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.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Transatlantic Educator's Dialogue (TED) Series - Week Three

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life. 

Week Three: Prompt – Please write about your country's educational systems and relationship to EU. Focus in particular on its structure, both within the government and within the actual system (ie: how do they organize their school levels?)  

Bulgaria’s education sector

Across the EU, member states are supported by the Directorate General for Education and Culture, who is responsible for policy and the management of initiatives – most notably, the Erasmus+ program. They are to support member states in developing coherent policies for: schools, vocational education and training, higher education, and adult education (EU Commission). According to the Fulbright Bulgarian American Commission for Education Exchange, the education system in Bulgaria is supported and governed through the Ministry of Education and Science on the member state level. They and the DG for Education and Culture create and implement education policy, working together to achieve EU-wide goals of improving educational standards and completion rates.

School systems in Bulgaria consist of public and private sectors, similar to the US. Public secondary
Table 1 Fulbright Bulgarian American Commission for Education Exchange
schools include: general education, vocational, language schools and foreign schools. Additionally, there are fifty-one higher education institutions in Bulgaria for undergraduate and graduate (Master’s and PhD) degrees. This chart shows a comparison of age-to-grade levels, as well compulsory and basic education levels.

Education in Bulgaria is compulsory – or, required by law – from the ages of 7-16. Basic education (grades 1-8) are divided in two parts: primary school (grades 1-4) and pre-secondary school (grades 5-8). The upper secondary level following the receipt of a Basic Education Completion Certificate is broken down into three types of schools: comprehensive (general) secondary schools, profile-oriented schools (literature, mathematics, humanities, etc.), and vocational-technical schools. Secondary education is a stepping stone a job within a particular trade or to university. In higher education, there are four types of institutions: Higher Education College, University, Specialized Higher Education Institutions (technical schools), and Academy. Higher Ed offers degrees for: “Specialist in…”, First or Bachelor’s, Second or Master’s, and Third or PhD. (See Fulbright site for more info). Schools are accredited by the Ministry of education and Science of the Republic of Bulgaria and various other accreditation agencies.

Primary and pre-secondary (basic education level) is free in public schools. Curriculum is unified for all schools, include private. There are no honors or advanced placement courses in the school system; but, students are required to taken advanced courses in the last two years of secondary school. Like education in the U.S., the school year is divided into two terms, starting in the Fall and Spring, ending in Winter and Summer. Students are given grades at the end of each semester, based on a 6.0 scale (equivalent to 4.0 to the American system):

6 (A)= Excellent (91.5-100%)
5 (B) = Very Good (80.5-91.4%)
4 (C)= Good (70.5-80.4%)
3 (D)= Sufficient (59.5-70.4%)
2 (F)= Poor (0-59.4%)

 However, as a matter of policy, schools do not rank or rate their students as a whole like the American system does.

School completion rates, particularly among the Roma, have been low compared to other areas in the EU. In the European Commission’s 2015 Education and Training Monitor on Bulgaria, it is noted that Bulgaria has not yet adopted its School Education Act, meant to address these issues. This act would assist with their higher (in comparison to the EU as a whole) under achievement rates, low job placement post-university, and would “provide a framework for implementing the comprehensive reforms needed in the school system, including modernizing curricula and improving teach training” (European Commission, 2015: 3). While this may be the case, according to statistics in the report, Bulgaria has been improving their numbers more rapidly than the EU as a whole, across the board. As the Europe 2020 goal grows closer, I will be eagerly watching Bulgaria’s progress within the education sector.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Transatlantic Educator’s Dialogue (TED) Series-One: Week One and Two

By Lindsay Ozburn

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life.

Week One: Prompt – “Identify three current major news stories within your chosen country. What are they about and why are they so important? Is there one more important than the other two? Why do you think so (or not)?”

Bulgaria, where have you gone? 
As a student in European Union studies and aficionado of Greek culture, my focus has recently been on Greece and their relationship with the EU. Hoping to become an area studies specialist, I decided to branch out from my heavy focus on Greece and turn my view to its neighbor, Bulgaria. In my initial purview on the various news networks outside of Bulgaria itself (whose validity and bias I could not ascertain; thus, I chose to stay away from their reports), I noticed a common trend: Bulgaria was mostly absent from news reports, especially in the last few months. This was very surprising to me, for two reasons: one, they are on the frontlines on the immigration crisis in the EU and are some of the ‘gatekeepers’ of the EU’s borders; two, often associated as an Eastern European country, they were very recently concerned about the threat of Russia. I’ve chosen three very different articles to share. While it appears I have chosen one important article per month for December through February, the fact of the matter is, there was only one important article published each month relating to Bulgaria (other than news about Bulgarian Olympians being excluded from the upcoming games due to steroid use; which, could be another interesting indication in itself on the state of outsider media coverage of Bulgaria).

This first article (20 January, 2016) addresses why Bulgaria has had such a difficult experience as a market economy, and offers its evidence in a unique format: a survey of major historical events and the current political powers. The article softly argues that Bulgaria’s past communist rule is the main culprit – a regime whose policies are still doing damage to this day. Bulgaria was one of the later countries to join the EU (2007), and still isn’t eligible to join the Eurozone. While the piece doesn’t address whether their absence from the Eurozone is a good or bad thing, it is possible that Bulgaria may not have survived the deflation of the Euro. Overall, the importance of this historical piece lies in its ability to share, in one location, a concise history of Bulgaria, giving readers information on the progression of post-communist effect on their market economy.

This second article (4 December, 2015) discusses British Prime Minister David Cameron’s December visit to Bulgaria, where he ruffled some feathers when he praised Bulgaria’s barbed wire fence and attack dogs on its border with Turkey – aimed at halting refugees crossing the border. His sentiments in this instance reflect Britain’s anti-refugee position, being further played out in Cameron’s purposeful recognition of Britain’s absence within the Schengen Zone treaty. Bulgaria is known for their severe mistreatment of refugees, ranging from extortion to physical abuse, robbery, and police brutality, according to a report from the Belgrade Center for Human Rights. What is especially unique about this article is Britain’s attempt to discriminate against East-European minority vis-à-vis their membership negotiations with the EU, only one and a half months after Cameron was quite chummy with the Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov.

This third article (3 February, 2016) offers a view on a large issue affecting Eastern Europe’s relationship with Western European countries. Britain is currently in negotiations with EU-level bodies to bridge the gap between some of their most contested issues (member state sovereignty, immigration, and the market economy, to name a few), in order to prevent the UK from bowing out of the European Union. One of their newest negotiation treaties contained a clause which decreases welfare, to the detriment of minority groups in the UK; of which Eastern Europeans make up a significant percentage. Eastern European countries are now grappling with the choice of either rejecting the UK’s proposal, risking a “Brexit” and thereby losing protection against Russia; or, allowing their ethnic minority groups to be discriminated against. I believe this article is the most important for three reasons: first, it reiterates the fact that Bulgaria receives very little news coverage (which I discovered while doing this exercise); and, when it does, it tends to be lumped with Eastern European countries and EU-wide issues; second, it discusses the very prevalent issue of ethnic discrimination within the UK and talk of a “Brexit”, both of which are being teased out through their membership alteration negotiations; and third, it highlights the prevailing issue of ‘old’ versus ‘new’ EU member states. Collectively, these three ongoing problems could be enough to advance the already troubled atmosphere within the EU to one of noncompliance, resulting in a ripple effect across all areas of EU competence and member state cooperation.

Week Two: Prompt - Please write about your country's citizenship, naturalization, and immigrant integration policies.

Citizenship, Naturalization, and Integration in Bulgaria: Will the EU’s Gatekeeper Ever Be (Ready for) More?
There has been much focus on Greece, Germany, and the Balkans as a whole, throughout this immigration crisis in the EU, and rightfully so. But, what about the individual Balkan countries? Specifically, what about Bulgaria? My initial research into Bulgaria revealed that they aren’t covered in international news on a frequent basis; and, when they have been (in the past few months), it was in the form of bad publicity for their treatment of and measures taken against refugees. Most specifically, news of barbed wire fence along their borders, and multiple reports of violent acts of racism and xenophobia. As one of the ‘gatekeepers’ to the EU, Bulgaria is prime real estate for human trafficking. They set an important precedence for all manner of immigration into the EU; for instance, how refugees will be treated and cared for on their trek through Balkans, how other land immigrants can be naturalized and become part of the EU community, etc.

After wading through pages of Bulgarian citizenship law documents and EU factsheets on Bulgaria, it appears that Bulgarian citizenship, naturalization, and immigrant integration laws are predisposed toward those who are highly educated, are already of Bulgarian descent, or those willing to devote their time to obtaining an all-encompassing knowledge of the Bulgarian language, customs, and obtain the usual residency and job status. While they have produced a very extensive, comprehensive document outlining plans for attracting third country nationals (TCN) to boost economic production, their actions in recent years do not mimic their words – specifically as it relates to TCN of a different religion or socioeconomic status.

According to Chapter 2, Section I of “Law for the Bulgarian Citizenship”, one can acquire citizenship by origin, place of birth, or by naturalization. Under citizenship by origin, you are a Bulgarian citizen if at least one of your parents is a Bulgarian citizen; or, if you are fathered by a Bulgarian citizen; or, if your origin from a Bulgarian citizen is established by a court. Under the origin clause, citizenship by parent appears to extend to adoptive and biological parents, alike, so long as they are a Bulgarian citizen. To acquire citizenship by birth, you must be born on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria or if you are found on this territory and your parents are unknown. This may potentially extend to embassies on foreign soil.

However, if a person is does not qualify for or is unable to obtain the stipulations stated above, you must file for naturalization – a process which seems complicated and difficult for those who are fleeing to Bulgaria. The most basic route to naturalization is to: ‘become of age’ (not clarified; presumably 18), file for a permit for permanent stay in the Republic of Bulgaria, not be a criminal, have an occupation and a place of residence in the country, do not have (or will be released soon from) any other citizenship, and, most interestingly, have control of the Bulgarian language “which shall be ascertained according to an Ordinance by the Minister of Education, Youth and Science”. The requirement of ‘control of the language’ is also listed under Article 13a, which addresses those obtaining a refugee or protection status.

Overall, most documents discussing citizenship, naturalization, and integration all agree that, for the sake of Bulgaria’s economy, TCN must be attracted to the country and be successfully socially integrated. While this appears to be at the expense of any individual of a lower socioeconomic status, Bulgaria’s goals indicate a desire to be a proactive ‘gatekeeper’ and sustainable member of the EU by combating trafficking, increasing economic output, and increase implementation of European legal norms by increasing their operational capacities.


EU Commission. 2009. “The Organisation of Asylum and Migration Polices. Factsheet: Bulgaria.” Updated September, 2012.

Krasteva, Anna et. al., eds. 2010. “Trends in Cross-border Workforce Migration and the Free Movement of People – Effects for Bulgaria.” Open Society Institute – Sofia: 7-176.

Law for the Bulgarian Citizenship. 1998. Amended SG. 33/30, April 2010: 1-11.

National Strategy on Migration, Asylum, and Integration (2011-2020). 2011.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Experiencing the Work of the EU in Brussels: Report from the Illinois EU Center Delegation

By Lucinda Morgan, Michele Spalding, and Matthew Krause

As a member of a four-person delegation sponsored by the EU Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we greatly appreciated the opportunity to first-hand learn about the history, operations, and programming of the European Union in Brussels. We were a part of a group of approximately forty educators and university students, organized by the EU Center of Excellence at the University of North Carolina. From June 21-26, 2015, we visited EU offices and attended lectures given by various EU representatives. In addition to the intended purpose of the study tour, we were in Brussels during a very interesting time, as the EU was deciding the future of Greece’s membership due to its economic situation, so we experienced an increased amount of security and media coverage during our visits to various divisions around Brussels.

Our first official visit was to the EU Commission, where we learned about its role and functions. We learned about the origins of the EU with Robert Schuman’s 1950 speech, in which he expressed the goal of making “war but physically impossible” in the aftermath of World War II. His words quickly came to fruition, as within a year, the six founding members of the EU signed their founding ECSC Treaty, thus establishing the Commission, Parliament, Council of Ministers, and the Court of Justice. Emphasizing the importance of the EU in the world today, we learned that though the EU is only 7% of the world’s population, it represents 25% of the world’s GDP, and provides 50% of the social welfare to developing nations. In terms of voter participation, it was interesting to learn that over 90% of people vote in Belgium (they are actually fined if they do not vote), and less than 20% vote in Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. We also discussed how since 2008, Greece’s economy had contracted by 25% since 2008, and that the only other time that such a drastic decrease has occurred was with the post-Soviet countries.

Throughout the duration of the week, we also visited a school for the children of EU diplomats and staff, and also the Education, Audiovisual, and Cultural Executive Agency, which funds more than 4,000 educational projects a years. It was interesting to learn that though Finland is often in the global spotlight for its educational achievements, Estonia also has scores at a very high level on international assessments. Though the EU creates policies regarding the environment, agriculture, and economics, it was interesting to learn that the EU Commission does not have an overall general education policy, and that some countries have more than one national education system, such as Belgium, which has three distinctively different systems.

We also had the opportunity to visit the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is the foreign and security policy service, and performs many of the same duties as the State Department in the USA. Founded by the Lisbon Treaty in 2011, the EEAS works in close cooperation with diplomatic services of member states in order to enhance the EU’s “common message” regarding defense and security, both bilaterally and globally. The EEAS has 139 Delegation Offices around the world, and coordinates trade, developmental aid, humanitarian assistance, and enlargement on behalf of the EU. We also met with the EEAS International Relations Officer for the US and Canada, and learned more about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and also the EU-US Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement that was established in 1998.

Beyond our visits to EU offices and agencies, we also experienced local culture and historic sites, such as visits to the Atomium (a unit cell of an iron cell 165 billion times that was the iconic building of the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels—it looks like a structure from The Jetson’s cartoon) and Matonge Quarter (the Congolese neighborhood in Brussels, as The Democratic Republic of the Congo gained its independence from Belgium in 1960; there are over 100,000 Africans living in Brussels which is about 10% of the city’s population). We also very much enjoyed the outdoor cafes located near the Grand Place-Grote Market, where we devoured pots of fresh mussels and many varieties of cheese and Belgium chocolate. We are very grateful to the EU Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for sponsoring my participation in the study tour, as well as the EU Center at the University of North Carolina for coordinating and organizing this amazing experience. It was also enriching to interact with the other participants from the other EU Centers of Excellence in the USA, as we continue to stay connected to them beyond our time in Brussels through various social media platforms.

Lucinda Morgan is a PhD student in the Educational Organization, Leadership, and Policy Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For the past six years, she has been the Coordinator for the Transatlantic Educators Dialogue (TED) for the EU Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. TED connects educators in Europe and the United States online so that they can share about their experiences teaching in the classroom and how various social issues impact their teaching and their students. For more information about TED, please see: http://europe.illinois.edu/ted/

Michele Spalding is the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs for Health Professions at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois.

Matthew Krause is a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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