The author of this article was also a travelling member of the project group.
This past February, a group of nine students, joined by their supervisor, Professor Edgar Aragón, travelled to Brussels for three days to attend the kickoff meeting for a Horizon 2020 project. The group, part of a 12-student consulting team, worked for six months preparing research and materials, and enjoyed the rare opportunity to present their work in front of consortium partners for an EU project. The kickoff meeting is where partners officially meet for the first time, and the deliverables produced by the student group will serve as a foundation on which the project can be built. This undertaking was done as part of the mandatory project group for second-year WBS students, and was done in coordination with a client organization, Oikodrom – The Vienna Institute for Urban Sustainability, who also served as consortium leader for the community and urban development initiative.
Students elected to partake in this particular project, which required a commitment of at least 270 hours by each participant. The team was international and diverse, including 12 students from 10 different countries, and responsible for the delivery to the client of materials in background research, stakeholder management, dissemination plan, and even development of a website (more specific details of the nature of the work performed cannot be given, as they are confidential in nature). Subgroups were organized according to these tasks, and the leaders of the subgroups, as well the project manager, were responsible for preparing the presentation.
On the first day, travelling team members embarked upon the almost seven-hour ICE ride to Brussels, and immediately took to making the most out of their time in the city. Upon arrival, the group walked through some of the popular neighborhoods of Brussels, as this was the first time in the city for many. Through the use of the WBS network, they were able to attend a meeting with representatives of the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), a policy think tank focused on economic issues, particularly trade. Finally, a small WBS alumni dinner was also held at a charming café near the hostel that evening, where students and alumni discussed careers, theses, and life in the city over drinks and an array of stews and steaks.
The day of the presentation was characterized by some last-minute jitters and adjustments, but, nonetheless, the group successfully delivered an almost half-hour presentation of their results. It was not easy for the group to condense over 3,000 hours of work into such a short period, but they performed well. “Students excelled not only individually, but as a team. In a way, this was the final test which crowned the students’ efforts,” said Professor Aragón. This also included a brief question-and-answer session, during which local and international project partners inquired with great enthusiasm about the prepared materials.
Following the conclusion of the presentation, the student group was invited to a consortium lunch, where students mingled with project partners while enjoying a platter of sandwiches and salads, while learning from the mixture of academic, business, and policy expertise gathered in the room. Indeed, an opportunity such as this, for students to present in front of and interact with partners on an EU project, is not so common. “I have never heard of such an accomplishment before,” said Professor Aragón. Indeed, the partners were impressed by the performance of the group, and expressed gratitude for the work the students had done. “My favorite part was being congratulated by the partners during the networking lunch,” said Professor Aragón.
Following the meeting, the students celebrated with some famous Belgian fries and devilishly delicious Belgian waffles (seriously, how do they make them that good?), topped with everything from strawberries and cookie crumbles to ice cream and Nutella. With full stomachs, the group then set about experiencing the local nightlife, sampling a wide array of the finest Belgian beers at a few hole-in-the-wall bars and conversing with the eclectic crowd that Brussels attracts.
The final day of the trip involved not only cramming all the students’ luggages into a tiny locker in the Brussels central station, but more importantly, a brief touring of some prominent EU buildings. This proved to be a highlight for group member Tahira Tarique, from Pakistan. She says, “My favorite part was the exploration of European Union institutions. Visiting these institutions and considering their roles and structures that we learned in class was perhaps the most interesting aspect.”
A meeting followed with representatives from the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), a policy think tank focused on transatlantic cooperation between North America and Europe. Considering the recent tensions in US-German relations, the issues discussed in this meeting, such as military funding and trade agreements, seemed particularly pressing. Students also had the chance to ask Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the GMF Brussels Office Corinna Horst questions about the organization’s range of activities, as well as the various programs and positions it offers. Tahira saw great value in this meeting, saying it, “was quite fruitful in terms of learning about new opportunities for us to grab.”
This was the last activity the group’s tight scheduled allowed, and was followed by a hurried return to the train station. After bidding farewell to Professor Aragón, the student group boarded the ICE back to Erfurt exhausted, but at the same time, satisfied with a job well done and enriched from their experiences in the project group, and in Brussels particularly.