The EU study abroad program is off to a great start! All 16 students arrived safely and settled in with their host families on Saturday May 14th and after the weekend of getting to know their families and acclimating to Belgian and European culture, Monday was a packed day getting to know the city of Brussels and the history of Belgium. We kicked off Monday with a panorama bus tour, followed by a hearty Belgian lunch to prepare for the three hour walking tour that ended uptown on the lovely Sablon square and samplings from some of the city’s famous chocolate shops! The rest of the week was devoted to lectures by Dr. Birchfield and Dr. Hayes (via Skype) at our local host university –ULB and the Institute for European Studies. Students also had the chance to attend a fascinating panel discussion on the upcoming British referendum with the Jonathan Faull, Commission official in charge of the strategic negotiations as well as a Scottish Member of the European Parliament, and the President of the Institute. The week was capped off with great music and free concerts all over the city during the annual Brussels Jazz Marathon.
Week two’s highlights included the students’ first site visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels where they were briefed on emerging security challenges such as hybrid warfare and cyber threats as well as the agenda for the upcoming Warsaw Summit by Dr. Jamie Shea, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General. Political Officers from the U.S. and French Missions to NATO also made presentations and engaged in a lively Q & A with the group. The second week also included an exciting visit to the European Parliament for an overview presentation of the work of the Parliament and its expanded powers since the Lisbon Treaty as well as an opportunity to attend a plenary session where MEPs were debating the hot topic of transatlantic data flows and the role of the EU at the G-7 summit.