Monday, August 26, 2013

EU Centers of Excellence Educational Trip: Getting Europe into the Rural School

by Katie McNamara

EU Parliament Meeting
This past summer, I had the tremendous opportunity of participating in the European Union Centers of Excellence trip abroad to Brussels, Belgium.  A student of mine participated in the University of Illinois EU Center’s high school essay competition and came in second place, allowing me the chance to travel with the EUCE to Brussels.  The educational trip allowed me to collaborate with teachers and university students across the nation, create contacts with those at the University of Illinois EU Center, and gave me a hands on experience on the interworking of the EU, NATO, and activist groups in Europe.

EU Commission
As a teacher of a small, rural school in Central Illinois, I find it a challenge to relate the massive amounts of information and critical discussions of the EU to my students who are often isolated from the world. Very often, my students find it difficult to connect with events taking place in Europe.  Many students have never traveled outside of the United States, and some have never traveled outside of Illinois. Often, they do not see how interconnected America and Europe are, and the importance of understanding the impact that European events can have on them.  I soon realized that this opportunity would be such a great way to engage my students in the discovery of Europe and the ever-changing issues being faced both within Europe and globally in the 21st century.

Speak Up! Demonstration in front of the EU Commission
One theme that seemed to run through all of the discussions at the European Parliament, the US Mission to the EU, and the Council of the EU was the future relations between the United States and Europe, particularly related to the present TTIP trade negotiations. A very intriguing moment occurred when Dennis O’Sullivan, lawyer linguist at the Council of the EU, discussed some difficulties faced with negotiating the size of rearview mirrors in tractors. Alas, farming and tractors: territory very familiar with many of my students! If the trade agreement between the EU and America does go through, imagine the possibilities and opportunity for American farmers with the new and extensive market of the EU. My students in French class, in collaboration with the Agriculture department in our school, are planning on creating a unit in which students study the TTIP agreement and what it would mean for farmers in this area, as well as studying other areas that could be impacted, both positively and negatively. Through this unit, I hope that students will become more aware of current events in Europe, and with the omnipotent need to become connected to the world.

View from ENAR
Additionally, the discussion session at the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) was one that I had been looking forward to. Although we are becoming increasingly more tolerant in America, racism and discrimination are still so present, including in small rural communities. Listening to the ENAR director, Michaël Privot, speak on the work ENAR is doing to combat racism in Europe by being an umbrella organization for other anti-racism organizations was very compelling. Among many other roles, ENAR is canvassing throughout Europe to find and support individuals whom have reported being discriminated against so that in turn, ENAR may lobby the EU parliament and commission to increase support and funding for minority and immigrant groups. A unit comparing discrimination and racism in America and abroad can have so much influence on students in a small school, as it can allow them to see what racism looks like elsewhere, and hopefully help change their mindset and actions on racism in their community.

Photo credit: Katie McNamara

Katie McNamara is a French teacher at Oakwood High School in Fithian, IL. This is her second year teaching. She received her B.A. and M.A. in teaching from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. In her spare time, she is also senior class advisor and advisor for International Club. You may reach class page via this link: Ms. McNamara's Class Page.


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