Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Belgique

By: Kendahl Melvin, Hinckley Institute of Politics International Internship, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels, Belgium is best known for its chocolate, waffles, and frites (yummy fries). Aside from its cuisine prowess, it is home to the European Union Institutions. This summer, not only did I gorge myself on chocolate, waffles, and frites, I also completed a Hinckley Institute of Politics Internship in the European Parliament.



I left for Brussels in May, packed for summer and ready for a picturesque European adventure. I imagined sleepy streets, old men smoking outside darling shops, and a quiet movie-like summer. While my summer was like a movie, it wasn’t the romantic European love story I had expected. However, it turned to be more than I could have imagined, and better than I could have dreamed. I found that Brussels is busy, and a melting pot of people from all over the EU, come to publically serve in the European Union Institutions. I learned it rains a ton, is cold until July, and that learning to say “Bon Jour” properly will make you more friends. I learn to be tougher, and I learned that Brussels is the “work horse” of the EU. Not quite quaint or picturesque, but certainly important and beautiful in its own ways.

In Brussels, I was privileged to work with the European People’s Party (EPP) in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament. The Foreign Affairs Committee also has two sub committees, Human Rights and Security and Defense. I could not think of a better fit for my interests, and my path of study (political science and international studies, emphasis in foreign policy). I worked 40 hours a week for the kindest, good – humored EPP Advisor. My tasks included research, attending meetings and note taking, generating reports and briefings, and helping to prepare a delegation of EPP Parliament members for a trip to the United States.

Of course I have a million favorite experiences, and some I would rather not repeat! The 5 most amazing things (in no particular order) from my trip are:

1.)    Waffles (obviously).

2.)    Attending a hearing with the Prime Minister of Libya, Ali Zeidan. It blew my mind to listen to his account of the Benghazi attacks. It was a continual privilege throughout the summer to hear international politicians and diplomats speak about global affairs first hand, an opportunity I would not have had in the U.S.
3.)    Attending a panel with a Russian Delegation. This summer immersed me in current international politics, especially Russia’s. The European Parliament worked throughout the summer to address the situation of political prisoners in Russia, and I continually worked on research and briefings for this case. I have become fascinated with the Magnitsky list, and with the EU’s approach to Russia’s actions.
4.)    London. We were able to travel a great deal, as Brussels is a hub for Euro travel. I fell in love with London. The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace & service at Westminster Abby stole my heart.
5.)    Amsterdam. Amsterdam is beautiful and chaotic. Bikes, cars, people, canals, weird smells, different sounds…the city is incredibly overwhelming. I loved Amsterdam, and cannot wait to return.

I feel so privileged to have been able to travel to the Netherlands, France, England, Luxembourg and to have lived in Belgium, I cannot complain about my adventure. I worked in an incredible place, and learned more in one internship abroad than I could have learned in two years in a classroom.

This internship gave me many things. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity. The most important thing I gained was belief. I believe in people more so now than I ever have. I met  people from all over the world every single day. I saw people from different ethnicities, countries, and cultures collaborate for a common cause, and strive to better the world. I witnessed international kindness, loyalty, and friendship. So I believe in people. I believe that the world is good, and that making a difference is possible. This internship gave me purpose and encouragement. I can’t thank the Hinckley enough for sending me, and Learning Abroad for helping me fund the trip along the way. 

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