Our Last Day in France

Today was Team EU’s final day in Reims, France, and it was one of our busiest days yet.

We began with a visit to the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, where four Culver Military Academy alums are buried. Here, the Wreath Laying Ceremony was carried out, with four Culver students (Dylan Lewandowski ’18, Andrew Crowell ’18, Isabelle Landy ’19, Gretchen Issom ’20) taking turns laying a wreath as well as reading out words of remembrance over each gravestone of the Culver alums. To wrap up the ceremony, Taps was played by John Youngs ’18.

As one of the students who participated in the Ceremony, I believe I speak for everyone when I say how thankful I am for having been given the chance to honor these brave men, and how it was a memorable way to express our gratitude for their sacrifice.

When we left the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, it was nearly lunchtime and we made our way into town to stop at the museum café, which was exactly as it sounds. After enjoying a lunch of baguette sandwiches, we had some time to explore the “museum” side of the restaurant: a large private collection of personal belongings of many soldiers.

Our next chunk of time was devoted to roaming the new Verdun Memorial Museum. This museum explains in detail the battle at Verdun, dwelling on the effects it had on the French and German armies. It is an engaging museum that covers topics from how soldiers spent their free time, to the systems of medical care on the front lines.

The final stop was the L’Ossuaire de Douaumont. This is a French memorial to their soldiers who lost their lives during WWI. While we have mainly visited memorials of American forces in WWI, it was just as important to recognize the effects WWI had on all involved parties, and to show respect to the French soldiers as well.

When we returned, our hotel had set up a petting zoo in the lobby (in honor of Easter), and it was hard not to smile at the rabbits, chickens, and goats. This not only brightened the mood, but helped pass the time until dinner.

At 7:30 pm, everyone sat down to a lovely dinner at the hotel, reminiscent of our very first night in Ghent. A last-minute no-cell-phone policy was enacted to make sure we all were involved in conversation.

During tonight’s reflection, we agreed it is an emotional experience to see rows upon rows of gravestones, or names etched in walls, and realize that these were all once people, seldom older than the high school students that make up our group. It is important we make sure to be appreciative of the time we live in, and remember those we lost. This in part comes from understanding our duty, and how these men were carrying out theirs. Should the time come for us to do the same, we shall also rise to the occasion.

Some of the other gratitudes expressed included many appreciative remarks for our chaperones- who have been our tour guides, our mentors, our parents, and so much more for the entirety of this trip.

Tomorrow is the final full day before departure, and we have every intention of making the most of our time together before this journey concludes.

French Culture Day

Today was Team EU’s first full day in France. A small group of students were on their feet early this morning for an easy jog along the canal, and then met up with the rest of the team for breakfast.

After breakfast, the group assembled in the lobby where our bus was waiting to take us to a traditional market-place where neighborhood locals gather once a week to buy and sell goods. Culver students were given a half hour to explore and browse all of the stands. The fruit stands were particularly popular, and kids emerged from the market with bags of local strawberries, oranges, and melons.

After the market, Dr. Buggeln gave a crash course on the history of the Reims Cathedral, and we were able to enter the magnificent building. The Cathedral is notable for being the place of coronations for French kings, as well as a symbol of a peace pledge between Germany and France in 1962. The Cathedral was impressive to see, especially the stained glass-windows and high archways.

It was then time for our cooking lesson. We joined two French chefs in preparing an elegant meal that we would later be able to enjoy. Team EU was divided into different groups that were each put in charge of a specific task. Some of the students whipped mousse for dessert, some seasoned braised duck, but the hardest job by far was chopping the onions without breaking into tears (very few were successful in that area). At last, we sat down to enjoy our meal, and realized that the tears were worth it- everything was delicious.

Once lunch was complete, the bus took us to the Musee de la Reddition, a museum detailing the end of WWII. There, we saw the surrender room where the Treaty of Paris 1947 was signed.

Students spent the second half of the afternoon with a quick break at the the hotel, and then had time to explore Reims. Team EU split into a couple of groups, and then went off to visit clothing stores, supermarkets, chocolate shops, and whatever else sparked an interest. We regrouped at 7:30 for a three-course dinner at a restaurant near the hotel.

Later that night, there was a reflection period. Students shared what they were grateful for, and it was touching to hear how many people had the same feelings regarding the experiences this trip has given them. As a group, we have grown more confident in practicing foreign languages, trying new foods, and generally stepping out of our comfort zones. We have now surpassed the halfway point of our trip, and it is lovely to see how far we’ve come, but also rejoice in how there is still plenty left to do before we pack our bags one last time.

School during Spring Break?

Thursday morning, Team European Union loaded up the bus once again as we bid goodbye to Triers, Germany. We had spent the previous day exploring the quaint old city, browsing pastry shops and shopping centers. Now, we headed into Luxembourg to visit Lycée Vauban, a private French school In Luxembourg.

At the school, Culver students and faculty were warmly received by Guillaume, an old friend of Dr. M. We were shown to a classroom where multiple students from Lycée Vauban awaited us. They introduced themselves, then presented a PowerPoint on the daily life of a student at their school. Culver students responded likewise: Sam Bialek ’20 and Amanda Stephenson ’19 presented on CGA, while Mathew Dwyer ’20 and Simon Hayes ’20 discussed CMA (practicing their French along the way).

Culver students and students from Lycée Vauban had already been matched via e-mail, so it was exciting to finally meet our designated student in person. The students were kind, gracious, and very open to discussion- conversations ranged from discussing extracurriculars to comparing political systems to plans for after high school. It was fascinating to be introduced to cultural differences from the perspectives of students much like ourselves.

Then, it was on to classes. We accompanied our Lycée Vauban partner to one of their lessons. For example, I followed Cheryl, the girl whom I was shadowing, to a physics class taught entirely in French. Not being very proficient at either French or physics, I found myself simply listening to the sound of the language and attempting to read Cheryl’s notes. The students of Lycée Vauban were all in high spirits since their Spring break is near, and the class was peppered with jokes and poorly suppressed laughter, which made it entertaining for the visiting students like me.

When class was over it was already 2:00 pm, and we still had a long drive ahead of us. We said our goodbyes, exchanged contact information, and gave small gifts that we had brought from Culver. Hopefully, the Lycée Vauban students will have the chance to visit Culver some time in the future.

As of now, we have reached our final stop: Reims, France. On the way to dinner we were able to take in a bit of the city, but there is still so much we have yet to see.

Pictures of our visit to the school will follow!!

From Belgium to Germany

The 27th was quite the busy day for team EU. We started off bright and early with a 6:00 am breakfast, and from there loaded up the bus to head to SHAPE NATO.

SHAPE is an acronym for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, while NATO refers to the organization dedicated to upholding the North Atlantic Treaty. We were met at the entrance by our guide, Krysztof “Kris” Plazuk of the Polish Army, who was quite happy to show us around the base. We saw how expansive SHAPE NATO is, being a “microcosm” of the outside world. The base is complete with neighborhoods, schools, and recreational centers for the 16,000 employees and their families from all 29 different countries. Inside the main building, Chris and his American colleague Maj. William Brice led us in a Q and A session. Some of the questions asked included:

Simon Hayes ’20: What are the requirements for countries wanting to join the EU?

Elle Strogilos ’21: Why does Russia want to be a part of the UN but not NATO?

After our insightful visit to SHAPE NATO, we headed right into the heart of Brussels to spend time at the US Mission to the European Union and talk to the Charge’ d’Affairs and Acting Ambassador about their jobs, as well as discuss US relations to the EU. We learned about the political, social, and economic stakes that the US has in European countries. Again, students were given the chance to ask questions:

Isabelle Landy ’19: Could you elaborate more on Brexit and where the US stood, or still stands, regrading influencing Britain and the EU?

Mathew Dwyer ’20: How has the recent change in the US presidency affected US foreign relations?

To see some photos of Team EU at the US Mission, please check out this link: https://m.facebook.com/useubrussels/

Having the opportunity to visit SHAPE NATO and the US Mission to the EU with the level of intimacy we were granted would be hard to come by under most circumstances. It was enlightening and fascinating to learn about public policy from the perspective of those who are immersed in global affairs everyday.

The latter half of the afternoon was spent mainly on the bus ride. Students passed the time catching up on sleep, listening to music, reading, or just sharing some laughs and stories from the day. Outside, the sun cast a beautiful light on the smaller towns nestled in the hills. Team EU arrived in Triers, Germany later that night and still had time to grab some dinner.

Triers is a delightful town in Southwest Germany, and I have no doubts it will make for a second great “home base” while we continue our European adventure.

A Day of Reflection

Sunday was Team EU’s first full day in Belgium. We are slowly but surely overcoming the jet lag- and starting to truly take in the beauty of our surroundings.

The day began at the Flanders Field American Cemetery in Ieper/Ypres Belgium, which was followed by a visit to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele. The Passchendaele Museum included interactive experiences with the “dugout system” and life in the trenches. The museum concluded with an exhibit on how WWI affected those involved, and promoted using history to learn from humanity’s errors of the past. Both sites were eye-opening to the scale and intensity of WWI, as well as the lasting effects that such an immense war can have on a country.

After a refreshing lunch break, we made our way to Flanders Fields Museum Ypres. This museum gave a comprehensive look at WWI as pertaining to Iepers/Ypres. Our next stop was the Menin Gate. It is one thing to hear numbers, but to physically see the names carved into stone of 50,000 men who gave their lives while fighting for their country, one cannot help but fill with gratitude and respect.

Somewhere we found time for a pit-stop for Belgian waffles and ice cream. Food in hand, the team made our way to the bus that was waiting to take us to our last stop: the John McCrae Dressing Station. There, we read the famous war poem “In Flanders Fields” and mused over the poem’s significance.

In all, Sunday was the perfect combination of good food (we started the day with a traditional European breakfast and ended with a three-course dinner) and historical sites. While solemn at times, there is no denying the importance of the topic of WWI.

Not a Second to Waste

Team EU began Saturday with an informative bus ride from the airport into Ghent, Belgium. We learned about how Belgium is split into three provinces and how the official languages differ within each province. In Ghent, for example, most people speak Flemish, or Dutch.

Next, we were given a walking tour from Anthony, our designated guide. Anthony showed us Gravensteen Castle. There, we climbed a tower, and even though it hurt our tired legs, we were not disappointed when greeted with some of the best views overlooking the city. The second part of the tour was St. Bavo’s Cathedral, home to the famous Ghent Altarpiece.

For lunch we enjoyed Belgian beef stew and traditional Belgian fries (apparently “French fries” is a misnomer, and the Belgians have not been receiving due credit).

After lunch we embarked on a boat ride through the river. The sun had come out, the weather was beautiful, and we all got to see the city from a new perspective.

Today, everyone is well rested, and very excited to see what our second day in Belgium holds in store!

… and Team EU is ready to go!

This morning was the start of what is sure to be an incredible Spring Break for Team European Union. Full of excitement, we departed campus at approximately 10 am. En route, we stopped for a delicious send-off brunch at Bob Evans where we all dined on omelettes and pancakes.

Then, we were off to the airport where everything ran smoothly with checking baggage and passing through security.

Team EU is currently awaiting the flight into Belgium where we will start our adventure (followed by Luxembourg/Germany and France). We plan to dive right into activities with a walking tour in Ghent to see Gravensteen Castle and St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Stay tuned for more updates!