By Eleanor Conrad
After two years of postponement, the Brussels Study Tour finally took place again this summer 2022. The tour provides a week-long, guided opportunity for a cohort of approximately twenty-five K-14 educators from across the nation to learn about the European Union and its institutions in situ. Many of the participating teachers are sponsored by American universities and teach a variety of subjects to different grade levels of students.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for European Studies supported the participation of Mr. Adam Wimberly, a social studies teacher from Kimberly High School in Kimberly, Wisconsin, in one of the three tours that took place this summer.
This was Adam’s first trip to Brussels. Before his arrival, he had thought of the European Union as a complicated bureaucracy. After having participated in the tour, Adam now believes that “the EU plays a significant role in making people’s lives easier around the globe,” and he ended the tour impressed with the accomplishments and mechanics of the European Union as a supranational mode of governance.
During the tour, Adam and his cohort of fellow teachers visited several EU institutions, including the European Parliament, the European Union Council, the European Commission, and the European External Action Service (EEAS). The group even took a train from Brussels to visit the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg.
Adam credits his visits to EU institutions with providing clarity on the inner workings and politics of the EU, saying, “I’m much more comfortable understanding the process of how the Parliament and the Council work together. By Tuesday and Wednesday [following visits to the Council and Commission] the puzzle started to fit together.”
Wimberly was fortunate to have his tour week coincide with several important events in EU politics, such as Sweden and Finland joining NATO and the announcement of member state candidate status being awarded to Ukraine and Moldova. He appreciated the candor of the EU representatives in their discussion of current events and in answering teacher’s questions. In his words, “It was refreshing to hear points not mentioned in your typical press release.”
The day trip to Luxembourg proved to be educationally inspirational for the Wisconsin teacher. Prior to his trip, Adam had not considered the Court of Justice of the European Union in his curriculum. However, after visiting the Court of Justice of the European Union, Adam plans to feature the Court in future comparative lessons for his American Justice class.
Near the end of the tour, the educators are encouraged to collaborate on curriculum development and a final project. Wimberly was able to meet and network with several teachers who already had established EU-focused curricula and whose students regularly participate in regional and national Model EU and Model UN competitions. He also was able to learn more about European Union simulations that could be done in smaller groups during regular class time.
To complete his professional development project for the study tour, Adam will create his own comparative lesson plan based in the European Union’s foundational documents. Working with primary sources, he hopes to clarify the meaning of sovereignty, often a difficult concept for his ninth-grade civics students, using a comparison of the United States’ Treaty of 1854 and the European Union’s Treaty of Rome to illustrate the differences between federal and national sovereignty.
Adam left Brussels not only with a clearer understanding of the internal affairs and operations of the European Union, but also with a deeper awareness of the EU’s international significance. For example, before his visit to the Parliament he hadn’t realized that the European Union’s firm regulations had the potential to influence higher standards internationally, as is the case with EU privacy laws, which currently set the global standard.
For Adam, the study tour emphasized the importance of the transatlantic relationship. It was interesting for him to see just how connected the U.S. is to the EU, and he believes his students will be interested to learn about this connection as well.
Assistant Director Eleanor Conrad of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for European Studies joined the first week of the Brussels Study Tour to help facilitate tour visits. The Brussels Study Tour 2022 was the result of a collaboration between European studies centers at University of Pittsburgh, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Florida International University with contributions from partner institutions such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for European Studies is proud to foster transatlantic outreach activities that inspire teachers and promote a better understanding of European and international affairs. The Center for European Studies can support these activities through generous grants from the European Union Erasmus + program and the U.S. Department of Education. Educators can learn about similar opportunities to those described above by joining the European Studies K-12 outreach mailing list via email@example.com.