Brussels Summer School 2017 – One Student’s Experience

Brussels 12th July 2017

Summer Schools Student Emma Lagerstedt talks about her time in Brussels:

In the spring of my second year, I heard about the University’s summer school program in Brussels via email from the School of Politics and International Relations. In the previous term I had taken a module on European Union politics which sparked an interest in the EU and its institutions, and I was keen to learn more about specific issue areas related to the EU. Especially in the context of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, it is a really interesting time to study Europe. Having enjoyed briefly studying the EU and Europe at university, I found the idea of spending two weeks focused on learning about and discussing these issues in depth really exciting. Not to mention it all taking place in Brussels, a city with a unique atmosphere which really is the center of all things Europe. Another reason I was interested in the summer school was the opportunity to get a taste of the postgraduate experience. I have been going back and forth with whether I am interested in doing a Master’s or not, and thought this would be a good opportunity to try-before-you-buy. I submitted an application thinking I might as well try and see what happens. To my delight, I won a scholarship to the BSIS summer school! While the summer school certainly is good value, other financial obligations meant that without this scholarship, I might not have had the opportunity to take part in a summer course.

Thinking back on my time at the BSIS summer school, two aspects of the course especially stand out, the academic experience and the diversity of the group. First of all, the teaching at the summer school was unlike anything I had experienced at university. In my everyday studies, I normally have seminars with tutors, going over the material from lectures and reading, and lectures by academics in groups that often exceed 100 people. As much as I like the teaching at Kent, the nature of it means lecturers are often talking at you rather than having a conversation. At the summer school, our group was the size of a normal seminar, which meant sessions were more like a conversation, with people giving comments or asking questions throughout. This format combined the benefits of a lecturer’s expertise in the subject with the more collaborative seminar environment. I felt I could ask a question about something I was interested in and get an expert opinion without holding up the class during a structured lecture which needs to cover a certain amount of points before the exam.

The quality of the lecturers’ and guest lecturers’ teaching was great, and in a lot of cases they really conveyed their passion for their subject. The opportunity to participate in one session each on a wide range of topics including migration, the economy, foreign policy etc. allowed me to find out what I was more and less interested in with regards to Europe and the EU, and the specialized expertise of each lecturer provided a refreshing alternative to most standard university modules. These lectures were combined with other sessions, including a trip to the battlefields of WWI, where we learned about the history that shaped European integration. Another session that I know I and many others really appreciated was on careers and employability. It covered everything from CVs, cover letters and interviews from a recruiter’s perspective as well as advice specific to those interested in a career in Brussels.

Another thing that really enhanced the experience was the diversity of the group. The summer school participants came from a variety of geographic, cultural, and academic backgrounds. In a lot of the sessions, we covered topics where students could provide their own experience and knowledge of their country’s policies or general opinions, which enhanced overall understanding of the issue. Being in a group of people from such wide backgrounds but who all shared a strong interest made the sessions that much more engaging than most seminars I have experienced. This did not stop in the classroom either, as I benefited from others’ knowledge and experience in their respective fields, as well as about their country. I had conversations during our lunch break which covered everything from socialized healthcare to tax policies to future career plans.

Overall, I had a great experience at the BSIS summer school. I learned a lot about the EU and Europe and got helpful advice regarding my CV and career plans. Most of all, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching style, and the stimulating discussions with lecturers and a truly international group of like minded people. If I could do it again, I would not hesitate, and I have already reminded friends to apply for next summer.