Written on | March 8, 2010 | 2 Comments
I’m never usually the person who volunteers or is put forward for stuff, but this year I was picked to be part of the Scottish delegation to the Euroscola event at the EU parliament in Strasbourg .. I love saying “I was picked”, I’ve never been able to say that about anything before.
We all met at Edinburgh airport one morning a few weeks ago, and I was worried that I was going to be the weird girl in the group who noone wants to talk to. Everywhere you go there’s always going to be horrible people who you don’t like and are never going to get along with, so I was really surprised in that out of all the people they could have chosen from all over Scotland they managed to choose the nicest and most diverse bunch of people I’ve ever met. Seriously. Throughout the week I kept thinking to myself “if I were back home I would’ve pre-judged this person and never spoken to them, and then I wouldn’t found out how nice they are.” It opened my eyes as to how often I judge people before I even know them, and taught me that in doing so I’m missing out on awesome people.
We flew to Frankfurt-Hahn, and then travelled by coach through Germany to Strasbourg in France where the European Parliament is. The first thing I saw when we arrived in Strasbourg was an IKEA, so I had this impression that Strasbourg was going to be really horrible and industrial .. but when you finally got into the city it was so pretty. Typically french, with cobbled streets and canals and Wednesday markets and old old buildings. When I came home and looked back on my tweets, it seemed like every second one was from some cafe where we were sitting and having crepes or pain au chocolats and coffee.
The first full day we were there we went to a church service in the cathedral. iI was amazing. Every time we walked past it we would say that pictures just didn’t do it justice, and that when we got home noone was going to understand how beautiful it was. I’d never been to a real church service before, and of course it was all in French, but it was just so nice to sit there and listen. They had these amazing soprano singers and after they’d finished singing we all had to stand up and sing “AAAAAMEEEEEN.” Then the little priest man came down from the pulpit with his Holy wafers and he gave one to everyone and said “d’accord de Dieu,” and you had to reply “amen.” Everyone was laughing at me afterwards because I wouldn’t stop going on about it; but I don’t know, I just loved it.
The next two days were a bit scarier because we had to speak French with genuine French people: in a survey where we went up to people in the street and asked them what they knew about Scotland and the EU; and the next day when we were put into groups with a topic [ours was Strasbourg: ville gastronomique?] and let loose in the city to research it. It was really interesting, for example we learned that the famous Strasbourgian cake, the Kougelhopf, is shaped in that strange way because the bakers designed it to look like Marie Antoinette’s crown when Strasbourg was the first place she visited as the queen of France.
On the Euroscola day we had to be at the parliament for half past eight, which meant we had to get up at five to be ready on time. The Euroscola day happens a few times a year where delegations made up of young people from different EU countries go to the parliament to discuss European issues. We sat in the hémicycle where all the MEPs sit when parliament is in session, and three EU officials gave us an introduction. They were really boring and full of figures, but what made it more exciting was that the official languages of the parliament are French, English, German, and Italian, but there were delegations from all over Scandinavia and eastern and central Europe, so there were translators simultaneously translating what the officials were saying from booths above the chamber.
Each delegation had a representative that introduced them, and all the central European delegations were very technical and businesslike and all the eastern Europeans were very pro-EU. Our Scottish introduction was the best because our representative did a little twirl in his kilt and everyone cheered! During lunch we had to do an international quiz where each team was made up of four members from different countries. I was with Rebeka from Slovakia, Daniela from Portugal, and Emma from Finland. Then, in the afternoon we split into committee groups to discuss different topics. Our topic was how we could improve EU citizens’ political and social participation in the union. Us and Germany ended up having an argument with Sweden because Sweden said that we didn’t deserve as many representatives in parliament but then this guy from Greece set them straight ..
At night we had a ceilidh in the hostel; and the Estonian, Italian, and Portugese delegations came too. It was really good fun, although the Estonians sat looking gloomy in their corner the whole time except from when they were demonstrating their national dance. [When they weren't allowed to do an encore they went off in a sulk and that was the last we saw of them!] I’d never danced so many Scottish dances in a row before, the room was boiling and smelled of crepes because there was the Wednesday night crepe party going on outside. Dancing the Dashing White Sergeant and going down the row linking arms with the hairy scary Portugese guy, the old Estonian teacher, the random token Australian, and then everyone linking arms at the end for Auld Lang Syne into 500 Miles made me think this is really what Europe is about: everyone joining together and having fun enjoying each other’s culture. It makes me so excited for my year abroad at uni.
Someone once told me that the people you know make up who you are. With each person you meet you take a little bit of them and add it to your character until you’re this unique person made up of everyone you’ve ever met. In that respect, when i left for Strasbourg I left this space behind me, this little niche where i fitted in. When you grow up in a small town you’ve done exactly the same things as everyone else, you’ve all had the same opportunities and all know the same people. Everyone is just the same. Then, I’d gone away to Strasbourg and met new people and did different things .. and then suddenly after five days I’d come back a different person to the one who’d left. No fitting back into that safe little niche now, Gemma. And I guess that that’s a good thing, we grow up, we grow apart, and we see the world. But I’m still a little bit nostalgic for the days when we were all still the same. It felt safe.
/ This post was originally posted on my old WordPress.com blog. I manually imported everything when I switched over so my past wouldn’t get lost in cyberspace!