Shown here at L’Arc de Triomphe, students in the EU Study Abroad Program visited Paris as part of the course, accompanied by UWindsor professor Emmanuelle Richez.Shown here at L’Arc de Triomphe, students in the EU Study Abroad Program visited Paris as part of the course, accompanied by UWindsor professor Emmanuelle Richez.

Course gives students a first-hand look at European Union

Not many people get to question a Russian official about interference in the American election, but a select group of UWindsor students have done just that.

Students enrolled in the European Union Study Abroad Program got a hands-on appreciation for international relations with a trip May 5 to 18. They visited NATO’s new headquarters in Brussels, met with representatives of non-governmental organizations, and had discussions with officials from the major EU institutions and country representatives, including the first secretary of the permanent mission of the Russian Federation to the EU.

“That was interesting for me because we were able to ask some tough questions,” said political science major Justin Grainger, one of 10 UWindsor students who participated in the course.

He said the meeting was one of several highlights of the trip. There were day trips to Paris and Bruges, the medieval capital of West Flanders in Belgium, cultural meccas Grainger and other students had never visited before this trip.

Grainger said he also especially liked an address by Clare Hutchinson, the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace, and Security. Grainger said Hutchinson discussed NATO’s new focus on the disproportionate effect of violence on women in combat zones.

“It’s a new lens that NATO looks through,” Grainger said.

Students also got a first-hand look at the workings of the European External Action Service, an organization that operates as the foreign and defence ministry of the European Union to enact humanitarian and security policies.

The course, which also included seven students from Western University, was serendipitously timed for the days leading up to the European Parliament elections, held every five years.

UWindsor’s Emmanuelle Richez, a political science professor who accompanied the students on the trip, said the elections were top of mind for students.

Students were able to sit in on a taping of the Euronews NBC television show Raw Politics where the special guest was Jan Zahradil, a Member of the European Parliament and the lead candidate of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group running for the presidency of the next European Commission.

Students had backstage access and were part of the live studio audience. They stayed at the Irish College in Leuven, Belgium, home of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, a European university founded in 1425.

“It’s a wonderful experiential learning opportunity,” said Richez of the course.

While on the trip, students were expected to make daily journal entries. Now home, they must produce a research paper worth 60 per cent of the final grade in the course.

“I would definitely recommend this course,” said Grainger, who spent about $3,500 on the trip. “I knew it would be great exposure, but I never imagined the kind of access we had. We had candid discussions. It was a real discussion about real issues.”

Founded by UWindsor professor Stephen Brooks, the EU Study Abroad Program is in its 11th year. While most of the program participants study political science or international relations, this year’s course also attracted students in mathematics and science.

─ Sarah Sacheli