I got to hang out a with faculty member, and former Fulbrighter, Prof. Michelle Chang.
Next post: Living in Belgium and the Culture of Compromise