I am spending this spring semester in Brussels, Belgium. When thinking of cool places to study abroad, Brussels never crossed my mind. I didn't think of it as a famous tourist city or a beautiful exotic locale. However, I was drawn to AU abroad's European Union in Action Program because of the unique opportunities available to students on the program. Our time is split up into classes and internships. I am interning with an NGO here in Brussels called the International Disability and Development Consortium. IDDC is comprised of 26 member organizations all focused on creating more inclusive human rights practices. We advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities to the various EU institutions. Interning at IDDC has really changed my entire outlook on international development, something I truly did not expect to occur in Brussels!
I have had the opportunity to visit many EU institutions both with my internship and with our professor. This has given me a first-hand look at how the EU functions as well as providing amazing networking opportunities. Our classes at the American University Brussels Center are all very engaging. Our class on NATO and International Security Organizations is even taught by Jamie Shea, who was formerly the NATO Spokesperson and is now NATO's Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges! Our classes are compiled not only of in class lectures but of on-site visits as well. Two weeks ago our class spent the weekend in The Hague, Netherlands visiting organizations such as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. I am looking forward to our week long field trip to the Balkans next month. We have been learning about the Balkans throughout the semester, and we will have the opportunity to see everything we learned in action there at the end of next month!
This semester I’m studying abroad with AU in Madrid, Spain! I live with a host family in the northern part of the city, have a full schedule of classes taught in Spanish (including my favorite one on Spanish Literature and Film), intern with la Fundación Cives (an organization that promotes citizenship participation and education) twice a week, and love the travel opportunities that my program has to offer. It sounds really busy, but I’m also enjoying the “no pasa nada” attitude here in Spain, which is about as opposite as it gets from the high-strung city that is DC.
The Spain-Iberian Experience program includes a great seminar class that teaches the history and culture of Spain and includes “lectures-on-the-go” when our professor takes us to see the historical sites we’ve learned about; some of my favorites have been visiting Toledo, Sevilla, and Barcelona. My internship, of course, includes updating social media, but I’ve learned how to create a Wikipedia page, I get to do some serious translating (they even sent my translation of a memorandum to the European Council!), and I’m sent to meetings at think tanks and museums downtown to take notes on and write up articles for the organization’s website. Living with a host family here in Madrid normally means living with an older Señora in an apartment in the city, and if you’ve ever spent a week with your grandparents you can imagine how spoiled we are here; I also have a 24 year old host sister living with me who’s busy a lot but really fun to hang out with.
If you want to hear more about my time in Spain feel free to check out my blog at http://kathysemesterinspain.blogspot.com.es/.