Let the Studying (Abroad) Commence!

For those of you who do not know, I am currently on a study abroad trip in Europe! I was given this wonderful opportunity in part by the President’s Scholarship Program and the Stamps Leadership Scholarship at Georgia Tech, and of course, my parents.

The program is called the EU-Brussels study abroad program, which is a 10-week summer program led by Georgia Tech faculty in which students take four 3-credit hour classes (12 credits total) on the European Union, European Security, EU-US Relations, and Human Rights In Europe. 6 weeks of the program will be in Brussels, Belgium, in which students live with a host family in order to get a better feel for the unofficial “Capital of the EU” and the culture. The rest of the time will be spent in other major cities of EU nation-states, including Paris, Berlin, Krakow, and Dublin. Throughout the 10 weeks of the program, we visit all kinds of official sites including The European Commission, European Parliament, Council of the European Union, US Embassy, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and more! In addition to learning from readings and lectures, the bulk of the learning material will come from hands-on meetings and dialogue with EU officials, experts, diplomats, and policy-makers.

Anyways, now with that background out of the way, the main purpose of this post was to start to keep track of my experiences on this trip. We were asked to keep a weekly journal or blog about the program, so I figured this would be a great place to start!

Here is what I wrote on May 15, before leaving for Brussels:

Before I describe my perception of Europe and Europeans in general, I have to admit that while I have had interactions with different cultures ever since I was born, I have not had that much experience with European culture in particular. Therefore, much of my perception has been based off of media portrayal and the limited personal interactions that I have had over the years.

Specifically, my current perception of Europe is that there is a lot of culture that is actively being preserved in particular with old architecture, art, and other practices. I have heard that there are many small streets and old buildings, a lot of people who smoke, and a more walking-based culture compared to the car culture we have here. Food seems to be a major part of the European identity wherever you go. I know that in my French class I learned that students get almost an hour or more everyday as a lunch break and that cooking and eating food are major parts of French culture.

Based on my limited personal experience in European airports and being stuck in Amsterdam while waiting for my layover to India, I have noticed that “Europeans” seem to have a general sense of superiority when it comes to minorities. Personally, when I was talking to KLM customer service in Amsterdam, I could tell that there was a clear difference in the way that the representatives would treat German-speaking customers (laughing and helping them out with a smile) versus my Indian immigrant mother who has a slight accent (rude, slightly demeaning, and often brushing us off).

In general, the way that customer service worked seemed to be much more relaxed and less user-centric than it is in the United States. For example, hours of operation were a lot more laid back for workers, so much so that it was almost impossible for us to get a hold of anyone during the weekend. In addition, European service representatives seemed to be a lot more hostile and less forgiving than the ones that I have had experience with in the United States. Much of this, I hypothesized, could be because of more socialist principles operating in European countries. With more worker protection or overall citizen benefits, there is less intense focus on work like there seems to be in the more competitive market economy of the United States. While that may lead to some more sub-par workers in comparison to the US, it also seem to bring more work-life balance to European citizens overall.

While reading these articles about the European Union suggest a move towards the formation of a united European identity, I agree with the McCormick Chapter on the Idea of Europe with the fact that much of Europe is still divided. It is interesting to note throughout the history of the development of the EU how different nations have prevented full integration due to issues of sovereignty. France in particular seems to have a history of clinging onto its sovereignty whenever faced with a situation that might cause it to lose some of it (ex. integrating armies, losing veto, etc.). In addition, looking at the internal politics going on during the Eurozone debt crisis, it is interesting to note the rise in nationalist parties and how much popularity they are starting to get. What this seems to suggest is that while the EU has done a considerable job in bringing Europe together, whenever there is a crisis, many citizens seem to cling harder to their own state and national identity.

This rise in nationalism also seems interesting in light of the immigration issues that have arisen with entire ships of refugees being left in European seas. There seems to be an increasing tension between this European Union ideal of inclusion, democracy, and unity and the rise of nationalism and resistance to immigration throughout Europe.

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