Anna Payne, 2016-17 US Advanced Student at the Centre de Recherche Astrophysique de Lyon
During the five chilly and overcast days of February 7-11, I headed to the Brussels and Luxembourg Fulbright Seminar to get a better understanding of the European Union and NATO. The opportunity was unparalleled because this was an up close and very special opportunity to learn about politics, international relations, and how the EU and NATO operates. I wanted to be an engaged and informed citizen with a wider sense of how the world works. Here was an excellent change to do just that. Our world, without any doubt, is globally invested, and here within the mechanisms of the EU and NATO this comes together both economically and under an umbrella of mutual security for all its members. I understand the workings of my country, now I was coming to understand the workings of Europe and its global interactions.
The first stop was magnificent Luxembourg City where we visited the imposing and impressive US Embassy. The talks there served as an introduction to the EU, and while emphasizing its importance, told of its formation following the end of the Second World War through its evolution to today. By linking the European countries together, massive war is prevented and the world continues to safely hum in its daily life and shuffles onwards. I particularly enjoyed being able to speak one-on-one with Foreign Service Officers during the wonderful reception for us, listening to their perspectives of daily interactions and being privileged and honored to represent the United States in Europe. This first day also was the beginning of somber discussions that were pervasive and seemingly inescapable throughout the seminar: the implications of Brexit, and, more pointedly, the 2016 presidential election with its resulting explosive appointment of the present administration and looming world fallout. There were also quieter moments, though. I got to converse with the other Fulbrighters during the lovely reception afterwards to appreciate the full range and diversity of Fulbright research projects undertaken across numerous countries. Throughout the seminar, I continued to find out more about the other Fulbrighters and discuss our daily lives in Europe. Having the opportunity to compare and contrast our experiences was fun and cathartic while gaining a wider perspective of being an American living in Europe.
The next day, equally chilly and gray, we were off to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), still traveling within Luxembourg City. During the morning, we sat in on a case regarding pricing of music licensing policy. It was intriguing to witness the aspect of language in EU procedure. As Americans, we take for granted English as the singular standard for communication. Here the lawyers in the case spoke their native languages of Latvian and Spanish, and the judges spoke French, or English. We all wore ever-present earpieces to listen to live translations fed to us by translators situated in booths on both sides of the room. Afterwards, we had the privilege to speak with Dr. Koen Lenaerts, ECJ President, and Dr. Paul Nihoul, Judge at the General Court. Both are Fulbright alumni and were very enthusiastic and gracious to speak with us and answer questions. After leaving the ECJ, we traveled to the Bastogne War Museum, a memorial to the infamous Battle of the Bulge. The museum focused on preserving the intimate and raw memories of everyday people who lived through the shattering hell of war. Presented through a meandering, self-paced audio-guided tour were strong narratives of four individuals with poignant remembrances: two soldiers each fighting for their American, or German military; a local Bastogne woman who transported encrypted messages for the Belgian resistance; and a local boy who struggled and survived through the war as a young child. Even more striking for me, my grandfather fought and served as a mechanic for these big tanks in Europe and Africa. I saw a part of his life he did not talk much about now preserved right in front of me to touch and wonder at his courage. He was lucky, he came home. This was family history right in front of me.
The remaining two days were spent in Belgium. The first day was in Brussels, visiting the European Commission and the US Mission to the EU. The talks at the European Commission focused on the inner-workings of managing this massive and complicated political body, while the officers at the US Mission to the EU discussed the intricacies of US-EU relations. Once again, like at the US Embassy previously visited, the discussion was dominated by the results of the presidential election. The air of unease and agitation was difficult to ignore.
The last day of the seminar was my favorite. In one marvelously busy day, we visited NATO Headquarters, then to Bruges to visit the College of Europe. After previously reading and learning about the importance of NATO on the international stage, it was remarkable to visit the commanding presence and imposing headquarters in person. The intricacies of both small-scale and large-scale goals of yet another of these massive international organizations clicked into place for me after listening to the speakers from NATO and the U.S. Mission to NATO. At the College of Europe, we heard talks by the Fulbright-Schuman grantees, whose research focuses on EU policy, EU institutions, or EU-US relations. Although the grants all focus on EU related research, there was a great diversity to the projects. Before concluding the seminar, we had the honor and absolute pleasure to speak with (now former) US Ambassador to the European Union, Anthony Gardner. Hearing his personal reflections, outlooks, and viewpoints were striking. I left the seminar energized with a new perspective of not only just being an American citizen living in Europe, but how large- and small-scale interactions, like Fulbright, shape how we collaborate within the context of our world.
Throughout this Fulbright year, I have looked for connections between all aspects of life — history, culture, politics, economics, science, mathematics. The more we find these connections with others, the richer our lives become, and the better equipped we become to enrich and engage in a global world. Through being part of the EU Seminar, I understand these connections more completely.