In February two our American Fulbright grantees, Samuel Hasty and Alex Kearney, participated in EU-NATO Seminar, organized by the Fulbright Commission in Brussels. Over the course of four days, seminar participants explore the structure and function of European Union and NATO and learn how these institutions affect their academic, professional, and personal lives. Highlights of the annual seminar include visits to the European Court of Justice, the European Commission, the U.S. Mission to the EU, and NATO Headquarters. We’d like to express thanks to Sam and Alex for preparing summary of the event presented below.
On February 20, 2018 Alex Kearney and I embarked from the Brussels Central train station on a bus to Luxembourg with a group of 42 strangers. I admit, I was incredibly curious to see what types of fellow participants would be in attendance, what to expect from speakers, and what I would learn from the process. Surprisingly, the seminar surpassed all of my expectations.
On the initial bus ride, I was lucky enough to sit across from a Fulbrighter in Italy, Amanda Hilton, who was conducting research for her Ph.D. thesis on olive oil production and agricultural micro-economies in southern Italy. As we dove deeper into the research she was conducting I found her passion for her project contagious, and I became increasingly interested in her work. I quickly learned Amanda was not unique for our group of seminar participants. Practically every Fulbright grant recipient I talked with, whether they were studying refugee integration in Greece, antibiotic resistance in Belgium, or the impact of austerity measures on the growth of the Irish economy, described their projects with precision and passion. Moreover, they shared a genuine interest in learning about the projects of others throughout the seminar.
Our first day in Luxembourg started with a brief tour of the city, giving us a chance to speak informally with fellow participants about each other’s projects, passions and what would come once Fulbright ended. We went on to the ambassador’s residence, where Dr. Jerry Sheridan, a professor at American University in Brussels, described the mechanics of the institutions of the European Union so we would be better prepared to engage in the various activities of the week. Finally, the Chargé d’Affaires, Kerri Hannan, welcomed us for a cocktail party where we got to speak in more depth with fellow Seminar participants and rub elbows with prestigious Fulbright alums.
On day two, we went to the European Court of Justice, where we got to witness a court case – conducted in Dutch but translated into 7 different languages – about the rights of the Belgian government to limit the size of fireworks and other pyrotechnic materials for sale within Belgium. Following the court case, we heard from Fulbright alumnus and President of the European Court of Justice Dr. Koen Lenaerts. He is the EU equivalent of Chief Justice Johns Roberts in our Supreme Court. He was remarkably engaging, probing us with deep and challenging questions that the highest court in Europe is struggling with today. We also heard from Fulbright alumnus and EU general court judge Dr. Paul Nihoul. While I had trouble with the intricacies of the case initially, these legal titans joined us for lunch to explain the case in more depth. I was lucky enough to call on a fellow seminar participant at lunch, University of Colorado Law Professor Margot Kaminski, to describe the intricacies of the case for me. She excitedly talked through the ins and outs of the court proceedings, as this particular case was related to her research regarding new EU legislation on data privacy and collection. This interaction was a great example of what makes this seminar so valuable. There is such a breadth of deep knowledge, from neuroscience to anthropology, that finding an expert on any given topic happens practically by accident. We concluded day two at the Bastogne War Museum, the site of the Battle of the Bulge, which proved to be relaxing and informative before we traveled back to Brussels in the evening. In Brussels we were met with a surprise from the Executive Director of Fulbright Belgium & Luxembourg—an authentic Belgian Waffle truck waiting for us to provide a delicious snack.
Day three brought about a very interesting and informative trip to the European Commission, where we dove deeply into the financial impact of EU funding on various countries. We also learned more about various funds available to us through Erasmus to help us fund further study in Europe beyond our Fulbright experience. We finished our trip to the E.C. with a discussion with Ricardo Borges de Castro, one of the leaders of the commission foreign affairs team, who described to us the many challenges facing the EU in the next decade, as well as the great opportunities that could be taken advantage of, should certain policies be agreed to and adopted by member states. After a lovely lunch at the European Commission cafeteria, we went on to visit the U.S. mission to the European Union, where we got to discuss a variety of US foreign policy strategies in response to various happenings in the EU. It was a unique experience to be able to interact with key players in foreign policy so closely, and hear their candid views on the effectiveness of certain policies, potential areas of concern moving forward, and what the US was doing to curtail foreseeable issues within the European Union. At the U.S. mission to the European Union, we also held a discussion with a number of seminar participants who had leveraged their work in academia to create meaningful policy change in the US. Our panelists helped younger Fulbrighters like us understand the path to policy impact, and how research could be best marketed to maximize impact on policy. This experience was a remarkable opportunity, given the desire for impact so many Fulbrighters in the room shared. After a cocktail party at the U.S. Mission to the EU hosted by the Minister Counselor for Public Affairs, Christina Tomlinson, we turned in for the evening in preparation for our final day of the Seminar at NATO.
Our final day at the seminar led us to NATO, where we were lucky enough to hear about NATO’s current priorities from Justin Suni, U.S. Mission to NATO Engagements Section. We then heard from Cristophe Cornu, NATO Political Affairs and Security Policy Division, who discussed the various collaborative efforts between NATO and the EU. Finally, we heard from Matthew Lehrfeld, U.S. Mission to NATO Political Section, who described his experience in the Foreign Service, and the work being done by the U.S. to help support a strong relationship with NATO member countries. We completed our trip with a lovely lunch, where each table had a Foreign Service officer who fielded questions about their job, and actively engaged with participants about current challenges facing NATO. This type of unprecedented access helped solidify the seminar as a once in a lifetime experience.
In the afternoon, we went to the Royal Library of Belgium, where we got to hear research presentations from Fulbright Schuman Grantees (these are grantees whose projects span more than one EU country, and often conduct research in more than two countries within the EU). As expected, these presentations were clear, concise, thoughtful and entertaining. It was empowering to see fellow Fulbrighters conducting impactful research across the EU, and inspired me to consider a Fulbright-Schuman application in the future. After the presentations, Alex and I represented Fulbright Poland at an impromptu yoga session led by one of the grantees to Germany before joining the rest of the seminar participants at a delicious final dinner. These moments of levity and friendship with our fellow Fulbrighters gave us the energy we needed to engage critically with the complex material presented during our seminar sessions and formed lasting bonds between us.
This experience was valuable for me in so many different ways. The remarkable people I engaged with, the breadth of brilliance in the room at any given time, the palpable thirst for knowledge that fellow participants held, all made for a truly unforgettable experience that will serve as one of the highlights of my Fulbright experience.