On the Arena of the European Studies

December 12, 2022 Tsvetana Haydushka
On the Arena of the European Studies

Imagine you are in your last year of high school studies.

Imagine your history teacher is standing in front of you, passionately discussing the political environment in the beginning of 20th century.

Imagine the maps of countries on the whiteboard, the talks about allies and enemies, about military operations, peoples’ attitudes, and legislations.

But this is not the history lesson from your textbook.

But this is not the desk you’re so used to.

But this is not the teacher who stands in front of you.

Instead, it is a high-level representative, or a researcher, or an expert. All of them working towards peace, well-being and simply making the best decisions for the time being.

Instead, you are running from one conference room to another, hearing the opinion of various stakeholders. Noting down their statements, concerns, ideas for actions, pieces of advice. Meanwhile, trying to figure out if this is a role you’d like to have in the future.

Instead, it is the presentOctober 2022. It is not a century, or two, or three ago. It is the present. And the ones in front of you talk about their daily lives, decisions, and tasks. In the present, experts work on internal and external relations, the war next door, the enlargement of the EU, and the future we would live in.

AUBG Brussels trip 2022

This is what the week in the European capital Brussels looked like for the 14 students from the European Studies courses who went on a study trip in the end of October 2022 with professor Jean Crombois. For five days, they met with representatives from EU structures, media outlets, think-tanks, the U.S. Mission to the EU, NATO.

This was the fifth trip of this kind prof. Crombois organized for his students. The pilot one happened in 2016 with only four students for four days. Then there was one in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

The pandemic measures around in the following two years put a pause on the tradition until the beginning of 2022 when prof. Crombois started preparing for yet another trip. It came with even more meetings in the impressive schedule.

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AUBG alumna Iulita Osichenko ('18), OECD, on the transition from AUBGer to a Policy Officer

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Euractiv media and the importance of covering EU affairs on a local level

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At the DG Near conference hall learning more about the EU enlargement steps and agenda

Topics of today

During all meetings, the topic of the war in Ukraine was an inevitable part of the conversations. All of the representatives highlighted the changes that have happened after February 24th, 2022, and how this moment impacted further decisions, strategies for development, values, and beliefs.

The first day of meetings started with a discussion on the role and functions of the European External Action Service and the state of affairs EU-China relations in the current context. The presentations there served as an introductory class on the EU world and as a stable foundation of knowledge that students built upon the rest of the meetings. Following on the agenda was the meeting with the Policy Analyst from the European Policy Center (EPC) who elaborated even further on the EU-China relations.

Other meetings observed the important topics of today like Cybersecurity. Policy Officer Karolina Kozłowska at DG for CNECT H.2, explained to the students the importance of the NIS directive for the member countries’ security but also for the local companies, and why does it matter for the daily lives of the citizens of the EU.

An AmCham EU representative presented the role of the organization that represents the interests of U.S. companies that operate in the EU such as Google, Facebook, Goodyear. Through the conversation, students explored practical approaches for political communications and the EU-U.S. market dynamics.

Alumni in Brussels

People, who’s names are already part of the traditional schedule like the visit of the Wilfried Martens Center for European Studies where AUBG alumnus Dimitar Lilkov and his colleague, Niklas Novaky, briefed the students in the current state of EU energy resources and potential future scenarios. Euractiv doors were opened by the long-term friend of the department, the Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev, who presented the process of covering EU affairs on local level and vice versa.

The team for EU enlargement DG NEAR shared they were happy to have AUBG students back in their conference rooms and highlighted the importance of the feedback they were receiving from the young citizens from all over the world. A curious meeting this year was the one with Iulita Osichenko (’18), AUBG alumna who was part of the first group of students to travel to Brussels.

“Six years ago, we came to the [study] trip in the EU Commission,” Iulita said. “And I still keep a sticker from the time I thought: ‘someday I might try and apply to work here’.”

“The cherry on top of the cake” as students presented it, was the visit of NATO Headquarters. Where they were welcomed by AUBG alumna Irina Novakova (’05), Head of Media Operations, and talked to Programme Officers from the Public Diplomacy Division, Engagements Section.

“Very futuristic, felt like a divergent movie,” said Mihaela Voydenova who is graduating with a major in European Studies with the Class of 2023keeping the confidentiality of the Chatham House rules. “Felt like we are getting an insight from someone very important for something very important. We got a great insight on what is happening in NATO.”

The impact

During the meetings, the presenters were open to the students’ questions and looked for feedback from the young citizens.

Mihaela said that studying on the field is what got her even more excited to pursue a career path in this sphere.

“We could say that during this one week in Brussels we got probably more experience than a year of studying in the major because it was so intense – the schedule was filled with meetings, talking to different people, being able to get insights on what was happening there. And of course, learning more about the “Brussels bubble”.

Professor Crombois is always excited to bring students to Brussels not only as a way to help them dive into the European affairs, but also to show them around his hometown. He made sure to show and tell the story of some of the key landmarks in town.

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AUBG students and alumni evening in Brussels

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AUBGers visiting some of the Brussels' landmarks

“The Brussels trip is important for three reasons. The first thing is to make the EU much more concrete for the students. EU studies can sometimes be a dry subject. You need to be there, to feel the richness of the people working there. The second objective is to make the students aware that people can work for the EU but actually a lot of people are working around the EU. For example, you have a lot of companies, interest groups, and NGOs. They are all based in Brussels. They do lobbying and advocacy. These are EU-related jobs and it is a very dynamic market there. The third objective is motivational. I work a lot with alumni who are based in Brussels. What I also do is have a small party with alumni. This is a way to connect current students with former students. This is motivational because it gives an idea to our students that yes, people do major in Political Science and European Studies, and they have a job, and they have a good job.” 

Exchange students

Among the diverse group of students who traveled, there were some lucky ones of them who visited AUBG as exchange students and enrolled for the course EU-China relations.

“I am extremely grateful for this opportunity that has broadened my knowledge of the European Union and its organizations, as well as its services,” said Sarah Haydari who is broadening her European studies experience at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with an exchange semester at AUBG.

Elisa Auxeméry, an exchange student from Lille Catholic University, shared more about the opportunities that the exchange semester at AUBG provided for her. “I think it is kind of fun,” she said. “My university is in Lille, France, which is literally 30 minutes away from Brussels. However, I never went there with my school because of COVID and other factors. So it was really fun to go from Bulgaria to Brussels. I never imagined doing that when I applied for a semester here.”

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AmCham-EU about the U.S. companies and trading with the EU

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Cybersecurity on the spotlight

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European Policy Center with EU-China relations analysis

The most interesting meeting for her was the one at DG NEAR with Giulo Venneri, Team leader for the Rule of Law and Democracy European Commission. “We had a very interesting topic about the countries that wanted to become part of the EU but are still candidates,” she said. “This is part of the EU affairs I still haven’t studied so it was very interesting to see how the treaties work in this case.”

Her classmate, Heloïse Combet, shared that this kind of approach towards the studies is engaging and beneficial for her. “I can keep on coming every week,” Heloïse said. “And do this kind of trips with all of the classes.”

Way forward

“I know about the EU institutions because it is part of my major but visiting them kind of reminded me that the EU is very specialized in a lot of different topics,” Elisa said. “In my case, as I have to apply for a Master’s degree this year, it reminded me that I also need to specialize in a very specific topic. More than that, it made me want to work more for the EU.”

Looking into the bright future and inspired by the career path of the AUBG alumni they met, Daniela said:

“We’ll see each other in 10 years working for the EU. And then in 15 years, we will be part of the NATO team.”

Learn more about the European Studies