2017 Study Tour to Brussels
Review by Matt Gallagher.
The first sign that it was going to be a good trip was a phone call that occurred about a week before from Antony, to make sure we had all the details and for him to collect our contact information before the trip began. Though we had already been in email contact, this was a nice touch as it gave me confidence that it was going to be a well organised venture and the fact he asked my opinion on a range of things and asked why I was interested in the trip was incredibly reassuring and boded well.
Arriving at King’s Cross and meeting Antony reaffirmed this, with his easy-going manner coming across, along with his fabulous dress sense, inspiring a lot of confidence. The decision (perhaps unconscious) to group people randomly on the train was also a good idea as it allowed us to get to know a range of people (even those from UEA that we might only know from passing) far better.
Arriving at Brussels, the welcome dinner on the first night was a nice treat and a great way to open the trip. Walking around Brussels (and somehow completely missing the Mannekin Pee though we walked by it twice) was a lovely way to get to know the city centre. At this point, the fact that we were encouraged to split off (with some choosing to go to bed) meant that everyone was comfortable and able to do what they wanted.
Moving onto the actual seminars and speakers, they were usually a high standard. The actual level of detail given by the speakers was far higher than I and others expected and went beyond the usual tourist talks that I had thought we would be receiving. The range and the depth of the speakers’ knowledge was fantastic. With the exception of two, the other speakers were extremely interesting and were able to answer questions (both relevant and sometime irrelevant) with aplomb.
Even when the subject matter was perhaps less interesting, such as the UKREP trade issues, they managed to really give insight and understanding to an extremely high level. It was also a nice touch from Antony to invite each of the speakers to the party at the end of the week. Although only Wolfgang came, it was amazing to follow up on some of the questions that I had been unable to ask (not complaining think I asked at least one in every seminar!) I have since contacted Wolfgang and Micheal Ruhle NATO and both have been fantastic at answering some questions I had and also offering some opportunities to work at the EU in the future. Perhaps the most interesting of the talks was those from the EEAS (due to their fascinating insights into Ukraine and Syria), Wolfgang (which really set the tone of the trip as a success) and Nicholas Whyte who seemed to go against the grain of most of the knowledge we had received.
There were a very few negatives of the trip, though I would still categorise the study tour as perhaps the best academic trip I’ve ever gone on and would highly recommend to others. Most notably, we often went away from people’s areas of speciality when asking question (perhaps most clearly in the US mission when we asked about US policy towards Asia rather than Europe where the two men were specialist). Perhaps it might be worth reaffirming what people are expert in and leading questions towards this area?
Furthermore, when we submitted questions for the US mission the fact that these weren’t the basis of the questions with perhaps one or two extras was disappointing for some of my friends on the trip who were less comfortable asking in an open format. Perhaps it might be worth getting people to submit questions before on some of the seminars, take two or three of the most relevant/ interesting then opening the floor for the remainder of the time? This would be an incredibly hard line to balance and overall went fantastically.
Overall, the idea of mixing such as wide range of people was amazingly successful and was incredibly fascinating to learn from each other as well as the speakers. The quality of the trip was far higher than expected and I learned far more than I thought I would. What I imagined to be a tourist trip to see Brussels became a far more stimulating intellectual exercise.
A lot of credit should go to Antony for making everyone feel so comfortable and really fostering a fantastic group ethos that made the trip exceptionally fun and thoroughly mixed together. A fun, social and intellectually stimulating trip that I would highly recommend!