European Waves

Brussels Field Trip 2021 – An insightful trip to the heart of the European Union

Sandra Colín 

     On November 25-26, the Brussels Field Trip commenced! And with it, the opportunity for second-year students of the European Politics and Society Master to participate in inspiring talks and glance into the heart of the European Union while enjoying the lovely city of Brussels. Jagiellonian University was the main organising institution of the trip, which was the first face-to-face event to be organised since the beginning of the pandemic. It meant that the planned activities had to be adapted to the adverse circumstances the world was facing. 

The trip started in the Rue de la Loi, where the second years arriving from Leiden, Barcelona and Krakow had the chance to meet again and catch up while exploring the European Quarter. This first activity consisted of splitting up into groups and subsequently identifying EU buildings and EU related monuments. The students could immerse themselves in their history and functions, while completing the tour of the European Quarter. From the Lipsius to the Berlaymont Buildings, second-years enjoyed the rainy but beautiful Brussels. Fondation Universitaire Egmonstraat was the second location for the planned activities of the day, where the first conference was led by the European Personnel Selection Office. An informative session focused on career development in the EU, where the EPS students had the opportunity to explore the wide range of available options to pursue a career in one of the EU institutions. With graduation coming up in the summer of 2022, most of the questions addressed the traineeships opportunities within the EU bodies. At the same time, one of the major concerns raised was that one of the requirements to work in an EU institution is being an EU citizen and, in the case of traineeships, just a few places are offered to non-EU citizens, leaving out almost half of the 2020 cohort.  

The second conference was hosted by the European Parliament research service think tank, which provided students with insights in the comprehensive research and analytical support that the think tank provides to the Members of the European Parliament. On top of that, second-years were given the opportunity to learn how research is carried out to improve the functioning of EU institutions, which is an excellent learning opportunity for those willing to direct their career towards the field of research.

After this activity, it was time for the third and last conference of the day: a career development session carried out by Gaston Rieder and Thareerat Laohabut (Lala), EPS alumni of the 2019-2021 cohort. Gaston’s part of the session encouraged second-years to leverage the tools that the EPS Masters provide us and use these tools when applying for a job, i.e. by studying in three different universities and countries in two years time, EPS students develop amazing adaptability and resilience skills.  Furthermore, he shared the challenges he faced when applying for a job and how he overcame them. Lala followed this up, by putting focus on sustained search for opportunities to make your CV stronger and lay the groundwork for building a strong resume before graduating. For instance, as someone interested in the field of research, she always looked for opportunities during her studies to present her research, through which she constructed a path to pursue a Ph.D. after graduating from EPS. Moreover, as a current participant of the Schuman traineeship, Lala also shared her experience in contributing to EU citizens’ European education and vocational training and providing an insight into the work of the European Parliament. 

The second day of the Brussels Field Trip started in the Czech representation to the EU. The Czech Republic held its first presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2009 and the next Czech presidency will take place in the second half of 2022. In this session, EPS students had the opportunity to gain insight in the preparation of the Czech presidency to the Council which is managed and coordinated by the Prime Minister through the Section for European Affairs of the Office of the Government.  This session was followed by a conference on the role of the regions in the EU policy-making in the Malopolska region. While introducing the EU legislation that directly impacts regions and cities, it provided students with first-hand information on the European Committee of the Regions and, more specifically, the Malopolska region’s challenges. Some of the priorities of the region include an increase in access to public services through information and communication technologies, reduction of air pollution, and improvement of transport accessibility of the region.  The Brussels Field Trip ended at the Centre for Fine Arts, Bozar. Here, students had the opportunity to enjoy a unique and truly outstanding cultural hub and art-deco marvel, located at the very heart of Brussels and Europe. Likewise, they could learn how artists, scientists, politicians, students and citizens gather in Bozar to discuss the future of Europe.

But who better to tell us about the trip than the people who attended? Covadonga Solares and Gaston Rieder shared their personal reflections on the Brussels Field trip with us. 

Gaston Rieder

    As part of the 2019-2021 cohort, my Brussels Field Trip was understandably forced to take place online. That meant that we had to tune in to the interesting lectures that the EPS consortium had prepared for us from the (dis)comfort of our homes. It was undoubtedly interesting all the same, what with the participation of a wide array of EU officers ready to share their insights and answer our nervously-posed questions. We also enjoyed the presence of an alumnus with work experience in the European Parliament, which was great news to those keen on joining the ranks of the EU. 

While the online trip was the right choice given the pandemic, it was admittedly a pity that we did not get to visit the EU institutions in situ, that we did not get to catch up with our EPS friends scattered elsewhere, that we did not get to enjoy one of the most exciting cities for us European politics nerds. All the more reason to be happy to see the current students get a chance to actually come to the capital of Europe.

Luckily enough, I still got to be part of this iteration of the Brussels Field Trip. As an alumnus, I was tasked with organising a session on career development and, of course, giving EPS students a tour of the best bars in the city; Belgian beer is world-famous after all. I shared my experience applying for several jobs. In a way, I think this was a great exercise for all of us. Current students are getting ready to navigate the intricacies of today’s labour market and it is crucial that we understand that holding an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree such as EPS can prove pivotal in our applications. We can really stand out if we know how to sell the skills EPS provides us with. Finally, I was also thankful to count on Lala’s presence. Lala was kind enough to offset all the nonsense I threw at the students by explaining how she secured two very coveted positions. Indeed, her laudable achievements as a current Schuman trainee at the EP and future Ph.D. candidate at LMU (Munich, Germany) will surely help many as they embark on their post-masters professional career. All in all, this iteration of the Brussels Field Trip shows how EPS is definitely on its way to unlocking its full potential. 

Covadonga Solares Morales

     My intention is not to bore you with yet another recollection of the events, but to try to put into words what visiting Brussels means for any EU lover out there. And I must admit that the city embodies the beating pulse of the European Union in every single one of its corners.

For someone like us, that has been studying a master’s program in European Politics for almost a year and half now, and therefore immersed in many of the different aspects and topics that the Union comprises in itself, sometimes we feel a little bit out of the loop. We talk a lot about policy-making, about the decisions that shape the future of Europe and those who are at the very front of them, but from a distance. Do not get me wrong, the opportunity that EPS provides us to live in and get to know three different European countries is priceless, and definitely helps to gain a better understanding of how national politics shape the interest of Member States in the communitarian level. But now and again, and maybe rooted in that lingering romantic feeling of wanting to change the world for the best, we long to be where the action happens, where big things take place, where everything is at stake, and that is no other place than Brussels.

Scattered all over Europe as we are, we made our way back to the capital of the EU with the ease that has become the norm in the past few decades. The city greeted us with its usual brisk mid-November breeze and endless rain, a sea of umbrellas covering flows of people that rushed to their workplaces or freezing wandering tourists, the smell of freshly baked waffles and fried frites mixing in the air. Brussels was gloomy and cold, usually the perfect mix for a certain sense of disappointment and apathy, but to my surprise, it didn’t quite feel like it: in a city that never sleeps, there is an ever-present, buzzing excitement floating around. For most of us, it is a place that we have constantly dreamed about, fantasies of landing the job of your dreams in an elite EU institution, hoping that one day you will get a seat at the very table where Europe’s future will be drawn. And I think that that is precisely its magic: even for a brief second, you believe that everything you want to achieve is possible, even if reality puts you back in your place once you go back home. Because the city is the real-life depiction of the success of the European integration process: it is the crossroads where infinite cultures merge and intertwine, where endless languages surround you, where you can always find something that reminds you of home, where you can find passionate and like-minded people that make you remember that the European project is worth fighting for.

There is probably a pinch of wishful thinking and naiveness in my words,  I am well aware of that. But for me, the trip was a reminder I can make it through the last months of the program, fuelled with an extra shot of energy, after looking into a mirror that reflected all of the reasons why I enrolled in this Master’s in the first place.

So there is nothing I can say other than Brussels, until we meet again.


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