This past week I had the very exciting opportunity to take part in Fulbright’s EU-NATO Seminar in Luxembourg and Belgium! While these two countries may be rather small in geographic standards, they are still big players internationally, and they host several significant institutions – among them the European Court of Justice, the European Commission, and NATO Headquarters. The seminar was a fantastic experience, not only because I got to visit the places listed above, but also because it was a great opportunity to interact with Fulbrighters from across Europe! While I have met plenty of German Fulbright students at this point, this was my first time meeting Fulbrighters from Poland, the UK, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, Bulgaria, and Lithuania – to name a few of the countries represented. This was a great opportunity to learn about different countries and cultures, as well as to learn a bit about the variation in the Fulbright program across different countries. For example, Germany has one of the largest Fulbright programs, with more than 50 researchers and over one hundred ETAs; in contrast to that, countries like Norway and Portugal have programs with fewer than 10 participants total! As some students talked about the great support from their country-wide Fulbright group chats, I couldn’t help but thinking how different that is for Germany – with about 200 people in our Germany-wide Whatsapp group, it’s helpful along the way, but mostly it’s rather overwhelming! This is just one small example, but it was interesting to learn about how things are different in the different countries in general and with the different Fulbright commissions.
Throughout the seminar, we had the opportunity to see a case argued before the European Court of Justice (a great experience, though I will have to say that I am not certain I would want to make my career in the enlivening field of competition law), hear briefings from EU and NATO officials, meet with ambassadors and foreign service officers, and generally learn a lot more about the functioning of EU and NATO. I particularly learned a lot about the EU. While I certainly knew of the EU’s effectiveness and importance, I hadn’t realized, for instance, that the primary reason for its creation was to prevent future conflict after World War II. And, by all appearances, it has been a grand success in achieving that goal for Europe! Certainly there are plenty of challenges remaining for EU to face at the present time, but I don’t think there is any question of its continued existence for the foreseeable future. And really, you have to admit that it is quite impressive to see an organization getting 27 (formerly 28) countries to agree on anything – and some rather important things at that!
I will also have to say that between the recent event of Brexit and the current U.S. presidential and political situation, it was a rather interesting time to be attending a seminar on EU and NATO! As one of our speakers alluded to, while a job associated with EU/NATO might sound rather dry at times, it certainly is not right now! All of our speakers were excellent this week, and many were quite candid with us in explaining the challenges they are currently facing. Overall, this week definitely instilled in me a sense of the importance of prioritizing international cooperative efforts like EU and NATO in the future, throughout all different kinds of political climates.
In addition to lots of learning and intercultural discussions, the seminar was also simply a fun opportunity to explore two countries/cities – Luxembourg (City) and Brussels (Belgium)! (This also added a country to my list – I had been to Luxembourg once before, but this was my first time in Belgium!) I arrived in Luxembourg early the first day, giving myself time to explore some of the beautiful old city walls and sights, as well as to eat plenty of tasty pastries. Both Luxembourg and Brussels mostly function in French, which was a bit disconcerting to me, as I have virtually no knowledge of the French language. Mostly, it just meant I tried a few pastries without knowing what they actually were, and that I felt an increased feeling of fraternity with Germany and the German language upon my return home! On the way to Brussels, as part of the seminar, our group stopped at a waffle truck! As you may know, Belgium is rather famous for its waffles, and the owner of the truck is a friend of the executive director for Fulbright between Luxembourg, Belgium, and the U.S. To be specific, the truck introduced us to Liege waffles, which have little chunks of sugar in the batter such that they are naturally sweet in a slightly different way from normal waffles. You may be unsurprised to hear that I was rather excited about this turn of events, and thus ended up being the first in line at the Liege waffle truck. 🙂 And let me tell you – the waffles were delicious! As recommended, I tried mine without toppings, and it was plentifully delicious and sweet just on its own! Never fear, later in the week I also tried a typical “Brussels waffle,” which is more similar to what most Americans probably think of as a Belgian waffle, but still slightly different – lighter and fluffier, I would say. This was also delicious! I tried mine at Maison Dandoy, with crunchy speculoos cookies on top.
Other food highlights of the trip included chocolate! I tried a delicious pear-cinnamon hot chocolate at Chocolate House in Luxembourg City, which may sound like a strange combination, but works incredibly well! I also sampled hot chocolates at Laurent Gerbaud and Maison Dandoy in Brussels. While these were good, I will have to say I don’t think they rank above my Bonn hot chocolate favorite – Coppeneuer Chocolatier. Laurent Gerbaud’s Yuzu chocolate/truffle, however, was delicious and worth mentioning! I also sampled a number of chocolates from classic Belgian chocolatier Neuhaus, and can strongly recommend the dark chocolate orange one, the violet-flavored one, the triangular-shaped Desir one, and the cardamom-flavored pink-looking one. And pro tip, most shops let you try one chocolate for free (but not more), so choose carefully… and then go find another Neuhaus shop and choose carefully again! (Don’t worry, I did legitimately buy one chocolate and one chocolate bar, too.)
All in all, it was an excellent week of learning, networking, and professionalism, new friends and socializing, and delicious food and eating! It was nice to have an opportunity to use some of the nice clothes I carefully packed with me but haven’t had much opportunity to use yet, to have a chance to socialize with some Americans (including a number of students from Minnesota – woot!), and to have an excuse to visit two cities (and one country) I haven’t yet been to! That said, I was happy to return to Bonn yesterday. Today I have enjoyed a lovely day of relaxing, reading in the living room with my housemates (no joke, there were four of us silently sitting together enjoying books and tea together this morning!), catching up on email, settling back into the German language, and generally enjoying being back home in Bonn.