Eleven High Schools in the Midwest Participated in Euro Challenge 2014

Eleven high schools from Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin participated in the 2014 Euro Challenge.

GlobalFest 2014

GlobalFest is an annual event that celebrates world languages and cultures, and encourages middle and high school students to make connections with the global society.

U-46 Teacher Travels the Globe to Enhance Her Lessons

Elgin Area School District teacher Chris LaRue spent two weeks in Turkey in 2013, a trip that was almost entirely funded by the Turkish Cultural Foundation.

EU Centers of Excellence Education Trip to Belgium

Read two teachers' experiences during the 2013 EU Centers of Excellence Education Trip to Belgium.

TED Helps European and American Educators Connect

The Transatlantic Educators Dialogue (TED), held from February through May, gives American and European educators an opportunity to meet virtually to discuss educational issues.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Production of Chocolate: A Sweet Social studies Lesson

By Christine La Rue 

Part of the University of Illinois European Union Center’s 2012 Summer Study Tour included a visit to Barry Callebaut in Belgium, which is the largest chocolate factory worldwide. The production begins with the cocoa bean to the finished chocolate product. Our visit began with coffee and a taste of their delicious chocolate. As I sampled their fine chocolate, it reminded me of the many lessons I have done on the history of chocolate, and how it relates to many socials studies areas. Our hosts were enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about their company. Barry Callebaut has "a truly global manufacturing footprint with forty production facilities worldwide."

The European Union is committed to making globalization work for developed and developing countries with transparent and fair trade rules. Barry Callebaut’s managers provided us with many details of their production. This company is a good example of globalization according to the European Union’s standards of fairness. Globalization is extremely important in solving the sovereign debt crisis of the euro zone area because it helps to raise the GDP of the euro area nations.

As a teacher of AP World History and AP European History, in addition to lessons on globalization, I also teach about the “Columbian Exchange.” The history of chocolate works especially well here. “The story of how chocolate grew from a local Mesoamerican beverage into a global sweet encompasses many cultures and continents" ("History of Chocolate"). Be sure to end the lesson with a piece of chocolate (European if possible) for each student!

Helpful links:

Barry Callebaut

All About Chocolate

History of Chocolate

The European Union and World Trade

A Brief History of Chocolate

Christine La Rue teaches AP World History, AP European History and AP Art History at Elgin High School in Elgin, Illinois. She was the supervising teacher of the winning team at the 2012 Euro Challenge Midwest competition, earning Christine and the four students on the team a spot to compete this past April at the semi-finals of the national competition in New York (press release). You can find more teaching resources and accounts of Christine’s international travels on her personal web site.

This article is one in a series of blog entries authored by teachers who participated in the University of Illinois European Union Center’s 2012 Summer Study Tour: Seeking Sustainable and Secure Connections in Food, Energy, and Governance. The tour to Belgium and Luxembourg was supported by a Getting to Know Europe grant from the European Commission.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Barry Callebaut: The Economics of Willy Wonka

by James Garcia

To answer the most pressing question, no, there were no Oompa-Loompas. As a part of the European Union Center 2012 Summer Study Tour to Belgium and Luxembourg, the tour participants toured the Barry Callebaut chocolate factory in Wieze, Belgium.  Barry Callebaut is an industrial chocolate producer, which means that they supply companies with liquid base chocolate, or other bulk chocolate products. Those products are then used by so-called “artisan” chocolatiers or companies which coat their products, such as cookies, baked goods, etc., in the Barry Callebaut chocolate base.

The Barry Callebaut chocolate factory’s whirling belts, robots, kettles, tanks, etc. fascinate most outsiders who tour the facility. What is truly fascinating, however, is how an industrial food company based in Europe can prosper and thrive. Barry Callebaut is currently the largest chocolate producer on the planet, producing somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the world’s chocolate, depending on your figures. Belgium is part of the European Union, which has numerous restrictions on food production, imports, and various input costs for Barry Callebaut chocolate among other producers. The European Union legislation on cocoa and chocolate products alone is 5 pages long and lists numerous restrictions (e.g. a praline must not have less than 25% of its weight as chocolate) and names the nine different types of chocolate designated by the EU. Naturally, it is difficult to understand how a firm can continue to be the world’s largest producer of chocolate in an economically restrictive environment. From an American free-market perspective, any restriction raises input costs for a company, and causes an inefficiency. Thus, it would seem that Barry Callebaut chocolate faces significant disadvantages against a global market full of competitors with fewer restrictions.

According to the Barry Callebaut representative who briefed us before our tour of the chocolate factory, Belgian chocolate is not an entirely domestic product. In fact, while most people think of chocolate as a German, Swiss, or Belgian product, the basis for chocolate or the cocoa bean, is a New World native. The cocoa bean was only introduced after the first Transatlantic trade introduced by Columbus and other explorers. Today, the cocoa bean is native to Western Africa, specifically Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Barry Callebaut, therefore must face the scrutiny of high import standards as they cannot successfully grow cocoa bean in an country which receives rain 200 days of the year.

What Barry Callebaut lacks in sunshine, it makes up in amazing efficiency. The factory takes in fermented cocoa beans and then outputs liquid or dry final products.  The cultivation, separation, and fermentation are processes which Barry Callebaut has its contracted farmers complete overseas, as those tasks require significant manual labor, a high cost in Europe. When the beans reach Belgium they go through a mostly mechanical process until they reach the last stage as a final product. Barry Callebaut has dealt with the European Union’s stringent standards in a way that increases their efficiency and increases their products’ quality. Because the company uses robots and other non-manual processes, their chocolate comes out pure and at the lowest cost possible.

Some tour participants were shocked to see the packing bots operating at such quick speeds without any human assistance. In fact, someone asked, “What happened to the men who used to do this job?” Despite the reality of structural unemployment, Barry Callebaut has solved the problem of European Union regulation by investing into a nearly automated factory. Additionally, Barry Callebaut sacrifices the control of their final product to other firms who specialize in marketing, branding, etc. You won’t find their chocolate in shiny wrappers on the store shelves as its own product. This business strategy has won Barry Callebaut the world’s largest market share of chocolate and significant quality of product.

James Garcia is a teacher at Champaign Centennial High School in Champaign, Illinois. He teaches AP European History and AP Macroeconomics, among other courses. 

This article is one in a series of blog entries authored by teachers who participated in the University of Illinois European Union Center’s 2012 Summer Study Tour: Seeking Sustainable and Secure Connections in Food, Energy, and Governance. The tour to Belgium and Luxembourg was supported by a Getting to Know Europe grant from the European Commission. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Europe's Future Firsthand

by Letitia Zwickert

US news paints a concerning picture of eurozone stability and the future of the European Union. We are often faced with headlines such as: “Can the EU Survive Europe’s Crisis?” , “The European Union is Falling Apart”, and more recently “The Euro Crisis: Back to the Brink”.  From within this environment of concern and uncertainty, a group of teachers, politicians and a journalist ventured out, beyond the US to two European capitals, and the heart of it all: Brussels and Luxembourg. Amidst the eurozone crisis, emergency EU summits, and geopolitical instability, we found ourselves in the center of the largest political and economic challenge of this author’s lifetime. 

During our trip, I kept my eye out for answers to the questions being asked at home: will the eurozone remain intact, will the EU stay together, or will the EU shed its weakest members? The uncertainty left me eager for answers, and in search of the true political climate in the eye of the storm.
Image Source
The EU began as a coal and steel union (European Coal and Steel Community) after the world wars, with the purpose of creating security and prosperity for Europe. Eventually becoming the EU, the heart and soul of the union remained in one place: Brussels. It was fitting, then,  that we began our study tour in the Grand Place in Brussels, a medieval display of European commerce and economic unity. From a thriving 11th century market place transformed into a 14th century architectural marvel by various local guilds, the Grand Place represents the early commercial development of Europe. Today, it is a vibrant area full of tourists enjoying Belgian chocolate, Belgian beer, and the beautiful historic sites, all with thoughts of the future of the EU on their minds.

Image Source
Our trip offered us the opportunity for a better understanding of the EU through a series of presentations at the European Commission.  The study tour happened to coincide with the crucial June EU Summit, which left us all with many questions. One presenter in particular, Jakob Bork, was able to feed our appetite with a stimulating discussion providing answers that had yet to be revealed.  Receiving the scoop about why countries really want to join the EU, what power the Council of Ministers really have, and the real financial issues underlying the current economic concerns, I came away feeling I had just been given an insider’s view of the inner workings of the EU. 

We also visited NATO headquarters the very day Turkey came to NATO requesting to invoke Article 5 by asking for intervention against Syria after an attack on their military planes (Turkish F-4 Warplane ‘Shot Down’).  With all the buildings bustling with this energy, we sat down to listen to two speakers inform us on their views of NATO’s mission and NATO’s place in the world. NATO’s new mission statement (see NATO’s New 10-Year Mission Statement) underscores the goal of EU security.  Given the current economic crisis, NATO has become a central instrument in helping to provide security while alleviating some of the economic burden of a independently, fully funded state defense program.  This cooperation is everything the EU itself stands for: increased interdependence as a means of lasting European peace. And yet, in this economically strained climate, I found myself wondering if the political and social pressures will allow the cooperation to continue?  And, as Europe emerges from this crisis, will the EU have new expectations of NATO?
Image Source

The European Court of Auditors provided another interesting window into understanding the EU. Our presenter, Jussi Bright, laid out ECA’s history and responsibilities as an institution structurally independent of the EU. Each EU budget line item is audited here. Mr. Bright highlighted the financial challenge of a global political entity with 23 official languages. The simple need to print all findings and reports in all the languages makes the need for an increased usage of e-technologies paramount. In regards to the current economic climate, Mr. Bright pointed to the countries themselves: the responsibility of each EU state to have controls in place that to manage their own economies and reinforce healthy fiscal policy. Here we begin to understand the current limits of EU influence over their own members. 

Our study tour took place during an exceptional time in history, and gave us a firsthand view of what the future might hold for the European Union. From the trip emerged a group of individuals who gained an exceptional amount of knowledge about the inner workings and vision of the EU. And like the EU, which will come out of the current crisis more equipped to take on future challenges, we are now better professionals for having had the experience. Thank you EU CENTER!

Letitia Zwickert teaches Cultures of the World and International Relations courses at Naperville Central High School in Naperville, Illinois.

This article is one in a series of blog entries authored by teachers who participated in the University of Illinois European Union Center’s 2012 Summer Study Tour: Seeking Sustainable and Secure Connections in Food, Energy, and Governance. The tour to Belgium and Luxembourg was supported by a Getting to Know Europe grant from the European Commission. 


Peace and Prosperity: The Underlying Purpose of the European Union

by Chris Bryant

For those currently cynical and skeptical about the European Union, I have some advice: go visit a cemetery from one of the numerous wars fought in Europe. That ought to put things in perspective for you.

It is no secret that the European Union is in crisis. By all accounts, it is extremely serious. We are in “day to day” territory. It is impossible to make predictions about what will happen. Some see catastrophe, others see some minor reforms coming and others see opportunity for meaningful, positive change.

The history is well known: from six countries in the European Coal and Steel Community to further expansion and the eventual Maastricht Treaty leading to a common currency and a union with twenty seven nations, twenty three official languages and a market of more than five hundred million people and twenty per cent of the world’s economic output. It is too big of a market to be ignored and what happens in Europe affects the world economy.

On our recent trip to Belgium and Luxembourg, some of us visited the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial. Over five thousand troops are buried there. Included are twenty two sets of brothers and Gen. Patton. Most of the troops were killed in the famous Battle of the Bulge of World War II. You see lines of crosses and stars of David. It is impossible not to be moved.

Such a visit must be a stark reminder to an alternative future for Europe. If nothing else, the European Union has kept the peace among member states. What is the price tag for such an accomplishment? American politicians should lay off the “Europe bashing” and be grateful that we have allies in Europe who have kept the peace and have provided a huge market for our products, as well as share our dedication to democracy and the rule of law. We certainly have our own problems to deal with, but we can at least give moral support in saving an amazing institution of peaceful cooperation.

Chris Bryant is a social studies teacher at Cranbrook Upper School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Previously, he taught at Lake Forest High School (Lake Forest, Illinois). Chris has participated in numerous curriculum development activities of the EU Center.

This article is one in a series of blog entries authored by teachers who participated in the University of Illinois European Union Center’s 2012 Summer Study Tour: Seeking Sustainable and Secure Connections in Food, Energy, and Governance. The tour to Belgium and Luxembourg was supported by a Getting to Know Europe grant from the European Commission. 

From Brussels to Luxembourg; A Gardener's Perspective

by Kristin Aye-Guerrero
As I was scurrying about preparing to make pickles from my cucumbers in the garden, my mind drifts back to Europe. This year’s EU Center summer study tour took us to Brussels and Luxembourg. I would like to thank the EU Center, Illinois Trade Office in Brussels, University of Luxembourg, as well as the EU for this trip. The theme of our visit and four-day work shop before we departed was titled; “Seeking Sustainable and Secure Connections in Food, Energy, and Governance”. I found the topic of agriculture and energy policy fascinating. Our family still farms, and although I live in a suburb of Chicago, I garden to keep close to my roots. I believe there may be a pun in that last statement but it was unintended! One assumes there will always be food here in the states, after all, doesn’t Jewel make it? So to learn about the roots of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) and the importance it holds for EU member states in dealing with problems of food supply, plant and animal disease, and sustainability, should serve as a wakeup call to Americans. I am looking forward to sharing with my students the similarities and differences between agricultural policy in the EU and those here at home.

Another revelation was the seriousness that the EU members take regarding the environment and sustainability. In Brussels there are bike rental racks everywhere as well as electric chargers for cars right on the street. You can sense that climate change and conservation are a part of the popular consciousness. Also a preservation of history is also quite evident. Not just from the preservation of Gothic Churches and Baroque buildings.  More than one speaker referenced World War II when discussing the importance of the EU. Moreover, agriculture is their history. As we drove through the countryside, the Romantic notion of pre-industrial life was evident in the free roaming cattle and sweeping fields of grain. As we sat and enjoyed our La Chouffe beer at the Brasserie D’ Achouffe in rural Belgium, I spied a few domestic ducks and geese belonging to the owners.  However, as a naturalist as well as a gardener, I was a bit surprised by the absence of wild animals and birds and even insects. Most of the Ardennes Forest near the brewery has been planted for the timber industry. There were fisheries near the brewery to try and replenish fish for the local stream, which is a good sign. I believe that part of the CAP of the EU that requires a 7% set aside of lands for nature is a positive step for EU member states towards preserving not just their man-made history but all of their history like indigenous plant and animal species. 

In beautiful Luxembourg I had the opportunity to explore a bit, and discovered the community gardens on open lands below castle walls and near train tracks. The gardens were another example of preserving history. The plants growing were cabbages, potatoes, broccoli, and other typical vegetables used in a European kitchen. Alas we only had two days in Luxembourg, a wonderful medieval city.  At the top of this article is a picture of one of the community gardens in Luxembourg. I would love to see these all over the U.S. If you are concerned about food supply and the environment I have two suggestions for you to get more involved:
Kristin Aye-Guerrero teaches AP World History and AP European History at South Elgin High School in Illinois.

This article is one in a series of blog entries authored by teachers who participated in the University of Illinois European Union Center’s 2012 Summer Study Tour: Seeking Sustainable and Secure Connections in Food, Energy, and Governance. The tour to Belgium and Luxembourg was supported by a Getting to Know Europe grant from the European Commission. 


Cookie Settings