The EU / NATO seminar in Brussels

On Tuesday, February 28, as I rolled my suitcase down the streets in Brussels, Belgium, I was overcome with a wave of excitement: curious and in great anticipation. Over the next four days that feeling continued to re-emerge throughout an enriching and special seminar.

The EU-NATO seminar is a conference hosted by the Fulbright Commission in Belgium and Luxembourg and the Fulbright Schuman program. Over the course of four days, annually, one or a few, Fulbright grantees from countries across Europe and Scandinavia gather to learn about the current function and role of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and I was the lucky representative from Norway for the 2023 seminar. Throughout the week, I had the opportunity to enter spaces that many never do, listen to accomplished speakers, and connect with inspiring, insightful people.

On the first day of the seminar, the cohort met in Brussels and immediately took off on a bus to Luxembourg where, that evening, we attended a reception at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, Ambassador Thomas M. Barrett. In the midst of chatting with a Fulbright alum, I looked down past my pant suit at the elegant rug and then around: first up at the all glass ceiling, then left at the ambassador and his wife, then right at the director of the program, and finally at the high ranking diplomats in middle of the room, the Belgian Ambassador, Fulbright alum, and fellow Fulbright grantees. And I was here too? Whoa.

That night was one of those where I kept waking up in anticipation of my alarm; I was squirmy with excitement for morning, which was when we were going to visit the European Court of Justice. When the sun finally rose, and we arrived at the court, we were briefed on a current case that the court was hearing by Justice Paul Nihoul (also a former Fulbrighter) and then had the opportunity to sit in on the hearing itself. Our time in Luxembourg concluded with a networking lunch at the court before returning to Brussels.

Thursday was spent learning about the specific ins and outs of the European Union, including its procedures and current roles. The day began with visiting the headquarters of the European Commission, where we listened to presentations on the general role of the commission, its climate action plan, and the EU digital economy. That afternoon we ventured over to the European Parliament before finishing the day at the House of European History. A few of my favorite parts of the day included seeing the complex of parliament buildings, which is officially called the Espace Léopold or Leopoldruimte, and the House of European History.

 Image by Fulbright Commission Belgium: Visit to European Commission

We spent Friday morning at NATO headquarters. Entering the headquarters and taking a seat at the long oval table where the briefings then took place felt surreal. Two of the briefings that especially stood out to me were one pertaining to emerging security challenges and another on the war in Ukraine. After leaving NATO, we had a final panel discussion with US Foreign Service Officers before a beautiful closing dinner that evening.

This is the golden outline of an incredible week, and what made it all the more memorable was the cohort of grantees. Each grantee came to the seminar with unique perspectives, experiences, and knowledge. From the questions they asked at briefings and the advice they offered, to salsa dancing lessons on the streets and favorite book discussions, I learned an immense amount from being with this group.

With that, I would like to thank the Fulbright-Norway Foundation for Educational Exchange, the Fulbright Commission in Belgium and Luxembourg, and the Fulbright Schuman program. These four days were a highlight of my Fulbright year; they helped me grow intellectually and professionally, as well as make lasting connections.