I’ve spent a lot of my time during the last couple of months giving talks about the European Union here at the University of Washington, as well as other Universities in Washington and neighbouring States. My European Commission colleague, Michel, asked to see more photos on this blog. So here are some images and impressions from recent visits to Washington State University, the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark College.
Exploring the North West
Travelling around this part of the country has given me a great introduction to the history of the Western USA. My most recent visit was to Lewis-Clark College in Lewiston, Idaho. The College is named after Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who in 1803-1806 led the first American expedition to cross the North West and reach the Pacific Coast.
The University of Idaho and Washington State University are both “land-grant” universities. These are educational institutions that were established in many States during the second half of the 19th century through grants of federally controlled land (generally in rural areas).
I also had an opportunity to visit the Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, which is named after Edward Murrow, one of the great figures of 20th century US radio and television journalism. The 2005 film “Good Night, and Good Luck” directed by George Clooney tells the story of Murrow’s critical reporting on Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Europe is closer than you think
8000 km separate Seattle from Brussels. But historic ties and today’s strong economic and trade relations mean that Europe and the West Coast of the USA are closer than many people think. I have been trying to get this point across in a tangible way by referring to the many local examples of EU-US trade and investment.
This has sparked quite a lot of interest, particularly given the recent announcement by US and EU leaders of forthcoming negotiations on a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement. I even got a mention in the Lewiston Tribune local newspaper following my presentation at Lewis-Clark College!
Talking digital media
It has been interesting to discuss the impact that digital media are having on politics and journalism with students and faculty from the communication departments of the Universities I have visited. Kenton Bird, Director of the University of Idaho’s School of Journalism and Mass Media, said that they tell their freshman students that 50% of them will probably end up doing jobs that don’t even exist today after graduating.
Digital media are also changing education, and there is a lively debate in all of the Universities I have visited about so-called “MOOCs” (Massive Open Online Courses). In one of the classes I spoke to, more than half of the students had followed some kind of online class. They appreciated the flexibility of this form of distance learning, but also felt that online tools could never replace the benefits of a campus-based education (direct contact with professors, peer learning and interaction …).
Leaving my comfort zone
One of the most challenging aspects of the European Union Fellowship is the fact that audiences here expect me to be familiar with virtually all areas of EU policy. The presentations I have been asked to make and the questions I have received range far beyond my daily work in Brussels on regional and urban policy. Recurrent issues so far have included the financial crisis, EU-US trade relations, foreign and security policy, enlargement, Italy’s elections and the UK’s relationship with Europe.
But perhaps the biggest challenge I have faced so far was the invitation from Bill Smith and Romuald Afatchao at the University of Idaho to join them for an impromptu game of football (or soccer, as it’s known over here!). This has to be the most original engagement I have had so far as an EU Fellow, and I promised them that I would include a photo here to record the experience.