Final Thoughts III

Casey Blackburn, Strategic Communications, 2011

I learned…

-The importance of always keeping my eyes and ears open

-There is a huge gap in my high school education

-Going outside of my comfort zone can be very rewarding

-I have more career options than I thought

-I hate mussels

I wished I knew…

-To bring Febreze

-To bring a few more casual pieces

-The good restaurants in the cities visited

-That everyone would be able to tell I was American without ever opening my mouth

-To bring a really warm coat with a hood so that I wouldn’t of had to buy one

Parent’s Input…

I think this study abroad has matured Casey one more step in her life. I know she appreciated the organization and the planning that was done for this trip.
This was a perfect way for her to travel out of the country for the first time.
Good job Professors!
Thank You,
Nanete Blackburn, mother of Casey Blackburn

Stephanie Robinson, Psychology/Pre-Med, 2011

1)a. First of all, I learned about the European Union. Being a psychology major on the pre-med route, the majority of my classes are science or theoretical classes so this political science course was completely out of my element. I learned about the commission, the council, and the parliament. I learned that all of these institutions’ main purpose is to promote peace between member states through a common economic market.

b. I also learned about what my generation has on their hands in the near future. After seeing the Peace Palace and all of the other institutions devoted to this idea of world peace I returned to the train with a glimmer of hope in my eyes. Only to go back to the hotel and turn on the news and see another bombing in the Gaza strip. There have already been so many strides to this clichéd idea of world peace, I can’t think of what else could be done. However, I know that steps must be taken and my generation is next in line.

c. I also gained a completely different perspective on the world. While in the Elon bubble the only problems that are heard of are roommate drama and boy problems. After going to the orphanage I realized exactly how grateful I need to be for everything that I have.

2)a. I wish that I paid closer attention to the news at home. We were assigned to pay close attention to the news in the EU, and with this I completely disregarded anything concerning the US news. When I came home to the US I was completely out of the loop and didn’t even know that a shooting had happened in a school where half of my friends go.

b. I also wish that I had paid closer attention to the Hungarian and Lithuanian phrases that Dr. Morgan had given us. I felt completely ignorant not even being able to greet someone in their own language.

c. Lastly, there are so many beautiful buildings with such interesting histories everywhere we went so my camera has hundreds of pictures. However, I have no idea what they are of. Make sure you pay attention to every detail the tour guides give you because all of it is incredibly interesting. The class is not only about the political science of the EU, but about gaining a new perspective on the world. To do this it is vital that you absorb everything given to you because in the end it will all shape you into a better, more well-rounded individual.

Alex Litoff, Corporate Communications, 2010

Things I learned

— The Soviet Union’s presence is still very real in parts of Europe (especially countries in the east). Just because the Iron Curtain fell in 1990 does not mean everything changed. The effects of their time in Europe can still be seen not only in the landscape and architecture, but in the actions and beliefs of the people.

–All states in the union are not created equal. While many EU states do very well, others struggle. The differences are obvious. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but in many cases it is absolutely not a good thing.

–Small propeller powered planes in Europe are not for the faint of heart or the weak stomach.

Things I wish I knew

–Cold is cold. Get used to it and get over it. The sooner you do the sooner you can have fun.

–Lithuania and Hungry are nothing like you can ever imagine without being there. Throw out your preconceived notions and get excited to experience those places.

–While ATM fees are annoying, the sooner you accept they will happen and try to have fun, the more fun you will have.

Scott MacDougall

1. One of the most important things I learned while studying on the EU: State of Europe winter term trip was the difference between Western Europe and Eastern Europe. The question that we answered detailing the difference between Brussels and the small town in Lithuania was very important to the overall experience of the trip. In the United States we have a very one-sided history of Europe that is mostly focused on Western European facts. Experiencing both sides of the region was an imperative part of re-writing the pre-made biases of U.S history books.

2. Additionally, I found it interesting the difference between the United States and European bars. When we travel to bars in the United States it is strictly for group purposes with little new interactions. In Europe when the locals went to the bar it was a social experience, which was focused on discussions and meeting new people.

3. Travel specific; I learned that I am not a person who could study abroad for an entire semester. I really enjoyed the trip, but it also taught me the importance of the people at home. The lack of communication possibilities while abroad made it difficult to keep up with news back in the states. While travel is a great and important experience; it is also better in moderation. However, the lessons learned of how important the people at home are is an added bonus to all of the other lessons found in Europe.

1. The first lesson that I wish I knew prior to leaving for Europe was the amount of clothing that I would actually need for three weeks in Europe. As cliché as this statement is it was very true. I packed far too many items for this period of time due to the reason I had only traveled for a max of a week before. Traveling also builds the opportunity for creativity with clothing and this should be exploited to the fullest.

2. Pictures were also another regret I carried after leaving Europe. My camera was rather bulky so I only carried it on a handful of occasions. Even though I took over 500 pictures I still wish I could have taken more photos and in a greater variety of locations.

3. As for advice towards the future 2010 group I would say experiencing Europe happens during the day and at night. While the tours during the day are fantastic and educational, the nightlife provides almost as much insight into the current state of Europe. “Get out,” enjoy the variety of locations that each city offers and the people you can meet. Most of the great stories you will share with friends upon arrival home will come from nights out with new friends and meeting locals.

Abby Broughton, French and International Relations, 2011

1) I learned most about how Europeans perceive Americans. Though I had been to Europe before, I had never mingled with the locals as much as we did in January. From discussions in class to friends’ experiences, I was half-expecting to be frowned upon or treated rudely. I was happily surprised to find that we were warmly welcomed and treated with so much kindness. I loved arguing politics and who was the best pop singer and never felt threatened or thought poorly of (except when the jeans salesman told me there was no such thing as International Relations as a major, only Americans wanting to take over the world).

What shocked me most was learning about the KGB victims, especially after touring the KGB museum in Vilnius. I was troubled to find that I had heard little to nothing about the thousands of people that were affected in Lithuania and other countries that fell under Soviet influence. The former headquarters deeply disturbed and affected me and I will never forget the cold, damp holding rooms or outdoor exercise cells.

Having never been anywhere in the United Kingdom, I loved meeting a group of Englishmen in Budapest and comparing stereotypes about American and English accents. Apparently, when Americans attempt to sound British, the result is always similar to Hugh Grant, which I was told to be the snooty accent and far from what anyone in England actually sounds like (and I believe them because it took me forever to decipher what they were saying!). To make matters worse, their best American accents were full of the word ‘like’ and upward intonations, thanks to reality TV.

2) I wish I had learned more about Uzupio and their role in Lithuania. I know of a similar district in Copenhagen (though I haven’t yet been there) and was thinking about whether they were similar or not. I would love to know where the locks are kept after they are cleared from the bridge and how the tradition started. I thought the community was wonderful and wish I had spent more time there. Note to students next year: we ate delicious pizza in the all glass pizza restaurant near the central square with the angel.

I wish I had taken the time to visit the tunnels below the Budapest castle. One of the men working at the Hungarian Foreign Ministry said that labyrinth was definitely a highlight that we would love. I looked at a few pictures but never took the initiative to actually go, especially since that would have meant taking public transportation to Buda. If the students next year have the time, I would encourage making a short visit and a day out of residential Buda.

I would be interested in learning more about the similarities and differences between Lithuanian and American orphanages. Our few hours with the kids was without a doubt the best experience of the trip and I was so thrilled about how happy the children were to see us. I wish we could be more involved with them, as well as help others get involved with orphanages here in the United States. Hopefully the students next year will be able to have an equally rewarding experience.

The main advice I would like to give the group next year: be 5 minutes early for everything. I was almost left once for coming down the stairs at 9:32am when we were scheduled to leave at 9:30. Dr. Morgan waits for no one and I would hate for anyone to miss out. In saying that, I am so glad we kept to our schedule. I feel that I learned so much about myself and my time management skills that I can bring back to Elon.


Final Thoughts II

Cameron Miller
Elon ’09
Corporate Communications major

What I learned on this trip:

1) I learned about the mass executions, deportations and imprisonment of Lithuanians under Soviet occupation that lasted until 1990.

2) I learned about the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe) – the world’s largest security orginization with 56 member states, including the US. I had never even heard of this before the trip.

3) I learned that the original purpose of the EU was to prevent war in Europe.

4) I learned that issues over international law disputed by state governments are settled at the International Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

5) I learned that Luxembourg is the richest country in Europe.

Things I wish I knew or paid closer attention to before I left/ Things I would like to tell next year’s group:

1) I wish I had a good understanding of the history of Lithuania before I left.

2) I should have memorized the “Basic Lithuanian/Hungarian/etc. Phrases” document on Blackboard before I left. I felt rude approaching people in English and expecting them to understand me.

3) I wish I had brought my computer! It would have been very helpful to have it with me so I could type the papers we were assigned instead of hand writing them.

4) I wish I had packed lighter – we had to drag around our luggage more than I expected!

Colin O’Neil
History, 2010

1) I learned quite a few things, the least of which is that the European Union system seems to be much better than the American system.  I learned the inner workings of the Council, Commission, and International Criminal Court of Justice and finally I learned that European beer is much better than American.  The European way of life is also much more relaxed and slow which I loved.

2) I wish I had payed more attention to the people outside of our group because we had conversations with a few of the locals but I felt like I didnt reach out enough.  I also wish I had done more sightseeing on the days off because I loved the architecture of all the cities.  Finally, for next year I would recommend that there should be more time between most of the meetings because there were a few occasions that we didnt have time to eat lunch between them.  Thanks for a fun three weeks

Caleb Jones, International Business & French, 2011
Things I learned on this trip:

1.)     I learned the positive effects the European Union has had on newly accepted countries, i.e. Lithuania. That is, while beforehand I had an idea of the changes that have taken place in countries similar to Lithuania, I never really understood those changes, but now I do because of my first-hand experiences there.

2.)     I learned the value of conversation, especially when sitting and relaxing over a warm meal or a cup of coffee. What better way exists for learning about a foreign culture than talking with the locals? However, the key to conversation is not only talking, but listening.

3.)     I learned, or at least experienced a little of what a life that is not completely dependent on personal automobiles is like.

4.)     I learned how much better life would be if it really were “like a box of [Belgian] chocolates.”

Things I would like to tell the following group:

1.)     I really recommend doing the reading…it helps, I promise.

2.)     I recommend writing questions out before going to briefings, that way you have some ideas
of what to ask when put on the spot.

3.)     I recommend learning simple math. You’d be surprised how tricky it can be…

4.)     I recommend learning and understanding basic rules of respect and courtesy, especially where sacred places are concerned.

Ashley Weidner, Public Administration, 2009

I learned a lot on this trip.  I thought I understood the European Union fairly well…I didn’t.  I learned that in many ways it is a system similar to the government in the United States but it is also very different as well.  I learned that traveling involves being resourceful in every way you can imagine and that you can’t be afraid to ask.  I also learned that it’s a good idea to be familiar with the place that you are going so that you know what not to miss: the waffles in Belgium, the museums in Lithuania, the market in Hungary, and the list continues.

I wish I had packed a little better.  I would have brought one fleece jacket along with my heavy coat.  I also would have brought one more pair of pants or skirt and probably two pairs of jeans instead of just one.  Packing is definitely an art.  I bought too much shampoo but not enough toothpaste, etc.  I wish I had done more exploring of each city we stayed in.  We did get the opportunity to see a lot of the famous things and monuments in each city on our tours but sometimes those tours were by bus and we didn’t get an opportunity to actually walk around.  For example, I wish I had gone to see the shoes along the river in Budapest in person, not just from the bus.  I also wish I had brought a little more money, or at least managed it differently.  I think if it could be possible to get all of the money you want to spend for the trip in cash together somehow from the beginning, it would be easier to manage.  However, I still haven’t figured out a good solution for doing this as it is dangerous to carry around so much cash.

Nina Ruth Dagbjartsson
International Business
Class of 2011

– I learned about how big the European Union actually is. It has 27 member states all ranging from old western countries to brand new countries such as Bulgaria.

-I learned how the Hungarian revolution happened in 1954 and how it was started by the students and how hard they fought for their independence

-I learned about how to navigate around a foreign city. I loved learning about new subway systems and how to completely depend on a map and instinct.

-I wish I had known about the hot water spas in Budapest beforehand so I could have done more research on them and brought a bathing suit

-I wish I  had known more about activities in the cities. That was my fault for not doing more research ahead of time though.

-I wish I had done more research about the EU so I would have been more prepared for our first days in Brussels learning about the EU

-I wish I had paid closer attention when we were driving around cities at the beginning of each of the weeks so I would have remembered where we were

-I wish I had been more courageous to talk to locals, not only for directions and such, but so I could have had more exposure to their culture

Final Thoughts

I  have been writing this blog for one month.  Now it is time to hear from the students.  They have been asked to write about a few things they learned and a few things they wished they’d known or paid more attention to before leaving.  I will post them as I get them.  Here is the excellent start:

Mike Moore

Things I’ve Learned on this Trip…

(1) I’ve learned to have faith in mankind. These are troubling times we live in, and if the vast majority of Europe can band together for a common good and overcome the multitude of language barriers that would hinder anyone else, I think that mankind has a lot more potential than I’ve previously given them credit for.

(2) I learned – somewhat – how to live within other cultures. I’ve never been outside of the United States before except for the Caribbean (but according to Dr. Landesberg that doesn’t count*), and I was put inside six different European countries (eight if you want to get technical) and forced to immerse myself in their culture, and while I stuck out like a sore, American thumb, I learned a great deal about the various cultural similarities and differences, and how I react to them.

(3) I learned that there is a little EU in all of us. There were twenty students on this trip, many of whom collectively did not know each other very well. But by the time the three weeks was over, everyone knew everybody else very well, having bonded with them. The countries of Europe are bound together within a single continent just as the twenty of us were bound together in this class. And the countries of the EU overcame whatever differences existed within them to come together and make a real difference in the world.

(*Dr. L here: A number of students talked about cruises or visits to the islands.  I argue that if you are sitting in the sun, in a very American atmosphere, sipping drinks with umbrellas (not that there is anything wrong with that–and I would sure like to be doing that now) you may be a tourist but you really aren’t traveling)

Things I Wish I’d Known…

(1) I wish I’d known how pricey the Euro was. I’d heard nothing but great things about it in the months/weeks preceding the trip and was totally blindsided when we got to Brussels when I saw how expensive things were.

(2) I wish I was a little more self-reliant when it comes to traveling, especially abroad. This has a little to do with the fact that my mom packed me with more things than I actually needed, but I did not feel that I was as “on the ball” in terms of traveling as I felt some of the others were.

(3) I wish I knew how to speak the languages of the countries I visited. It was cool that so many of them knew English, but that made me feel even more out of place for not reciprocating and knowing their languages.

(4) I wish I knew more about the cultural differences I was bound to face. Granted the things I wish I’d known were only things one could learn from interacting with those of the opposite culture, but it still would have been nice to have a cultural “leg up” so to speak.

Caitlin McGuire, International Business & Marketing, 2010

Lessons Learned:

-TRY EVERYTHING. It may be the most disgusting thing you’ve ever seen, especially if you’re a picky eater, but it’s worth the experience and you may even find a new favorite. Anyways, how can you find the best chocolate shop in Europe if you don’t try a piece from each?

-I learned that history doesn’t stop with what you can learn from a text book, especially one that stops at World War One. There are several countries that have such an interesting history that we as American students have never once heard about. What has shocked me the most is that Lithuania was still struggling for independence at the beginning of our lifetime. History isn’t just ancient. It’s continuous and present day and I have never viewed it as such until this course.

-I now understand how a building still crumbling from the Soviet Union and the Nazis can stand next to a brand new, entirely modern, all glass facility. About how the European Union has provided these developmental funds and how new accession states are racing to catch up with the rest of the world, possibly even going overboard with modern designs used on everyday buildings (like our hotel).

-I learned about the complete oppression of a people and their brave stand against continuous waves of invasion and control when all hope seemed to be lost. I am still trying to wrap my head around how this was allowed to happen and how others (and other countries) didn’t make a stronger stand earlier. I learned that we need to scrutinize our own government when it acts against our interests. The lack of pressure on ethics and checks and balances allowed this to happen and we need to hold our government accountable for its actions.

Pre-Trip Hindsight:

-I wish I would have learned to walk and to look around at the same time. It may sound simple… but that’s right up until you’re free falling onto an ice patch.

-It would be more helpful if the group could have bonded BEFORE the trip started. We had a meet and greet session but not until the last orientation class. I wish we would have done that earlier so we could have enjoyed each others company from day one.

Home Again

As all of you must know by now, we are all home.  Our flight even got in one hour early to JFK (the flight attendant next to me said, “remember that the next time your Delta flight is late.”).  All of our treasures also arrived home safely.  We are starting to work our way through all the chocolate from seven different countries.  And trying to work my way through jet lag and the backlog of work, too.  One thing that is not yet complete is this blog. Our students will be submitting some thoughts for inclusion over the next few days so I anticipate posting through the middle of next week.  Watch this space…and thanks for following along from home as we learned about the European Union and had a great adventure.

On the Road Again

The day started with a short class followed by a visit to the synagogue…the second biggest in the world and one with a long history including the devastation of World War II. We had an excellent English language guide. With that visit, the class work for this course officially ended. Students had the rest of the afternoon and evening to shop for last minute gifts, pack and say goodbye to our European Union adventure. We will all be out of the hotel by 9:30 local time tomorrow morning for the flight home. By tomorrow night we hope to be reunited with friends and family and sleep in familiar surroundings. I suspect we will dream about the places we’ve been and the wonderful people we’ve met…not to mention the chocolate and pastries we’ve eaten.

While this is the last planned post from Europe we will have some wrap up postings next week.

Mozart, coffee and pastry. There you have it.  Vienna in three nouns. But Vienna is also home to many international organizations including the United Nations.  We had an excellent briefing at The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and a great tour of the UN.

At the OSCE

At the OSCE

Few people know about the OSCE so that was enlightening as well as giving students insight into the possibilities of a Foreign Service career.

"Chairperson" Scott at the OSCE

"Chairperson" Scott at the OSCE

After our tour, most spent about one hour wandering around Vienna but six of the women decided to stay overnight in Vienna with me.

Landesberg's Angels

Landesberg's Angels

We checked into a small, European-style hotel I know that is very close to the center of Old Vienna…just steps from St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  There are only four rooms on each floor in this narrow hotel.  The lift has enough room for four…but only if all hold their breath.

There is no inner-door on the lift.  Pretty typical but different from what most of us usually see.  We spent the early evening wandering the streets of old Vienna and then headed to dinner together.  Dinner was at a typical Viennese restaurant in the old city and we spent a leisurely three hours talking, laughing and lingering over dinner… the way Europeans dine.

We capped the night at a local coffee shop.   The next morning, the ladies rented a horse and buggy for a ride around the old city.  After a chocolate and pastry shop it was time to head back to Budapest and a night at the opera.

The opera was Carmen.  But not the classic Carmen.  This was “Carmen on Central European Time.”   The opera was about half as long as what Bizet originally wrote.  It was staged in contemporary street clothes with no sets.  It was in Hungarian.

Not the original but a fascinating production that seemed to be a bit of post-soviet allegory as well as the opera with familiar music.  The performance was in a beautiful theatre with great acoustics and we were sitting in the eighth row, center.  After that wonderful production it was on to a dinner with everyone had a great local restaurant where students dined on pheasant, duck, chicken and other beautifully prepared dishes.  It was also where we got to celebrate Dr. Morgan’s birthday.  Students bought her flowers and other gifts (I believe there may have been some chocolate involved) and a card in German–we assume it was wishing her well.   It was great to mark the ending of our trip over a two hour meal filled with laughter and celebration.

dinner in Vienna

Helping Dr. Morgan blow out her birthday candle

Helping Dr. Morgan blow out her birthday candle

Later today….it is a visit to the synagouge and pack for the trip home tomorrow.

Today was a day for students to explore on their own.  Many went to the market or other shopping areas, mostly looking for presents for others.  This may be the last “shop-op” for many of us.  Some went to the art museum and others went to the spa (believe it or not that is very much a cultural experience here).  We will be leaving Budapest and our study of the European Union in just a few days.  Before we go we have one more country to visit.  We will be up very early tomorrow morning to catch the first train to Vienna to visit the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations.  Some of us will stay in Vienna overnight.  Others will opt to return to Budapest on Friday.  Saturday we will all see Carmen here in Budapest.