By Gray Barrett, ’16-17
The Fulbright EU/NATO Seminar in Belgium in Luxembourg brought in Fulbright grantees and scholars from over 20 countries for a whirlwind tour of the institutions that make Europe tick.
Our trip started on a chilly, grey morning in Brussels, where we loaded up onto a bus and departed for Luxembourg and the US Ambassador’s residence there for a sampling of Luxembourgish sparkling wine and an evening of mingling with the Fulbright cohort, Foreign Service Officers, and others affiliated with the Embassy. The next day began with a trip to the European Court of Justice, where we were fortunate to meet the President of the European Court of Justice, whose position is akin to that of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. We also sat in on a court case, wherein we witnessed the seamless, simultaneous translation services that make the decisions available and accessible for citizens of all the European members.
After lunch, we boarded the bus again for a tour of the War Museum at Bastogne, a sobering monument to those who perished during the horrific Battle of the Bulge. We traveled on to Brussels that night and spent the next day at the European Commission, which serves as the executive of the EU, and the US Mission to the EU. During the afternoon, we got a chance to hold in-depth conversations with the other Fulbrighters in small groups, discussing our motivations behind applying for the grant and how our experiences had – or had not – panned out.
The final full day concluded with a trip to the NATO headquarters and a visit to the charming town of Bruges, as well as the College of Europe. Our last night was particularly special, allowing us to ask former US Ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner candid questions about his life in the Foreign Service, world politics, and Europe’s place in the future world order.
This last topic – how Europe and its institutions will shape and be shaped into the future – was one that arose in my mind during every single event and visit during the trip. From the grim memorial at Bastogne, which memorialized the deaths of those who fought on behalf of a Europe united against fascism, to the ECL, which seeks to insure justice for future generations of Europeans, I was often left wondering how well these institutions would last given today’s uncertainties. The Fulbright Program was created to foster international understanding, peace, and cooperation by making countries interact on the most basic level and by forging ties of companionship and solidarity that would make future divisions, war, and enmity untenable. In the same way, these institutions seek to do the equivalent by uniting states in bonds not easily broken and by forcing them to make predictions and plans for their future that recognize and utilize their collective strength. Both projects were bold, and both are needed more than ever in a day and age in which we are being divided and urged to act solely based on self-interest or perceived gains.
This Fulbright Seminar was valuable because it reminded us of the values that we share and how we must work together for the common good. It allowed me to forge ties with Fulbrighters studying in and destined for many other countries and for the United States. As current representatives of the United States, it’s more important now than ever that we double down on creating an international system based on trust and kinship. As renowned journalist Edward Murrow said, “The real crucial link in the international exchange is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another.” Fulbright and this EU/NATO Seminar have provided the privileged opportunity to do just that.