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Thursday
Aug062009

Brussels by Christine Parcells

After Berlin, I met up with some other EU SPANERs, Liz, and a few extra guests for an introduction to European Union institutions. Not having taken any previous classes on the EU, I learned a lot. We visited the Council of Europe (not to be confused with European Council), the Socialist Bloc party of the EU, European Parliament, the European Commission, and an NGO that lobbies for policies on exiles and refugees in Europe. These meetings gave great context to the diversity that is present in Europe and the successes and challenges which result. I am most in awe of the languages. I knew that many Europeans, especially younger generations, can speak oftentimes at least three languages, but at the European Parliament, the translators and interpreters—we were told—speak 7 languages! It’s almost inconceivable. I’m happy I speak at least one other language besides English, but I wish I could speak more.

 

I have to admit that Brussels is not my favorite city—it was a bit dirty and crowded, but the visits we had and being in the center of the EU hub certainly created a certain energy for the city that made it interesting. Tasting delectable chocolate and ice cream didn’t hurt either! Before moving on to the next city, I had to lighten my bag, as it was already almost unmanageable from all of the brochures and booklets (and German workbooks) given to me by my past interviews. Thankfully, Liz was able to tote many of them back to the US for me!

Sunday
Jun072009

Arrival By Christine Parcells

I arrived in Berlin on a dreary Saturday night. I was less than thrilled to see it pouring down rain as I stepped off the plane, although thankfully, it stopped by the time I got outside.  It was very easy to get myself to the homestay in West Berlin that I had arranged through the German classes I would be taking. Graciously, the host provided me with a spread of food to choose from immediately, as all stores were closed. That first night, and the following, I think I must have slept 12 hours each as jet lag took its toll. 

I had two days to wander around Berlin before my German classes started. I don’t think I have been that silent in quite some time, but it was nice to take everything in and decompress before getting started on my project and class. I revisited some of the sites I had seen in a previous trips to Berlin. This time, I was able to see them in sunshine.  I had visited Berlin in April two years earlier and it was very cold and cloudy. Unfortunately, the warm weather has not lasted in Berlin and we have had one cold day after the next this past week, with scattered rain throughout. Cold weather is not the most conducive for wandering around and getting a feel for the city, but I had preparation to do before my first interviews that kept me inside part of the time anyways. 

By Wednesday, I had my first interview with a representative with the DAAD (German Exchange Service) at a striking square in the heart of Berlin. In this interview I learned the foundational aspects of German education and the prime motivations for this integral organization of Germany’s international education system. Thankfully, he provided me with several documents filled with facts and figures of German and international student mobility within Germany. 

Thursday followed with an interview at Free University with an assistant dean for international exchanges. As if it dropped out of the sky, Mr. Schepker provided me with a document that answered exactly some of the questions I had been planning to ask! It is a brand new report from the DAAD; the one drawback—it was in German and my German skills are far from being competent enough for understanding such a document. Thanks to the internet, there are various language tools at my disposal for translating the statistics and survey results. 

Next week: an interview at an Art university and a resident director of an American study abroad program with some more sightseeing and writing in between. 

Wednesday
Jun032009

Oxford 6/2/2009 by Patrick G. Wilz

MY FIRST MOMENTS ABROAD were enjoyed nearly a week ago—I endeavored to experience London before I began my research and am now thankful I'd done so—but this will be my initial response to Oxford, my home for the next several weeks. 

I hope it won't be too odd when I say that it has met every one of my expectations and—here's the curious part—it is almost exactly as I had envisioned. Looming spires are themselves an anachronism to the Starbucks and clothing shops which share streets and sometimes walls, but the craggy and weathered facades of the various colleges and cramped alleyways serve as a more potent advertisement of the city's age. Oxford and its inhabitants are both charming and inviting its cosmopolitan patronage.

Of course, I’m not the only foreigner here. Oxford pulses with skittish travelers and tourists snapping photos and pointing awkwardly at maps. The University must anticipate these visitors because in front of nearly every door there are signs that read, “NO VISITORS ALLOWED,” and ask that all cameras are returned to their cases. This restraint has made it difficult to manage access to archives and libraries here, but a bit of explaining has, so far, ameliorated all previous misconceptions of my intentions. 

It is, after all, finals week here and I don’t blame them for their heightened attention to regulation. I think it might have been George Bernard Shaw who first said that England and the United States are two nations separated by a common language, but I'm sure Oscar Wilde later repeated the same sentiment. Regardless, the point carries. Idiosyncrasies that are easily recognized in the States can be jolting when they aren't understood abroad. You'll never have a 'to go' order in the UK, but you'll certainly be offered a 'take away,' which is a good idea because they'll charge pence if you 'sit in.' These lessons have been painless, but unexpected. 

After two weeks here, I will enjoy the respite in Belgium with my fellow EU mates. A tour of Brussels and the European Union are sure to be a welcome change of pace from my daily research in Oxford. Until then . . . 

Best, Patrick G. Wilz

Wednesday
Jun032009

SPAN European Union 2009: A Preparation by Patrick G. Wilz May 13 2009

It would be an understatement to write-off these past few months of preparation for the SPAN program as a “new experience” or “eye-opening.” It has been far more than platitudes can or should describe. This is mostly due to the fact that I have not yet tasted the meat of the program’s offerings, though the mounting excitement for this summer’s research has engendered in me a growing hunger and anticipation for the experiences (and work) that lie ahead.

Interesting is is how I now reflect only upon the preparation of my industry, having little to show, at least in the academic sense, for the past several months of work. But, come to think of it, the personal connections with former and fellow SPANners has been worth it all. The enthusiasm for scholasticism, objective analysis and research, has been an euphoric atmosphere for someone who clings dearly to the same interests. After four years of experience at the University of Minnesota, it causes more than slight chagrin to report on our campus’ rather spotty appreciation for things academic. Most of my conversations with former classmates have focused on skipping lecture or their general anticipation for their college experience to end. I would feel hesitant to judge these people f they themselves did not so eagerly dismiss education and quality for personal improvement so flippantly. Some refuse to see the forest for its trees.

Thankfully, no, refreshingly, I have enjoyed the exact opposite from the SPAN program. What a delight. If I could have spent only five minutes updating my understanding of the contemporary political of social environments in Albania, Turkey or Cyprus, I would have been more than content and, more importantly, informed. On the contrary these conversations have been exhaustive and inspiring. It has been a pleasure surrounding myself with able, intelligent and curious students who have their own expertise and interests. I’ve learned quite a bit from them already, and plan exponential returns as the summer research commences. This experience would have been difficult without SPAN and its wonderful ability to bring ambitious students together.

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