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Polish Enchantment July 17, 2012

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It was a grueling 10 hour train ride from Berlin to Krakow. The train station in Berlin was large and offered us with temptation for goodies before we embarked on our trip to Poland- one kid almost missed the train because he was standing in line for a biscuit at the Burger King. After we made sure that everyone was securely on the train and, in fact, going to make it to Krakow we settled in and tried to find ways to distract ourselves. The trip was not all too painful…with the exception of the heat problem. Constricted air vents, felt seats and half cracked windows didn’t help either. 

About half-way through the trip, a friend discovered that the cart adjoining to ours was air-conditioned. Music to our ears! I hopped up, grabbed my headphones and phone and be-lined straight for the air. The moment I stepped through and felt the cool air hit the back of my neck I smiled. Ahhh, air. What we take for granted in the United States is a blessing in the middle of the woods in Poland. I ended up sitting next to a young Polish guy who was making his trip home after some studies in Germany. He was interesting because he was such a talkative guy who was eager to answer my questions and to explain how he felt about Poland and how the Cold War had affected his family and so on.

Before I knew it, we had arrived at the Krakow station. Dragging my suitcase out into the streets I took a breath to look at my surroundings and realizes that Krakow was quite, well, enchanting. It had this old town look to it; a beautiful market center lined with restaurants, fountains, markets and live entertainment. Everywhere I looked there were people enjoying themselves.

As night settled in, the scene grew richer. Laughter could be heard from nearly every table and the street performers were in full swing. Chloe and I took a walk about the town before heading in for the night and the atmosphere gave me such a boost of happiness that I thought to myself, this is Polish enchantment.


Market Heaven July 13, 2012

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If you are a fan of markets, then Berlin on a Saturday afternoon is the place for you. Not only can you find one or two markets to satisfy your indy-antique needs but there are fairs and music festivals to go along with them. To my delight, my final Saturday in Berlin was filled with all of the above.

We started on an outdoor antique market in the heart of Berlin, near the Tiergarten, where everything from old vintage watches, cameras, burberry jackets, and chandeliers could be found. Next stop was on the outskirts of Berlin. The music could be heard from the Uban (underground transportation system) and the smell of fresh pretzels and meat wafted through the air. 

What a way to end my stay in Berlin.

June 21, 2012

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Parading through the French Senate

No, that is not Versaille. But yes, this is a castle! Or was a castle back when Catherine de Medici ordered its construction after she felt that the Louvre was too lonely for her. It is now the French Senate and has fully functioning post office, restaurant, hair salon, etc…in essence it is its own town! We had the pleasure of meeting and being led through the senate by Bernard Saugey who is in his last year of service and was a witty French politician. After the tour, we were led to the Luxembourg Gardens and enjoyed a lovely lunch in the gardens. Perfect day in Paris.

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Stuck in Translation June 11, 2012

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Week three of the program has undeniably been my favorite thus far. I could attribute this to the notion that at this point I feel like Brussels is my city. I know which market has my favorite mangos, I know which tram, bus, metro combination can get me home the fastest, I feel like I have a home with a set of parents host parents that care about me. Its comforting. And then there is the fact that this week centered about visiting the European Institutions themselves: the Council of the European Union, European Parliament, European External Access Service and the head quarters of Coca-Cola for Europe. These sight visits bring to life what we have learned in the classroom- providing me with the unique opportunity to see the EU in action! Giving me access to the very people that have the power to make changes within the union. Good stuff. But PERSONALLY, I absolutely loved friday’s activity: the press release.

Every Friday the European Parliament hosts a press release conference where reporters are invited to come to the Parliament and ask direct questions to EU officials. Each reporter is handed a schedule of the following week’s agenda where individual topics that are to be discussed are outlined. Fascinating stuff. So there I was, sitting in the room with very important EU officials, reporters, and educated members of the European society. A panel of 7 EU officials sat directly in front of me and I noticed that surrounding them were a series of panels, housing two or three people, sectioned off by language. They were the translators.

At precisely 11 am the conference began and the official in the middle began to speak…in French. There was a swift motion about the room as people placed the headphones over there ears and clicked to their designated language to understand what in the world this man was saying. I am pleased to say that I could, with the exception of one or two words, understand the man but I couldn’t resist comparing the speaker’s words to those of the translators. I slid the headphones over my ears and clicked 2. A soothing british voice flowed through the headphones and I was listening to English. I was fas-cin-at-ed. Forget what he was actually saying, I was much more mesmerized by this man’s ability to take in the French speech and effortlessly repeat it in English. There were no stumbles, no real lags in his translation. And as far as my brain could tell, he was doing a pretty good job at conveying the full message of the speaker – jokes and all.

And so, for the remainder of the press release I sat there, one ear in the room, the other latched onto the headphone. The wheels in my brain churned as I tried to keep up with both “sides” of the conversation. I even gave myself a little challenge during a question response from the female EU official to translate her response back in English as it was being said aloud in French. I am proud to announce that even though I am sure that several words were “lost in translation” (haha!) I managed to convey the basics of her response.

As noon rolled around and the last grueling reporter question had been sufficiently answered by the officials, the press release was declared over. Headsets were placed back on the desks, translators turned off their microphones, and we exited the room. Dr. Birchfield then asked us what we had found to be the most interesting subject to be debated next week and as students began to offer up their opinions, I realized I had none. I was so focused on the translation that I had checked out of the actual meaning of the words being transcribed. Their ability to manage 2+ languages so incredibly well grabbed me and made me want to become proficient in as many languages as I possibly could. In short, I got stuck in translation.


The Maastricht Marathon June 7, 2012

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As the end of week two rolls around here in Brussels, my professor decided to take us to the city of Maastricht on accord that the Maastricht Treaty was signed there. How appropriate. What the Maastricht Treaty did for the European Union was create the Euro and also the three pillar system…fascinating, I know. Witnessing the actual location of the signing of such a monumental moment in the history of the European Union however, was not what took my breath away. I can attribute the shortage of breath to our lovely tour guide, Pierre.

Now Pierre is an incredibly brilliant Brit earned his PhD in some sort of international affairs concentration from Oxford (forgive me for the lack of details) and all 150 pounds of him could out whit and out run any of us techies any day. I mean that literally. Pierre was determined to show us ALL of Maastricht in a total of 2.5 hours before he had to hop on the 2pm train back to Brussels where he was then taking the Tube to London for the weekend. Thus, we were led on a sprinting tour of the city. Old Maastricht and New Maastricht: we saw it all; the small canals, the random zoo, outdoor markets, cathedrals, hidden gardens, the university, the university library, his office, the shopping district, it goes on and on. The worst part was that everything was adorable and we, being the tourists that we are, simply had to photograph everything. But by the time you snapped your photo there were dwindling leaves in the spot were Pierre just stood and you would see the wisps of his jacket turning about the next corner. 

Even though the tour was quite exhausting Pierre did manage to give us a complete tour of the city and as we discussed during our well deserved lunch, we loved it! Maastricht really is a glorious college town where any person would be more than happy to live. With adorable nooks, delicious ice cream parlors, and a prestigious university it may just be the perfect spot to earn a masters degree.