The 2020 Fulbright Seminar on the European Union and NATO, organized by the Fulbright Commission in Brussels, was held on 4 – 8 February 2020. In its thirty-eighth year, the seminar brought together participants from over twenty countries, and explored the role of the European Union and the priorities of the newly-appointed von der Leyen Commission. Highlights of the seminar included visits to the European Court of Justice, the European Commission, NATO Headquarters, and the U.S. Mission to the European Union as well as an opening reception at the U.S. Embassy to Luxembourg in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Fulbright Luxembourg Program. Our Fulbright| America for Bulgaria Foundation English Teaching Assistant, Gergana Kostadinova, was selected to represent Fulbright Bulgaria at the seminar.
Thank you to the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission for selecting me to represent Fulbright Bulgaria at the Seminar. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity! And a huge thank you to Erica Lutes and Elisabeth Bloxam of the Fulbright Commission in Brussels – the two are women of many talents! Their hard work and dedication to the Seminar made the entire experience unforgettable for all of the participants.
As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in
Bulgaria, I have enjoyed all the new experiences that come with adjusting to
life as a teacher in a new city. I have become familiar with the quirks of each
of my classes, I enjoy catching up with and learning from my colleagues, and I
know where to get the best банички near my school.
In the midst of these new routines, it was
interesting to step away for a week during the term break — the week after the
U.K. formally left the E.U. — to attend the 2020 EU – NATO Seminar organized
by the Fulbright Commission in Brussels. On paper, the EU – NATO Seminar
promised to be four days full of learning and exploring through presentations,
visits, and networking opportunities. And yes, I definitely gained a better
understanding of the role and importance of both the European Union and the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In reality, the Seminar proved to be so
much more than that, and I know that this experience will stay with me well
beyond my time as a Fulbright ETA.
It was fascinating to absorb all of this
information through the perspective of a Bulgarian – American temporarily
living back in Bulgaria. Having studied global political and economic
development, I know that the United States should never take existing alliances
for granted, and needs to actively maintain and invest in these
mutually-beneficial partnerships. The Seminar certainly reaffirmed this belief,
especially when we spoke with representatives from the U.S. Mission to the E.U.
and the U.S. Mission to N.A.T.O. We also had the opportunity to speak with Dr.
Paul Nihoul, a Judge in the General Court of the European Court of Justice and
a Fulbright alumnus. It was truly inspiring to hear Dr. Nihoul discuss his
trust in the institutions of the E.U. and his determination to serve its
citizens by ensuring that they feel heard and understood. As a dedicated public
servant himself, he reminded us to have faith in our own democratic
institutions as our country takes on unprecedented challenges.
The Seminar emphasized the importance of each
and every member state and their contribution to the overall success of the
E.U. and N.A.T.O. Living in Bulgaria, I am aware of the country’s strategic
role in both of these organizations during renewed tensions between “the West”
and Russia. I also often see signs attributing renovations or projects to E.U.
funding, or read about the impact of E.U. policies throughout the country. For
example, the Simeon Radev Foreign Language School in Pernik where I teach has
been the recipient of various educational grants. While I was in Belgium and
Luxembourg, these “sponsored by the E.U.” signs took on a whole new meaning
when considered in the broader context of E.U. priorities to strengthen a
shared European identity through Erasmus+ exchanges, or to invest in the
revitalization of regions that have faced economic downturns.
The E.U.’s biggest challenges currently
include migration, economic and social inequality, climate change, and
accelerating technological change and hyperconnectivity. All of these
challenges take on a new meaning when considered on a regional versus a
single-country perspective. Taking some of these observations to my students,
it was interesting to hear their micro-level perspectives based on their lived
experiences, compared to the macro-level overviews that I received.
Just as valuable as the educational aspects of the Seminar, was the opportunity to connect with other Fulbrighter grantees who are placed throughout Europe. It was very eye-opening to hear about their research projects or Master’s programs, and to compare teaching experiences with the other ETAs. Everyone brought such unique perspectives to the Seminar, either from their current work, or from their previous experiences in the U.S. I hope that these friendships, which were forged over long bus rides, Nutella-covered Belgian waffles and Delirum beer, hot yoga, and while wandering the streets of Brussels entranced by its history and architecture, will continue to connect us in the future, regardless of where we find ourselves.