Today I arrived in Pula, Croatia. This past week was spent in Brussels, where I was on the EU Centers of Excellence study abroad program.
The program was great. It was organized by the EU Centers at several universities (Pitt, UW, Berkeley, UNC), so there were a few students from each of those schools. The EU Centers also invited high school teachers from their local area who teach European history. It was a really good crowd and a lot of fun to hang out with the peoples. They put us up all in the same hotel, which further facilitated our having fun.
Last Monday started off with a trip to the European Commission Headquarters, where we sat through a couple hours of briefings on what the EU is, etc. It wasn’t super super exciting. Just a lot of EU stuff. lunch was at this way fancy restaurant (paid for by the Centers, thankfully). After several courses of appetizers, we all thought the meal was finished. Then the waiters brought out huge shanks of lamb. So good. After lunch we hit up the American Mission to the EU (it’s an embassy mission, but to the EU as opposed to a single country). There we received a shockingly dull briefing by a shockingly pompous low ranking staffer.
Tuesday was a visit to the Council of the European Union, where we learned that every single piece of legislation or decree or official anything-that-affects-member-states produced by the EU must be translated into each official language of the EU. There are 23 official languages of the EU. There is a body of about 190,000 legal documents. Every document must be translated into the language of a country and implemented in that country as part of the accession process. So, yeah, the EU has a lot of legal translators. After that stopped by the official propaganda office of the EU. And by that I mean the official information office, where you can get any EU book or map or poster or DVD for free, in any language, and in any quantity. So if you ever need 100 EU coloring books, just stop by there. Then was a trip to the EU External Action Service, which is a new organization that interfaces with the world about important things. Seeing as they’re new and nobody really knows what they do, I feel content to leave the description brief.
On Wednesday we visited the European Parliament. It was cool. And huge. Then Taylor and I met up with Pavel, a friend of her family’s, for lunch in Parliament. He works at the EU Parliament. Seeing as he speaks 13 languages, you think he’d be a translator, and you’d be close. He used to be a translator. Now he does public relations/tours stuff. Cool guy. We told him about our upcoming research project in Bosnia and he said he knew some people he could put us in touch with that work on EU-Bosnia policy. Sweet. Then we visited the EU Parliament’s visitors center. Pretty high tech and cool exhibits, but you definitely get a lot of Orwellian feelings at that place.
Thursday was the last official day of the program. We visited NATO headquarters in the morning, which was really cool. The NATO place. The two people who gave us briefings were American. And they both speak Russian. Also, one of the teachers on our program worked at the Moscow embassy for five years and also speaks Russian. And one of the administrators of our program is Russian. Lots of Russian speakers. Taylor and I then skipped the afternoon part of the program–a visit to the think tank Breugel–because we had an interview set up with a guy from Parliament’s delegation to the Balkans. Pavel came through! So we met with the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen (yeah, actually, he really was. Ask Taylor, even.), Sascha from Serbia, and talked Bosnia in the EU coffee shop. It was a good time. After that, we hit the town with our friends. Really, a great group of kids from all over the country. We found the most incredible local Belgian food place that served what I consider one of the absolutely most delicious meals I have ever had in my life.
That’s kind of how the program was — do EU meetings all day, then hit the town with the other kids (well, I mean, we’re not actually kids, but whatever). Super fun. However dry the speakers were and however hard it was to stay focused during briefings all day was more than made up for by the time spent with the others exploring Brussels in the evenings.
But Brussels itself is not my favorite place. It’s actually quite low on the list. Maybe even in my top 10 least favorite cities on earth. Only slightly better than NYC (worst city on earth?). Dirty. Horrible urban planning, which is the result of the EU purchasing property through land speculation. Litter everywhere. Construction everywhere else. Expensive. Boring. Snobby (how do you get off being snobby when your city is a dump? Mystery.). Maybe I just need to give the city more than one week. But still… I dunno.
So Taylor and I left Brussels. Now we’re at a hostel in Pula. As it turns out, Croatia is the coolest place on earth. And the hottest, because it was 33 celcius (over 91 farenheit) today. But so so so beautiful. Photos and more to come shortly.
Now I gotta end this post, as it is way too long.