“For the past thirty-six years, the Fulbright Commission in Brussels has invited American Fulbright grantees to countries all over Europe to the Fulbright Seminar on the European Union and NATO. This year, the seminar brought together nearly 50 American Fulbright grantees to countries like France, Germany, Romania, and of course, Portugal. Even grantees to the United Kingdom were welcomed despite Brexit – a reoccurring joke throughout the trip.

Thanks to a rescheduled flight, my journey to Luxembourg began the day before the official start of the seminar. I took advantage of this time and walked all around the city, exploring the Ville Haute and its old fortifications, which are considered a UNESCO World Heritage site. In my wanderings, I also recognized several Portuguese businesses and accents throughout the city. I was stumbling through a sandwich order in French, apologizing to the waitress because I kept wanting to speak Portuguese, when she told me that she was from a city outside of Porto. She informed me that nearly 16% of the Luxembourg’s population are Portuguese nationals!

The following day, the other grantees arrived and we walked to the U.S. Embassy to Luxembourg, where we were warmly greeted by embassy staff and friends of the Fulbright program. Our guest lecturer and Chairman of the Fulbright Commission, Dr. Jerome Sheridan, set the tone for the rest of the week. As an expert on the E.U., he provided a brief introduction to its structure and highlighted the importance of the E.U. as a political and economic institution. He also mentioned the biggest challenges facing the EU are Brexit, the new U.S. administration, and the upcoming European elections in countries like France, the Netherlands and Germany. These concerns were discussed multiple times throughout the week as well.  

 Our second day included attending a case hearing at the Court of Justice of the European Union. It was interesting to witness how E.U. law is applied to the legal issues of a single member-country. President Koen Lenaerts and Judge Paul Nihoul, both Fulbright alumni, also provided some background on the E.U.’s legal tradition.  One of the biggest takeaways from these discussions is that while the E.U. acts a political entity to preserve the common goals of individual states, it must also ensure all policies are guided by democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights. Afterwards, our group traveled to the Bastogne War Museum and Mardasson Memorial before heading to Brussels. This stop was a great reminder as to why there was such a need for an institution like the E.U. after the destruction of World War I and World War II.

On the third day, we visited the European Commission in Brussels, where we received an even more in-depth presentation on the EU’s structure and its policies. This was a particularly exciting session for me because there was a presentation on the E.U.’s development cooperation policy, which is a big part of my Fulbright research project. We also had a presentation on the E.U.’s foreign and security policy by Mr. Ricardo Borges de Castro, a Fulbright Portugal alumnus. Otília Reis, our Executive Director, and I were quick to make sure we got a picture together, proudly representing the Fulbright Commission in Portugal. Continuing with the E.U. theme of the day, we were later welcomed for a discussion and reception at the U.S. Mission to the European Union. For so many of us, the question was how will the new administration in the U.S. affect relations with the E.U. The diplomatic answer was “we are still waiting to see how it will affect our relations.” While I expected this, I also hoped for a more concrete and analytical response.

For our last day, we went to NATO Headquarters, which is where the U.S. Mission to NATO is also hosted. We heard from both NATO and U.S. diplomats regarding current priorities and policies. I was intrigued by NATO’s move to develop more partnerships to tackle cross-cutting and emerging security issues. This seems ideal considering security is not just a matter of military capability.  Our discussion was engaging and I left having a much better understanding of NATO. Our day ended at the College of Europe in Bruges, which is perhaps one of the most charming cities I have even been too. The current Fulbright-Schuman grantees gave presentations on their projects; they were each so specific and intricately detailed. It was impressive to see all the different ways in which grantees are using this Fulbright experience. At our delicious vegan dinner, we were joined by the most recent U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Anthony Gardner. As an appointed ambassador, he was able to speak more candidly about his experiences and his hopes and concerns for the future of U.S.-E.U. relations. His honesty and humor were greatly appreciated!

While the content of the trip was engaging and informative, one of my favorite parts of this seminar was meeting other American Fulbright grantees and learning about the work they are doing in their host-countries. They represented various academic fields, from nuclear engineering to water politics to refugee and migrant issues. I found the energy with which everyone spoke about their respective topics and goals inspiring. The researchers, journalists, community and English teaching assistants, alike, brought unique perspectives to our discussions. Reflecting on this experience, I am all the more amazed with how the Fulbright Program brings such diverse individuals together to build community globally and foster cultural exchange.”

Jacqueline Rojas is a Fulbright research student of International Relations at ISEG-Lisbon School of Economics and Management, Centre for African, Asian and Latin American Studies (CEsA), AY2016/2017