On the ground in Brussels

It has been about two months since I have returned from my trip to Brussels, Belgium, so I think it’s about time I do some blogging.

Ironically, we all brought laptops because we thought it would be a great opportunity for us to blog along the way, but the week European Union study tour was so busy we barely had time to check our Facebook. I spent the week with two other young journalists, Kaitlyn and Patricia, thanks to a competition that the three of us won through the Delegation of the European Union in Canada.

Firstly, I need to express huge thanks to the Delegation for all they did in organizing and sending us on this super educational experience.  In addition, the College of Europe in Brugges, Belgium, did tons of work planning all of our meetings and making sure we had the most beneficial time in Belgium. *Special thanks to Aymeric Astre and Shane Heneghan for dealing with our Canadian-girl shenanigans and providing us with lots of guidance and FUN!*

The week consisted of us touring all bodies of the EU and meeting journalists, press officers, and politicians from all walks of the EU. Our eyes were opened to the depth of the institution. For anyone who has tried (and failed) to understand how the EU works, I understand the struggle. But after this trip, I was so happy to finally understand how this confusing body works. Many people would argue that the institution doesn’t work at all—many feel that there is too much discussion and not enough action. However, considering that there are 27 countries (and it’s growing) and 22 official languages, I think it is very impressive that the body manages to exist at all. It is a real example of how peace and working together is so important to Europe. The EU serves as an example to the rest of the world. And considering there are so many different people with differing needs and wants, the conflict makes for some great news stories!

Something that really stuck with me on this trip was the important of languages. Sadly, the only language that I can work in (at this stage of my life) is English. I can read and understand French but although I have a knack for a Quebecois accent, my skills just don’t cut it for journalism. As most North Americans know, Europeans tend to speak more  at least three languages. At the EU level, this is true. The least amount was two, and the most was eight.

Luckily for me, the EU has taken a big English-speaking turn since the introduction of the Scandinavian countries. (One more reason for me to love Scandinavia.) Before that, it was primarily French. I think to have nothing holding you back as a journalist in Brussels you would need to speak English, French, and Spanish. I found when I was reporting in Strasbourg in 2011, I was sticking to interviewing Brits, Danes, and Swedes, because I knew they’d be comfortable speaking in English.  This did really push me to want to learn a third language. Luckily for me, I have lived the past 4 months with a Costa Rican and can now understand Spanish soap-operas. So I think I’m on the right path.

Here’s a little journal entry that I wrote while in Brussels to give anyone interested in the program a taste of what it’s like.

Brussels is like Strasbourg on crack. Even construction sights are blocked off in blue and yellow. I brought my blue and yellow Lululemon headband accidentally, and it’s perfect. I don’t know what you saw when you went on your morning run today; but I saw the European Commission, a park the size of 10 football fields that looked like Washington, D.C., a lake, a man-made red tree, and countless embassies. It’s so political here!

As our supervisor introduced himself on Monday morning, he told us that we were professionals. For a journalism student who has been second to “real” journalists for four years, this was an amazing moment for me. And now, as I sit in my own hotel room with massive windows looking over the European Union quarter of Brussels, I couldn’t be happier.

Basically, I have made more contacts than I can ever have hoped. Today I went to a press conference with President Barroso (of the European Commission), and met an editor at Thompson Reuters just to name a few of my activities.

I haven’t seen a ton of Brussels- we are staying in the European quarter where everything screams EU and all the bars are filled with interns and staff. It’s a cool environment. We checked out the Grand Place (tourist central) of Brussels last night and it was decked out with chocolate and waffle shops, as you’d expect. I had dark Belgian chocolate and strawberries on my waffle. Delish!

We’re just starting to get comfortable (aka understand what is going on) and we only have two days left! I am so sad, although I will need a vacation after this week. It’s 10:30 pm (I just got home!) and we left at 8:25 this morning!

Oh, and the food has been incredible.

It was a busy and exciting trip. I felt like a real journalist and it really pushed me to get moving on my career. At the same time, I was a bit sad knowing that European Union news doesn’t have a huge place in the media at home. However, the whole point of this trip was to strike interest and get young journalists like myself thinking about the EU and how it can be related and incorporated into news here in Canada. With the huge trade agreement (CETA) in the final stages, there will be lots of negotiating and exciting things to talk about.

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