This January, I rang in the New Year as José Manuel García-Margallo, Spain’s foreign affairs minister, representing my country in a debate over new policies in the European Union. The role came as part of Ithaca College’s delegation to the SUNY Model European Union conference, this year hosted by Vesalius College in Brussels.
The annual conference simulates the European Union, with delegates from both European and American colleges representing different countries in four separate committees: Heads of Government, Foreign Affairs, Economics and Finance, and Permanent Representatives. This year’s location meant I got to take my first trip to Europe, and I crossed the Atlantic Ocean eager to experience a new culture and explore the city of Brussels. I also arrived well prepared for the debates.
Throughout the fall semester, my teammates and I met with politics professor Juan Arroyo, our delegation’s advisor, to discuss Spain and its role in the European Union. We gained an understanding of the country’s culture, socio-economic situation, government, and relationship with other European nations. This enabled us to formulate our country’s position on the issues up for debate in each of our committees, and decide what resolutions we should argue to have passed.
For example, since I knew about Spain’s current difficult economic situation, I voiced concerns regarding policies that could cause budget increases. What I found rewarding was that, although we were debating, the delegates sought solutions that took into account Europe as a whole rather than their individual country’s agendas. As a result, instead of competition there was collaboration.
While the first halves of our days were spent in enriching international discussions, the second halves were devoted to discovery. Accompanied by my new international acquaintances, I walked through the cobblestone streets marveling at the beautiful architecture: the imperial buildings of the old marketplace and the gold-encrusted statues. We sampled from the Italian pizzerias and also Neuhaus, Brussels’ oldest chocolate store, whose creamy hot chocolate made from actual chocolaty chunks and hot cream disappeared from my cup much sooner than I’d have liked. Each day as we took in Belgium’s capital we’d wander along the canal and gaze at preserved ancient ruins.
A global experience
I feel fortunate to have had this Brussels experience and would not hesitate to recommend it to others. As someone with political interests but limited space in her class schedule, this offered an ideal alternative political education. I gained confidence in myself as a public speaker and negotiator, and further refined and developed my research techniques. More than anything, I would suggest this European Union experience because I made dear friendships with peers from as far away as Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Ukraine, and as close by as Cortland, Buffalo, and New Paltz, New York.
A celebratory trip with these new acquaintances to the idyllic Belgium city of Bruges concluded our weekend. There, we indulged in waffles and chocolate while strolling past picturesque canals and village houses. We walked across the city’s streets alongside the horse-drawn carriages, exhausted but fulfilled from the weekend’s experiences. As the day drew to an end, our goodbyes and hugs of farewell were accompanied with great anticipation for next year’s conference where we’ll reunite, this time in New York City, to once again try to achieve the dream of a united Europe.
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