Wabash Blogs Immersion 2009: Politics/Economics of the EU
 

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March 15, 2009

Final Thoughts...

Willie Matis '10 - FRIDAY THE 13TH IN FRANKFURT GERMANY!! Today we went to the German Bundesbank and the Money Museum. The man we listened today had a lot of information on the workings of the European Monetary Union. He had about 60 slides of information to be exact. He kept us thinking when he was talking about targeting the interest rate done by the European Central Bank, and we grilled him pretty hard. One benefit from this trip, I feel, is that many of us learned how to further explain ourselves by clarifying our questions to the speakers who may not understand fully what we are trying to say in our American language. The Money Museum was very interesting and even included a couple games that allowed us to become the European Central Bank. Those people have it hard because I did one thing wrong, increasing the money supply, and the economy crashed. They wrote me a letter and told me to enjoy my retirement. The museum also showed all of the different types of currency around the world and a history video about the hyperinflation in Germany. Did you know that around 1920 it cost 5 BILLION Deutsch Marks for a loaf of bread?? That is crazy! But after the museum a group of us went to the Jewish Memorial wall that contains the 11,000 names of the Jewish citizens of Frankfurt that were killed in the Holocaust. Annaleisa Frank was among those on the wall. That was a very powerful sight. After all of the museum activities, all of us students and Professor Hollander went to a German restaurant where you sit on benches and have little to no personal space. Engrossed in the German experience about half of us, including me, enjoyed the MOST FABULOUS HAM HOCK ON EARTH!! This piece of meat was pig knuckle and just melted in your mouth. It was the most delicious piece of meat I have had EVER. It was even better than the T-Bone Steak that I accidentally paid 45 EURO for earlier in Belgium haha. I am very glad I went on this trip and will not only remember it but also tell many stories about it to my grandchildren, hopefully my great-grandchildren. This was an experience through Wabash that tops Freshman Tutorial, C&T, and I expect it to be better than Comps. I am ready for America and my own bed though!! Thanks to everyone who made this possible, it is GREATLY appreciated.

Matthew Meyer '12 - Sitting 30,000 feet above the United States on the last leg of our journey home, I finally have a chance to reflect on the experiences of the last week I have spent in Europe. First, I would like to thank all of those who made this trip possible. I speak on behalf of the class when I say we are incredibly thankful for this opportunity. Also, airline peanuts are delicious. If we want to be metaphorical, one could say that the trip was kind of like a bag of Delta Airlines Peanuts: it’s awesome, but just enough to give you a taste which leaves you craving for more. The last few days I have tried Ethiopian Cuisine, Ham Hock, Horse Steak (one of the best steaks I have ever had), and genuine Belgian Waffles. We walked cobblestone streets that were constructed hundreds of years ago and were received at the European Commission in the same room the Commission does its business. I absorbed as much information from our meetings with EU representatives as I did from our textbooks during the whole first half of the semester. I’m very glad I got the opportunity to learn so much more about the EU, but I think the most important part of this immersion trip was experiencing the culture. I met a nanny from Sweden working in Brussels, several interesting guys in Frankfurt who loved German rap and shaved heads, and who will forget the Bradford University nursing students? Or the girl working multiple bartender jobs to pay her way through college? I think that it will be the conversations with those people, or with others from Australia, the United Kingdom and Turkey that I will remember even after I forget the meaning of Beta Convergence. I cannot wait for another chance to travel through Europe and once again, thank you to those who made this one possible.

 Victor Meng '10 - Today is the last day that we stay in Europe, and most people woke up at eight in order to get some nice and healthy continental breakfast in the hostel. At the breakfast, we sat in groups and talked about what we did last night: some people went to watch an opera and some people went to a traditional German restaurant to have a taste of Frankfurt’s famous apple wine.

After breakfast, I went to Stadel Museum with Stanley, because we had a free morning. Stadel Museum has a world-class collection of paintings by artists from the Renaissance to the 20th century, including Botticelli, Durer, Van Eyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Cezanne and Renoir; moreover, we were happen to see a special exhibition about Michelangelo’s art works. By spending the entire morning in the museum, I gained extensive arts knowledge, which is the first hand experience additive to Wabash’s liberal arts education.

At noon, I had traditional Frankfurt sausage for lunch, and it tastes much better than American sausage. Afterwards, we went to Deutsche Bundesbank for a lecture and a visit to the “money museum”. In Bundesbank, an insider gave us a general talk about European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), and we had a very interactive discussion with the insider about current financial crisis. In details, the insider told us the advantages and disadvantages of the EMU, such as no exchange rate risk (advantage) and conflict between common monetary policy and national economic policy (disadvantage), and these confirm what we learned from classes.

The last thing of this trip was to visit the “money museum” at Bundesbank. Through seeing real money from all around the world over different periods, we experienced the history and development of modern monetary system. In addition, we had chances to use computers to simulate the decision-making processes of being the president of the EMC, and this game attracted all of us to try and got a deeper understanding of macroeconomics.

For dinner, we, all 18 students, went to a Germany restaurant with Prof. Hollander; we tasted the famous German pork shoulder with pickled cabbage. Then, we came back to the hostel and got packed, and we are waiting for to leave for Crawfordsville tomorrow. All of us think that it is a great trip ever.

Top Right: Willie "Mad Dog" Matis manages the fiscal policy of a nation via a simulation at the Bundesbank Money Museum.

Left: Matt Meyer '12 and Seth Flater '10 play the same simulation as Matis.

Bottom Right: The 2009 EU Group takes a final picture at the Bundesbank Money Museum.

March 13, 2009

Don Giovaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaani

Patrick McAlister ’10 – On this trip, nights are usually free for students to do what they like. Whether it is wander around the city they are in with friends or go to the local bar a native recommends, I always relish this time we are provided. Students find all sorts of places to go and have stories for a lifetime.
 
Last night, a few of us decided to do something unusual for trips like this. Earlier today we visited the European Central Bank (ECB), located in downtown Frankfurt. For those of you who don’t know, Frankfurt is the capital of banking in Germany, and chosen as the site for centrality in international monetary and economic policy. One wouldn’t expect it to be a bastion of culture.
 
Nevertheless, right next to the bank was the Frankfurt Opera House. After our visit, Alex Avtgis ’11 was bent on doing something cultural; the opera house seemed like a perfect fit. We wandered next door and found out this particular opera house was doing Motzart’s famous opera Don Giovanni. While none of us regularly attended the opera (I’d hazard a bet you’d find it difficult finding a Wabash man who did), Alex, Aaron Abell ’09, Trevor Counceller ’12 and I decided to try it….if the price was right.
 
And it totally was – Europeans seem to understand that students have a small budget to work with and their plans usually change at the last minute. The Frankfurt Opera had a program built specifically for students. If there were any seats left available an hour before curtain, they would sell them to students at a drastically discounted price. Thus we showed up (obviously dressed for the occasion), brandished our Wabash student IDs and spent 11 Euros for seats that would normally go for 60 Euros a piece. For those of you who don’t know the conversion, those are roughly $75 seats for $13.     
 
I am a theater minor, and I am ashamed to admit I hadn’t seen an opera until last night. I understood very little (the opera was obviously in Italian and they had German translation running at the top) but between the few Italian cognates I could translate in my head and the way the story was through nonverbal means I was entranced by what I saw on stage.
 
The set design was quite interesting. There was a piece of a road that served as the main acting space, which tilted at an angle toward the audience. I couldn’t believe the actors could balance on that platform. There was a false proscenium with doors and windows that could change color to reflect different moods. Color was an important feature, and the drops they employed at the back were sophisticated and numerous. At the climax of the Opera, when the Commodore comes back and takes the unrepentant Don Giovanni, actual fire lines the angled platform as Giovanni sinks to what we can probably assume is Hell. While in no way a ‘traditional’ rendition of Motzart’s famous opera, the odd styling reminded me that famous canonical works can be re-done in wonderful ways.
 
This was my first experience with theater outside of the United States, and I was on a trip that focused on the study of the politics and economics of Europe. If this isn’t an example of a liberal arts opportunity, I don’t know what is. I am very grateful for the free time we are provided to do interesting things in cities we probably won’t be making too many return trips to in our lifetimes.
 
Tonight the Opera House is doing Caligula; who knows; for 11 Euros, we may make a return trip.   

First Plane Ride and the European Central Bank

Derrick Yoder ’11 – In the midst of a financial crisis, I have found myself lucky enough to experience an overseas adventure that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to finance. Because of this, I decided before the trip that I was going to soak up as much as I could from our trip to Brussels and Frankfurt. Even the plane ride was exciting for me; I had never before experienced the earth from such an elevated perspective. Despite the number of odd looks I got, I took full opportunity of the takeoff by throwing my hands in the air.
 
The first day was a mixture of exhaustion and exhilaration. Since we had the whole day to ourselves, I took the opportunity to meet up with my sister, who lives in France. Though we had no set plan, I was grateful for the opportunity and we enjoyed wandering the city. The day with my sister allowed me to see every corner of Brussels, which I used to my advantage when my classmates were lagging behind in search for our next destination. During the great day I also did things I normally wouldn’t have done had our day not been so impromptu, like visit the Museum of the History of Brussels.
 
Being that the immersion class is mixed between economics and political science majors, the students were bound to have different preferences in regards to their interests in EU institutions. Of our visits thus far, I have enjoyed the trip to the European Central Bank the most. I enjoyed interacting with the ECB press officer, learning about the ECB’s role in the current crisis and how they are interacting with the U.S. during the crisis. Her presence was enjoyable and I look forward to using all my cultural enrichment experiences on the trip to apply to my future endeavors.
 
Top: The group poses in front of European flags at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany.
 
Right: Professor Mikek proudly stands next to the flag of his native country (and a recent European Union member) Slovenia.

European Council...and Count Dracula?

Taylor Larimore ’09 – Wednesday morning was devoted to the European Council. We arrived at the huge Council building around 10 and had plenty of time to admire the artwork adorning the main atrium. A sculptural representation of every individual country kept our group laughing and wondering as to what stereotype or quality was being represented. The Italian boot was full of soccer players and soccer balls; Romania had a castle being watched over by Count Dracula.
 
Visiting the council was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had on this trip. We sat around the council’s boardroom table and everyone ‘represented’ a different EU member state. I choose Sweden and sat next to Aaron Abell who chose the Czech Republic, who currently holds the EU Council presidency. Our speaker at the EU Council talked at length about the intricacies and importance of the EU’s foreign policy. While she noted the serious problems the EU had when it came to foreign policy action (because it is based on the consensus of all the member states), she also highlighted recent successes like the current management of problems in the former Yugoslavia. The experience was really helpful in that it provided me with a different perspective on the relationship between EU institutions.
 
Following the visit to the Council, we had the rest of the day free to explore Brussels. I walked around with some guys while taking pictures and buying gifts for family and friends. A trip to Belgium wouldn’t be complete without a few boxes of chocolates. Before heading back to the hotel I stopped by a small local bar which was stashed away down a hidden alley. The bar was recommended because of its black market supply of WestVletteren Trappist beer, arguably the best beer man has to offer.
           
After a glass, we ran back to the hotel to catch the train to Frankfurt. After one of the best days of the trip for me, I felt ready to move onto a new city. Overall, the trip has been one of my favorite experiences abroad and has given me a good mixture of classroom and experience-based learning. I am thankful for the opportunity.  
 
Top Left: Seth Flater '10 and Taylor Larimore talk with Professor Ethan Hollander about the strange artwork that adorned the EU Council building.
 
Bottom Right: The group guessed this image represented Romania, but we had our doubts...

March 12, 2009

Last Day in Brussels

 
Stanley Xu '10 - The weather of Brussels is like a baby’s emotion – you never know whether it will cry or smile next minute. After enjoying luxurious  sunshine, which is not very common in Brussels, for two days, we finally ran out of luck. We went to visit the European Commission this morning accompanied by dismal sky and cloudbursts. The European Commission is the executive branch of the EU with the legislative power of initiating laws and does not have any counterpart with exactly the same features in the U.S institutions. Our visit was mostly comprised of introductions from people working for the Commission and discussions of EU issues.
 
We started from a short movie briefing facts about the Commission. Some facts about the Commission are as follows. The Commission initiated 641 regulations in 2007, has 1900 offices, sees 1,500 kg of mails distributed every day, and has 529 permanent interpretators translating the Commission meetings into 23 languages. These numbers may give you a feeling of how large the system is and how inefficient it can be (just think about the number of interpretators and languages used). The first speaker created a very interactive environment that allowed us curious students to ask questions associated with the EU ranging from the minutiae of a certain committee to Europeans’ sentiment about an enlarging Europe.
 
The second speakers talked about the economy of new member states of the EU. The data and graphs presented by the speakers have indicated that the new member states, with relatively weak economies, have benefited more from the EU than the bigger countries, such as Germany and France, do. We were very excited about the opportunity to hear opinions and insights from Commission staffs. After visiting the Commission, we had a free afternoon.
 
Besides wandering around the Grand Place (the central plaza of Brussels), I also visited a supermarket, hoping to have a rough sense about the price level in Europe. I did not observe much obvious difference between prices in the US and those in Brussels for most goods. However, vegetables and meat in Europe are much more expensive than those in the States (the EU does not have genetically modified food on markets). In the late afternoon, we visited a company named EurActiv that focuses on transparently and efficiently covering EU policies.
 
After this brief trip, we have known more about the companies whose work is totally revolved around the EU and that are behind the political fronts of the EU. The trip was a great implementation to our knowledge of the EU. Our day was concluded by a delicious dinner at a Slovenian house where I first found chicken and potatoes tasty after staying in the US for two and a half years. And the night just starts…
 
Our entire trip has been fantastic so far. It was not only an enriched learning experience but also a priceless opportunity to explore and understand different cultures without distance. It is absolutely one of the most memorable experiences in my life.
 
Top: Professor Mikek wanted the group to take a serious and manly picture - this is what we came up with.

March 10, 2009

EU Commission + Doner Kebab + EurActiv + Slovenian Dinner...+More Doner Kabab

 
Khondoker Haider '10 - Today is our third day of the European Union Immersion Trip. Our day started pretty early. I got up at 7 A.M. and marched along with eighteen Wabash men and two professors to attend two back-to-back lectures at the European Commission. We actually went to the Visitors Center of the European Commission and attended lectures on the operation of the European Union and the economic aspects of the enlargement of the EU. The first lecture gave us a complete overview on the functioning of the EU. As always, Wabash men were engaged in the lecture and flooded him with good questions. The second lecture focused on the enlargement of the EU, a presentation I benefited from greatly. Afterwards I talked with the lecturer and found out that one of her colleagues is currently working on a research paper similar to my final paper for this class. She was kind enough to offer me further help in getting data for my paper. 
 
The trip to the EU commission ended after the lectures and we got around three hours to explore the city. At around 2 P.M., I went back to the hotel and decided to get some 'doner kebab' for lunch. In class Professor Hollander preached to us about this wonderful food and encouraged us to eat them as much as we could. After one, I was a convert. The doner kebab is one of the most delicious food you can get in Belgium. I like it so much that I have eaten that for lunch for the last three days.
 
After lunch, I strolled for an hour around the Grand Plaza and looked at some of the marvelous architectural work and then returned to the hotel for the evening meeting. Our initial evening plan was to meet with Mr. Brandon Mitchner ’87 and see the offices of EurActiv, a unique news and policy organization. Unfortunately, he had to go to Berlin and was unable to meet us. However, we took a tour of his office and spoke with one of his colleagues.
 
Rick Zednik, Deputy Chief Executive of EurActiv, explained the group of Wallys that EurActiv was a unique online media organization that provides the public in depth policy based news for free. Their revenue is derived from four different streams, the greatest being corporate sponsorships. While these companies have no direct control over editorial content, they can help direct editorial policy by funding journalistic exploration in certain subject areas.
 
 After the meeting, we went to a Slovenian restaurant chosen by Prof. Mikek, because, well, it was Slovenian. Generally speaking, we approved of Mikek’s bias towards his home country’s food. We ate Chicken gorgonzole for the main meal and apple Strudel for dessert. The food was so good that I even compared it with my favorite doner kebab. Later we returned to our hotel and I watched European Champions league soccer match between Real Madrid and Liverpool with a few of my friends. Then I decided to write this blog. Once I get this done I’ll be heading out to get some more doner kebabs............
 
Top: Juniors Willy Matis, Khondoker Haider, Paul Musielak and Senior Taylor Larimore prepare for the speakers from the European Commission.

Bottom Left: Professor Ethan Hollander and Wabash students listen to Rick Zednik discuss the EU media organization EurActiv.

Belgium a dream came True!

 Fabricio Monroy '10 - Since this past Saturday I have enjoyed one of  the most amazing experiences in my life. The possibility to go to  Brussels and Frankfurt are like a dream. This Sunday I traveled with  some of the 18 students to the city of Brugges. This city is located 30  minutes away from Brussels, but the ride is worth it. This Monday and  Tuesday we started with our academic schedule. We went to the U.S.  Embassy and to the European Commission buildings. This visits  were really interesting and refreshing, due we could talk with people  who really have and idea of what is going on with the always  misunderstood European Union.
 So far, I have been able to enjoy different types of food, chocolates  and the world's best beer.
 I have been able to know different perspectives of people about the  EU, and current topics such as the World's financial crisis and the  enlargement of the EU. This trip was really knowledge and cultural  enhancer. I'm sure that my classmates and my professors feel the  same way I'm do. Belgium is a magnificent city and the people is  awesome. There is so much different cultural backgrounds and people, that is impossible to not  communicate with the Belgium citizens.  Belgians speaks three languages at least, they are really  good with that.
I'm loving this experience and this trip...Thanks Wabash!!!!

A Walk Through Bad Weather Leads to Good Dinner

 Seth Flater '10 - Throughout this trip, I have only been able to come  up with one complaint.  It seems like every time we decide to go  somewhere there weather turns from bearable to terrible. Like just  yesterday we decided to walk to this restaurant, which was  recommended to Prof. Hollander by a certain cellist, and right when  we started walking the sun went away and it began to rain. Then not  two minutes later it began to hail.
 
 Even in this ‘end of times’ type weather we kept moving and made it  to the restaurant for dinner. This dinner was one of the most  interesting experiences I have ever had. Not only was the food very  good, but I had the opportunity to try things like calf brains and pigs  feet; being a 10-year 4-H member these two things added meaning  for me.
 
This bad weather to great experience continued the next day. We had to be up bright and early for a meeting with the European Commission. On the way there rain was just pouring on us, but none the legs we made it on time. After drying off and getting warm we proceeded to listen to three different speakers talking about the EU. These talks for me really helped to take those things I have been striding and reading in class and put them in a real life context. Listening to people talk about issues they are working on gave me a broader understanding of what the EU does.
 
So far the whole experience has been absolutely amazing. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail is going to keep me from enjoying this trip. I am sure the rest of the trip will continue to be great.
But a little sun would be great…after all, it is spring break.
 
Top Left: Wabash men gather for dinner after a walk through rain and hail...all agreed it was worth it.

The Cathedral and the Mission to the EU

 Whether it was gathering the best beer in the world or visiting the beautiful  and medieval city of Bruges, most of the group spent our first day in  Europe outside of the city of Brussels. Monday was our first real full day in  the city; thus it was only natural we we’re given the first half of the day to  explore the town. Alex Avgis ’11, Aaron Abell ’09 and I wandered with little  direction and were amazed at what we found.
 
 Perhaps the most beautiful part of the city we saw was the Cathedral. In  our list of items to see, Professor Mikek rated this one as one of the top  sites – and Alex, Aaron and I concur with this assessment. The Cathedral  of St. Michael was wonderful. Beautiful stained glass images let light  shine in to highlight all of the other magnificent portions of the Cathedral;  the organs that hung from the side of the gothic ceiling we’re simply  amazing.
 
 This cathedral reminded two of us of another immersion trip we we’re  fortunate to be a part of over Thanksgiving break. Aaron and I we’re in Dr. Michele Rhoades’ French History of Memory course that visited Paris for a week. As a major portion of our trip, we we’re supposed to visit important French sites and examine what they’ve evolved into over the years. We saw many amazing French churches in our time in Paris, and exploring this cathedral reminded both of us of this other incredible class.
  
After our morning exploration of Brussels, the group traveled to the United States Embassy complex to visit with Ryan Bowles, a Political Officer for the European Union. (we were not allowed to take pictures at the State Department complex). Bowles’ job had been very busy recently – he was the primary coordinator of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first meeting with the European Union.
 
Bowles made sure the group knew the importance of the relationship between the European Union and the United States; he called it the closest and most economically important in the history of the world – and with good reason. There is $2 trillion in investment between entities in the United States and the European Union; the two group account for 60% of the global GDP and 40% of all global trade. While the Unites States is not a member of the EU and may seem at face to have no connection to the entity, in reality the relationship between the two institutions is vitally important.
 
In addition to the general discussion of the EU-US relationship, Bowles also talked at length about what it is like to work in Foreign Service and the extensive process one must undergo to be selected to work for the U.S. as a diplomat. For those in the course, more than a couple we’re interested in this career trajectory. The opportunity to work in other countries, learn different languages and experience cultures for a long period of time is an enticing possibility.
 
Tomorrow morning we will visit the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union; they will attempt to explain the decision making process for the EU, and the colossal challenges they have to overcome in order to create substantive policy change. In addition to this meeting, Wabash men we will meet with an individual from EurActive, a solar energy organization Brandon Mitchner ’87 is involved with.    
 
Top Left: The interior of the Cathedral of St. Michaels. Top Right: Aaron Abell '09 and Patrick McAlister '10 standing outside the Cathedral. 

March 09, 2009

The Belgian Countryside: Home of the Best Beer in the World

For our first day in Brussels, Belgium as a part of our politics and economics of the European Union immersion trip, Drs. Hollander and Mikek thought it would be good to allow students some down time. Some students stayed at the hotel and slept (the nine hour hop across the pond weighed heavy on many), others took a quick train ride out to Bruges – a medieval city recently the subject of the famous Martin McDonagh film In Bruges (Wabash's Theater department recently put on a production of McDonagh's most famous play, The Pillowman) They spent nearly six hours wandering around the ancient city and saw the incredible architecture and river systems that are emblematic of the city.

A few of us, however, were up for more of an adventure. Belgium as a country is known for its diverse beers for all sorts of palettes. While one has access to many different types of beers, there is one beer that looms over all of the rest. The Trappist Monks of Western Belgium produce a famous series of beers that have been consistently ranked as the best in the world by people much more knowledgeable about beer than us. They brew only enough to sustain their monastery; consequently, guests are limited to four beer bottles to take with them. Aaron Abell ‘09, Chris Hawes ‘09 and Drs. Hollander and Mikek and me set out to taste this wonderful beer.

It took us two hours one way; there were very few signs marking the monastery, buried in a small town with very few signs pointing consumers to the best beer in the world; nevertheless, it was totally worth it. We were able to sample each of the three different types of beers, and each had a different opinion about which beer was the best. We only ordered a few and shared them around, discussing the flavor of each and the difference in texture, taste and color. It was an excellent example of gentlemanly consumption of alcohol and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Monday we will begin examining the politics and economics of the European Union as we will visit the United States Mission to the European Union; while not the original reason why we came to Belgium, learning about the Trappist monks and why this beer is considered perhaps the best in the world was an invaluable added bonus.