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  • Freya Astrid Theresa Entrup

Highschoolers in Formal Wear: A Reflection on the Brussels Field Trip

In this article, a first-year EPS student Freya Entrup gives a sharp and comedic overview of the annual EPS event — the Brussels field trip. She tells her story focusing on how this trip feels to a fresh European politics student.

Freya Astrid Theresa Entrup

Note from the Author

Please be advised that the opinions and musings expressed within this article are solely my own and in no way represent the collective views of my fellow European Politics and Society (EPS) cohort. Additionally, my satirical narrative is not intended to offend any of the esteemed speakers who graced us with their insights and knowledge. This piece is crafted as a satirical commentary, reflecting a personal artistic and humorous interpretation of the events, and should not be taken at face value. It’s penned in the spirit of jest and should be enjoyed with a light heart and a grain of salt.

From the 20th of November until the 21st of November, the Master's Cohort “European Politics and Society: Vaclav Havel” could be found in the entrance books and the visitor monitors of two European Institutions in Brussels. The European Parliament and the Commission.

Approximately 50 students from within and outside European nations traveled from Prague, Czech Republic, to Brussels, Belgium, in the days leading up to the 20th of November. As soon as the first speaker, whose resemblance to an animated Irish princess could only be surpassed by an actual cartoon, finished her enchanting spiel on the European Parliament Research Service magical mystery tour, she proceeded to divide us into groups with the kind of nationalistic fervor that would make the Eurovision Song Contest look like a friendly game of bingo. She gleefully corralled us by our Nationalities, reading them aloud in her beautiful Irish accent, ensuring that each European Institution had a matching miniature delegation. The rest, those cosmopolitan souls not tethered to the EU by birth or bureaucracy, got to play 'Pin the Tail on the Nation' — choosing to align with Germany, France, Italy, or any other country that seemed like a good idea at the time.

We were then given the task of setting five priorities for the EU Commission’s next seven-year itch — I mean term. Our ideas were as diverse as they were grandiose, ranging from achieving world peace by Tuesday to solving climate change with a sternly worded email. Sadly, our utopian dreams seemed to deflate our speaker's spirits even further, leaving her as disappointed as a child who learns that unicorns aren’t real and that adults need something called "budgets".

The “pièce de résistance” of the day was the handing out of a mysterious sheet of paper — a "surprise activity" that promised adventure and excitement but turned out to be a wild goose chase around Brussels in search of memorials that most of us, at least in my perception, immediately abandoned. We promptly scattered to the winds in search of the only thing that could console us — a late lunch.

Regrouping with the energy of overcaffeinated students, we attended a Q&A with former EPS members who spoke of their times in the EPS program with the wistful nostalgia of veterans reminiscing over past battles — mostly about navigating the bureaucracy of the different universities and finding the best coffee spots. It was, all in all, a day of learning, laughing, and the kind of camaraderie that only comes from shared mild confusion and the quest for the nearest sandwich shop.

As the day waned, we were regaled with tales from the former EPS pack, now seasoned veterans of the Brussels rat race. They spoke of a labyrinth more intricate than a Belgian waffle, where every turn could lead you to the gilded doors of an institution, the sleek offices of a lobbying firm, or the comfortable world of the private sector. The initial aim of their talk was as elusive as a straightforward answer in politics, beginning with a hopeful tone that soared high on the wings of European idealism, then took a nosedive into the harsh reality of bureaucracy and competition in Brussels. The alumni, who had once started off the same as us, now seemed to delight in bursting the bubbles of our non-EU students with a pointed reminder that the fortress of EU institutions was guarded by an invisible moat, one not easily crossed by those lacking the golden fleece of European citizenship.

Their words, while crushing, were not without merit; they painted a picture of a politically promised land that favored its own, leaving outsiders to gaze wistfully from the shores. Yet, for all the dream-crushing, there was an air of blunt honesty that was oddly refreshing. After all, it was good to know where you stood, even if it was on the outside looking in. They unwittingly taught us the most valuable lesson of all: that in the grand tapestry of European politics, every thread counts, but some threads are just a little more equal than others. It was a sobering meeting that cleared the fog of naivety, leaving us with the kind of clarity that only comes when your illusions are unceremoniously stripped away.

The irony was as rich as Belgian chocolate on our second day at the EU Commission, when the trinity of European integration — students from Germany, France, and Italy — found themselves bureaucratically excommunicated at the gates. As one of the 'fortunate' few, I too was temporarily cast into administrative limbo, our names swallowed by some insatiable Eurocratic black hole. But, true to the EU’s motto of 'United in Diversity', we were eventually united with our cohort.

Our group guide, a professor from Jagiellonian University — a fact I later deduced with the detective skills I didn't know I had, thanks to his mysterious aversion to introductions — left us with the enigmatic parting words, "Be patient". It was the sort of advice one might give to a snail crossing a sidewalk. Once inside, it became clear I had missed the opening act of our EU symposium: a speaker whose competence was as evident as my tardiness. A pity, indeed.

Following three coffee breaks, which I suspect were the real pillars of the European Union, we were treated to a triptych of lectures. The first remains a mystery to me, lost in the sands of time and poor timing. The second lecture tackled the broad horizons of EU enlargement, and the third discussed the European Conference, which the first speaker had prematurely eulogized as "dead."

At 15:30, we assembled in the sanctuary of European memory, the Museum of European History. There, amidst the myriad artifacts of continental kinship, was an overwhelming collection of German Nazi memorabilia, interspersed with poignant relics from Europe's checkerboard past. The weight of history was palpable, but our visit was as brief as a Brussels minute — perhaps a subconscious act of self-preservation from the somber echoes of history that filled the halls. We left early, our heads filled with a mishmash of facts, coffee, and the lingering question of what exactly the first speaker had said.



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