We are republishing an article that was originally published on the AUBG Daily website.
Jean Crombois, a professor of European Studies at AUBG, and twelve of his students went on a three-day study trip in Brussels, Belgium, on Oct. 25-28. Part of the EU-Russia/China and the Foreign Policy of the Member States course, the trip is not mandatory but contributes to students’ better understanding and knowledge of different aspects regarding the EU and its policies.
“I have been organizing such trips for ten years,” Crombois said. “I do it once a year. I am trying to fill three days with meaningful meetings and always try to meet the students with different people.”
On the first day, AUBG students had meetings at the Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), discussing the current state of play of EU enlargement; at the US Mission to the EU, discussing the importance of the transatlantic relationship and the fast-evolving trade agenda; at the Martens Center for European Studies, discussing EU energy policy; and at the European Parliament to talk with the Bulgarian Member, Radan Kanev.
“The idea was to meet with a range of stakeholders in Brussels, including both EU and non-EU institutions,” Crombois said.
The second day started with a morning visit to NATO Headquarters and continued with a meeting at Amcham-EU and the Rasmussen Group, during which students discussed security guarantees to Ukraine and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Armenia.
“For me, the most interesting part was being allowed in such prestigious and high-security institutions as NATO and the EU Parliament,” Lara Angelova, a third-year student, said.
The last day was also filled with a range of meetings, starting at the European External Action Service, an EU diplomatic service, to discuss EU diplomacy and EU-China relations. Then, students visited Fleshman Hilliard, a leading international public affairs consultancy, to talk about EU lobbying and public affairs. Finally, at EURACTIV they met with Georgi Gotev, a Senior Editor and founder of euractiv.bg, to discuss EU news coverage and media freedom in Bulgaria.
“The most interesting part of the trip was the meeting with Georgi Gotev,” Yani Dimanchev, a third-year student, said. “Unlike some political figures that we met, he answered every question that he got, despite some of them being difficult to answer or political. His honesty was highly appreciated by us.”
The diversity of meetings and issues discussed is what brings the most benefits to AUBG students. Those activities develop their skills outside the classroom and provide them with a different relationship with important figures.
“The meetings provide a lot of knowledge and information about what people do in Brussels, and students see the concrete aspects of what they study in the classroom,” Crombois said. “It is also good for them to see that they can find jobs there once they graduate from European Studies and/or Political Science.”
These advantages did not go unnoticed by the students.
“We met different people from different spheres,” Yani said. “They gave us the opportunity to ask whatever we found interesting. It was something different than just hearing the presentations that they had prepared.”
The trip also broadened students’ horizons. It let them understand the range of opportunities they have after graduation and provided them with valuable practical skills.
“AUBG alumni are everywhere in the political sphere in Brussels. We, as students, can always lean on their support and advice,” Lara said. “Also, I learned that a Political Science/European Studies degree does not necessarily mean a career in the public sphere – there are so many for-profit businesses that require such a degree and are looking for people interested in politics.”
“The most valuable lesson I learned from the trip was that everyone should be able to answer difficult questions. Even if the answer isn’t directly related to the question, the person who asked should be left with the impression that their question was answered,” Yani said.
To reach such a positive outcome, there was a bit of logistics beforehand. Organizing such a trip always hides some obstacles.
“The most challenging part is getting in touch with people. They are working, and it is not in their job requirements to talk with students. They are busy, or they may have conflicting agendas and schedules, so sometimes we cannot fit them all into our three-day schedule,” Crombois said.
Despite such difficulties, the plan became a reality, which satisfied the students. According to Yani, the trip was “educational, fun, and enlightening.” Lara shared the same sentiment, adding the words “interesting and inspiring” to describe it.
“The students were great. They were happy with what we were doing,” Crombois said. “They were always on time and very participative, asking questions and showing their interest in the meetings. I really appreciate that.”