The University of Iowa

Belgian Waffles and International Politics

November 11th, 2014

by Maddie Welter 

A couple of weeks ago, I went on another trip through my study abroad program. It was full of many once in a lifetime opportunities, and I think this would be a good time to delve a bit more into what IES European Union is all about.

My program is made up of 66 students from universities all over the country. While most of us are political science or international relations majors, there are also economics, business, and environmental majors here. We each take five classes. Each student is enrolled in a German language class as well as an EU integrative seminar. The seminar introduced us to the history and institutions for the first two months of the program, and now it is primarily for Model EU preparation, something that will take place in early December. We are also each enrolled in three area courses. For example, I am taking a global leadership class, a course on European Union foreign and security policy, and another international relations class focused on the Black Sea region.

Brussels Grand Place

When I was weighing my study abroad options, one of the biggest draws to this program for me were the travel opportunities. We take three weeklong trips throughout the semester, meant to complement what we study in our classes. Each trip involves meetings on whatever issue we are presently studying as well as some free time to explore each city. The September trip to Berlin and Prague was focused on European history, while our October trip Luxembourg, Brussels, and Paris was focused on institutions. At the end of the November, we will split into three groups and take three very different trips. I will be traveling to Romania, Greece, and Hungary and focusing on security, energy, and EU-Turkish relations.

The downside of all of this travel is that we have a truncated semester. To make up for this, our classes are a bit longer than normal, and we are held to a very strict attendance policy. The upside is the chance to get a real life perspective on what we learn in those classes. This was particularly apparent in Brussels.  

Brussels ended up being the sleeper hit for my European travels. I figured that Brussels would be nice, but I hadn’t heard much about it before, so I didn't know what to expect. Needless to say, Brussels has been one of my favorite cities so far. It was the perfect combination of work and play. On one hand, I got to spend a morning at the European Commission and take part in a candid discussion on Ukraine at the Russian Mission to the EU. On the other hand, I ate some of the best food that I’ve ever had and celebrated my 22nd birthday at the bar that holds the Guinness Book of Records for most types of beers served. 

Friends on top of the Eiffel tower.

One afternoon, a few friends and I stopped for waffles in a park in between meetings. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. In between bites of sugary goodness, we carried out a conversation on international relations. We covered a lot of ground, from US policy to the future of the EU to the Ukrainian crisis, and it went on and on. At one point, we put a pause on our conversation and took a moment to vocalize our awe. Here we were in the de facto “Capital of Europe” discussing something that we all loved. If we’ve already had this opportunity in our early 20s, who knows what we’ll be doing later on in life? Never had I been so confident in my choice of career path. I would highly recommend that international relations majors explore this program if they want to study abroad.

I’ve spent the past few weekends in Freiburg. After spending most of October traveling, it’s been a welcome change. My next one or two entries will be Freiburg-focused. I’m looking forward to showing off my current home!

Maddie is a senior from St. Charles, Illinois, majoring in International Relations at the University of Iowa. She is currently studying abroad on the IES European Union program in Freiburg, Germany.