Tuesday, May 24, 2011

International Education for Vol State Students

Participants with our international education program are sending in reports weekly. Today Eljay Elia shares some of her experiences in Europe.

A small group of us from Volunteer State Community College were fortunate to have been able to visit Brussels, Belgium from May 9 – 16, 2011, as a part of a scholarship project to collect information on how residents and visitors to Brussels view the European Union. We conducted interviews of over seventy people from Belgium, and many other countries. Most of those interviewed were members of the EU. The responses were varied and ranged from satisfaction with the EU and the Euro, to concerns about the economy, education, immigration and member state sovereignty. The results of the surveys are being compiled into data for sampling of opinion, and the video taped interviews are being put together into a finished work which will be available for Vol State students.

In addition to our interviews regarding the EU, we visited the European Parliament buildings and many of the affiliated offices clustered around the EU headquarters. Unfortunately, during our visit, the EU Parliament was in meetings in Strasbourg so we were unable to visit them in session.

Brussels is a thriving international city with many museums, art galleries, historic monuments, and churches. You never know what amazing sight you will find around the corner; it could be a building from centuries before with an amazing history! We spent a lot of time near the Grand Place, which was an excellent location for conducting interviews, and also a good place to find cuisine from around the world nestled in the nearby streets. Our “hop-on, hop off” bus tour took us to many of the key sites including the Palais de la Nation, home of the Belgian Parliament, the Palais Royal, Palais des Academies, the Palais de Justice, the Theatre Royal de la Monnane, the Cathedrale Sts. Michel et Gudule and the Atomium, which was built for the 1958 World’s Fair. A beautiful gothic church the Eglise St. Nicholas,
was located near the Grand Place offering refuge to us from the crowded streets. It is the oldest church in Brussels, built in the 12th century and offers mass in English to accommodate visitors.

A visit to the Musee Royaux des Beaux-Arts and Musee d’Art Moderne at the Place Royale found much of the museum closed for construction, but the Musee Magritte was a delight. Also, of note as a uniquely Brussels’ experience, was the Comic Strip Art Museum. This museum has a fun collection of Herge, creator of the comic strip Tin Tin, Peyo, creator of the Smurfs and Willy Vandersteen, who created Suskee en Wiske (in the USA, known as Willy and Wanda). We were also very fortunate to be able to view a huge collection of Joan Miro at the Espace Cuturel ING.

The Chocolate Tour took us on a walking tour with a very knowledgeable guide to some of the major chocolate shops in Brussels such as Chocopolis, Neuhaus, Pierre Ledent, Wittnamer and Pure. A highlight of our experience was the actual making of chocolate in the kitchen at Chocopolis. We were able to bring home our own chocolate!

An unexpected celebration called the Pink Party, erupted during the end of our trip. This event was attended by about 4,500 people including visitors from many countries outside of Brussels to commemorate gay, lesbian and transgender people as well as bringing attention to prevention of hate crimes and bullying. As our group passed the stage, a moment of silence was held in honor of those who were victims, followed by rock music and rainbow colors everywhere.

A couple of our group took a retreat from the urban pace of the big city to catch the train to the lovely medieval town of Brugges. During our canal boat ride, we were able to relax and view the major sights of the town, while hearing of the history. The cobblestone streets were full of shops with lace and chocolate, and an open-air antique market on the canal offered some good deals as well as hot waffles. Horse drawn carriages clopped along past medieval narrow houses with window boxes of colorful flowers, while swans glided by gracefully on the water. We climbed the Belfry to capture breathtaking views of Brugges, and the Nepal festival below in the Market, and spent a long while in the magnificent Cathedral; the Church of our Lady. This church is well-known around the world for its Baroque splendor and for Michelangelo’s statue of the Madonna and Child. This beautiful sculpture is the only one Michelangelo allowed to leave Italy during his lifetime.

Another surprising gem we found in Bruges was an art exhibit from a private collection, unseen anywhere else in the world, of Pablo Picasso. Included in the exhibit were works by Joan Miro, Henri Matisse, sculpture by Auguste Rodin, and some works of Salvador Dali.

We are hoping that the resulting surveys of the EU, the video taped interviews and the art and architecture we documented from this experience will be of benefit to students and teachers at the college. Thank you for this amazing trip, the learning opportunities and the memories we will keep forever.


Loretta Calvert said...

We are planning a international speaker in the Fall semester and at that time we will reveal the charts summarizing the research.

Loretta Calvert said...

SPA is planning an international speaker in Fall (Oct/Nov) and at that time we will reveal the results of the survey. All sociology, political science, and criminal justice classes are invited.