Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Journey's End...

It is simple not possible that three months have come and gone so quickly.  It feels like just last week Natalie, our awesome coordinator, was picking us up from the airport in Frankfurt.  I have experienced so much in my time in Europe - how do I sum it all up in mere words?  I have met so many people from all walks of life either in the program, at the university, or from my travels.  I have learned a great deal about the history, politics, and culture of France, Germany and many other parts of Europe.  From eating amazing food in Greece to fearing for my life in a crazy car-ride through the Lithuanian countryside I have enjoyed every minute of it!

I have learned more than I thought was possible about European Politics - who knew there were so many institutions...  While it can be confusing at times, read Europe in 12 Lessons by Pascal Fontaine (it's a life saver), they have done a pretty amazing thing here.  In an area that has been plagued with countless wars the forefathers of the European Union decided that enough was enough.  They devised a system that has led to lasting peace since World War II.  While the EU faces some hefty challenges in the wake of the sovereign debt crisis the mere fact that France and Germany have been at peace for over sixty years is accomplishment enough to call this grand experiment a success and so the dream lives on.    

Before this program, I was lucky enough to have already led a pretty interesting life.  From my time in the military to traveling the globe I have done and seen some amazing things, but I can honestly say that this has been one of the best experiences of my life so far.  I for one am walking away a richer, fuller person and I am so grateful I was able to take part in this program.

Goodbye for now France, and merci beaucoup for an amazing journey!

Nick Gwinn     

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Our latest visit was to Heidelberg, Germany: A picturesque town with a castle overlooking its cobble stone streets and the large river Neckar flowing through the middle. Heidelberg is rich in history as it was the seat for the Prince-Elector and its castle was overrun and destroyed during the war of succession. There are also old Roman ruins and celtic ruins dotting the landscape. Heidelberg University played a leading part in the era of humanism and reformation and the conflict between Lutheranism and Calvinism in the 15th and 16th centuries, and its library, founded in 1421, is the oldest public library in Germany still intact. Not to mention Germany’s first elected president after the Third Reich was from Heidelberg. This town is one of the millions in Europe filled with complex and long history, diverse and old culture, and varied democratic institutions. Each state and each region has had thousands of years of history to shape its distinct characteristics. Unlike the US which has had a short yet tumultuous history. I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting all these towns throughout Europe as each had its own charm and history... and I feel I have learned so much about the complexities of the European Identity and integration.

 Going back home will be bitter sweet. Time passes quickly when you are enjoying yourself, and it feels like I just arrived after 3 and a half months. But I know I will return soon, and next time it will feel like I'm coming home.

Sarah Casiano 

EU Studies in Strasbourg

Even though I have only been in Strasbourg for such a short period, I have noticed many things that were not obvious to be me before.  One of the main things is the easy transit between countries.  For instance, grocery shopping in Kehl, Germany was one of the greatest lessons here.  Food is way cheaper there and all I have to do is get on a bus in Strasbourg and it transports me across the Rhine river to Germany, without any issues.  I did not have to have my passport stamped or anything.  Most of the borders here are relaxed and you can get through without any issues.  It is not that easy back home.  It definitely encourages travel.  While living here for a few months, I have done my fair share of traveling.  Another thing that found interesting was that when I traveled to Barcelona, many people there do not consider Barcelona a city in Spain, but recognize themselves by the region of Catalonia.  It is as if people associate themselves more regionally than nationally.  Before coming to Europe, I did not recognize this.  Being here for this amount of time has definitely opened my eyes up many new cultures and beliefs that are different for each country and/or region in Europe.  Reading about this in a textbook is one thing, but actually experiencing this is another.
-Courtney Moore

Observations of European Countries

By Jessica Puckett

Although European integration has been increasingly deepened, there are obvious differences between the cultures and identities of people from different European nations. Through my class lectures and what I have observed with my own eyes, I have learned that many Europeans do not initially identify themselves as 'European'. It seems to me that many people have deeper connections with their country of origin, or even region of origin, than they have with the overarching European identity.

While observing the local people throughout my travels in Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy,   I have seen the various social and cultural attitudes characteristic of each specific nation's people by witnessing and experiencing (trying to!) their everyday lives. For example, I have noticed that many German people are very particular about following rules, such as cross walks, time schedules, and single-file lines, whereas the French have a quite different approach.

European integration has widely taken place in the economic and political spheres, but seems to be lagging behind in the cultural sphere. Despite the fact that I think that each nation's culture should be conserved to as much as possible, I see that further cooperation and compromises are necessary between each nation in order for the EU structure to endure. This may mean that some country specific attitudes and beliefs should be altered or discarded in favor of more collaborative ideals.