Brussels and Perspective on the European Union

International Affairs 2221 takes learning about the European Union from the textbooks to the streets of Brussels.

Posted by Julie

I would consider myself a travel buff. Weekend mornings, my parents watched travel shows while sipping teas, and I actually have some of those DVD’s with me. The main use for my Pinterest? Travel planning. (And cool free font-searching!) If I’m on Buzzfeed, it’s a travel destination list (the last one I looked at was the most beautiful libraries around the world).

Travel is this grand adventure, but it requires some thought and planning before takeoff. Everyone has that list of dream destinations and a repertoire of details and facts about places they have been or will go, right? Well, I do, too.

And to be honest? Before this weekend all I knew about Belgium was chocolate, waffles, the Atomium, and Stromae. (Embarrassing, I know. Not Stromae, – he’s the – but my limited perspective.)

The International Affairs 2221 class headed by the renowned Mme. Serafin and Dr. Birchfield ventured across the French-Belgian border to experience Brussels, the capital of Belgium. The class, which studies the politics of the European Union, toured the Parlamentarium, which is the hub of the European Parliament. Sure, they have their monthly meetings in Strasbourg, but most of the work and committee meetings happen here.

The giant museum situated in part of the complex housed so much history, I couldn’t get past the second floor before we had to go! (And there are three. I didn’t get to sit in the comfortable armchairs and watch videos, either.) Needless to say, I know quite a bit more about the European Union – its three main facets (the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Council), how these facets interact and cooperate (or not sometimes), and the struggles faced by and currently facing the European Union.

Afterwards, though, we had a tour from a Brussels businessman and guide. The guided tour by a native was a fantastic opportunity to discuss his thoughts on his city – past and present – as well as get a first-person perspective on current events surrounding Brussels as well as the significant sights and opportunities.

We stopped by the Atomium – which I seriously considered to be the symbol of Brussels. Don’t be fooled, though; you can’t stop to see that one structure and have seen all of the city. We walked from downtown to uptown, passing through Le Sablon – where all of the prestigious chocolatiers reside – and past the Royal Palace; many of the national embassies to both Belgium and the European Union were in close proximity to the work palace of the King and all of the ministers of Belgium.

Just walking around made me happy – solely because of the architecture and art. I was practically drooling from the moment our bus was driving up toward the Parlamentarium, when I saw what remains my favorite building I saw in Brussels, even after walking through the city for several hours. I don’t even know what it is – but someone thank the architect for me. The city itself was apparently leveled by the French in 1695 during the Bombardment of Brussels, making way for a wide mix of architectural styles.

Brussels was an unexpected pleasure – one previously not on my list, but now I want to go back!