Summer Study Tour to Europe – Some Final Thoughts

It has been nearly a week since we returned from our study tour trip to Europe.  I would just like to thank the World Affairs Council and the European Union for an opportunity of a lifetime.  The trip far exceeded any and all expectations.  The educational highlights for me included the luncheon with Michael Ruhle, and our discussion regarding NATO in the 21st century.  Michael Ruhle’s insight as a speech writer and political advisor to the Secretary General of NATO was quite ironic as later in the week we got to see the Secretary General address the members of the Permanent Council of the OSCE, which was the second educational highlight of our trip.  The third highlight was our visit to the United Nations Office in Vienna.  It was interesting to listen to the history of the United Nations and to discuss first hand issues regarding atomic energy.  Finally, the most invaluable educational meeting was the experience of the Presidential Address to the European Parliament regarding the key issues of the “Arab Spring”, immigration, the accession of Croatia, and economic reform.  It was fascinating to see Herman von Rompuy, European Council President, and Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission President and the dynamics of the political parties as they made comments and raised questions regarding the key issues.

Additionally, the trip included a cultural component that was also invaluable.  We experienced a wide variety of food, language, art, architecture in both Brussels and Vienna.  It was interesting to see the way in which royalty lived as we visited both Schönbrunn in Vienna, the summer residence of the Hapsburgs, and the Royal Palace, the current residence of King Albert II.  I also realized the importance of emphasizing to my high school students, as well as to my own children the value and almost necessity of learning a second language.

Politically, it was also astonishing to look at how Europe has changed and continues to change over the past 500 years.  I am looking forward to incorporating this experiential learning into my Advanced Placement European history and Global Studies course.  Teaching for the past 16 years, often times we learn material from textbooks and only have second hand knowledge.  I feel so much more confident teaching about the European Union, NATO, and the United Nations as I can incorporate first hand experience.

Finally, the unanticipated value of the trip was the social connections that were forged.  The group of 15 people that were selected began as colleagues and now have emerged into lasting friendships that extend beyond the classroom.  It was phenomenal to be a part of such a creative, knowledgeable, fun group, and I am forever thankful for the lasting educational and social partnerships with both the World Affairs Council and the EU 15.

Lisa Sydeski
Thomas Jefferson High School