IMBA Study Abroad: second week in France—the heart of a union

Welcome back to the continuing adventures of FIU IMBA students traveling far and wide in search of higher education and global perspectives. This week we finish up our week in Lille, visit Brussels, take our final exams for the first module and prepare to travel south to Nice.

Rush, rush, rush

We all had a fantastic weekend. Some of us stayed in Paris (and got lost in Paris’ train network) after Saturday’s day trip, others journeyed to Amsterdam and Bruges and others like me couldn’t resist a bit of home via the nearby Disneyland Paris. Overall we were pretty exhausted by the time we wandered back and jumped back into the swing of things working on our EU Trade Regulations group research papers.

In classes we prepared for our visit to the European Commission (EC) in Brussels. That was pretty exciting: an opportunity to really chat with folks from the different Directorate Generals, and to really understand the inner working of the EC. In class we explored and mapped out how we could lobby effectively on a variety of subject and industry focuses. And in doing so we compared it to how companies in our own countries lobby the government to improve their respective business environments.

Frank McGuinness at Disneyland Paris
Frank McGuinness at Disneyland Paris

So that Wednesday, we all woke up early, dressed rather nicely and sleepily boarded a bus bound for Brussels. One of the first things that struck me on the journey was how seamlessly we slipped into Belgium. Without a pause the bus just drove through the border terminal, giving a lovely demonstration of the “free movement of people, goods, capital and services” we had heard repeatedly in all our classes. Admittedly one thing we should have checked before departing in the morning was the weather in Brussels. When we got off the bus to begin our tour of the city center we discovered . . . it was COLD! Somewhere in the 10-12 C range! With our fashion choices of the day being mostly in the business formal range, we were rather ill-equipped for the cold winds and chilly rains. And some of our professional women companions suffered mightily in skirts until some urgent shopping occurred.

Despite the cold we adored exploring the monuments and shops of the town. The architecture was lovely, the chocolate shops delicious and the history deep in every cobblestone street we walked down. After a tasty lunch and much-needed warm cup of coffee, we found ourselves at one of the multitude of buildings that make up the EU’s presence in Brussels. Our guide had earlier described to us how multicultural a city this was, and how a great deal of its downtown area is devoted to civil service and diplomatic functions for the EU. As the photo below shows, we posed in the European Commission’s lobby. Beyond that point no pictures were allowed for security reasons. Understandable as the building’s denizens are involved in a daily dance of negotiations and debate . . . standard fare for the heart of so complex and successful a union of nation states.

The group in the lobby of the European Commission in Brussels
The group in the lobby of the European Commission in Brussels

Over the next few hours we had a chance to meet with representatives from various directorates, each involved in different policy areas, and each sharing with us a broad array of hard-earned experiences within the organization. What always struck me was how each of its members from many different cultures strove to create, maintain and grow the value of the EU for its citizens. They faced down multinationals, set standards to ease adoption of technologies and services and worked to ensure a lasting peace. Their dedication and candor was quite apparent and made for a lasting impression on us.

Back into the fray

The next few days were a blur as everyone geared up to complete their group research papers, and study for finals. From the floors of hallways outside our classrooms to an assortment of locations at school and back in our hotel we together worked pretty hard. The hotel staff got used to some somewhat sleepy faces gathering in their café during the late evening and early morning hours; often without pause in between the two. The cafeteria found us staring ahead at coffee machines and counting Euro coins slowly. But at least we were in great company and high spirits, and pretty excited about the next leap of the program after Lille.

Among the places we studied: the floors of hallways outside our classrooms
Among the places we studied: the floors of hallways outside our classrooms

In the end finals came and went and we were all somewhat burnt out, but ready to go out on the town for a final night of dinner and dance in Lille. Took over a good portion of a restaurant’s top floor that evening and shared a lot of laughs and tears with our now good friends Rachel and Amelia. Afterwards we all took to the streets, and made our way to a great club for somewhat countless hours of dance. It is a good thing we had the next day to recoup, pack and prepare a bit as we certainly needed it. But bright and early Sunday morning we boarded a TGV train heading south, clear across the entire breadth of France. Next stop, the Mediterranean coastal city of Nice, our soon-to-be home for the next two weeks!

View all articles by Frank McGuinness.

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