May 5th

Today our group visited the European Parliament. The European Parliament is a group of elected representatives from each of the 27 member states, who serve their constituents. Their building was erected in Strasbourg as a sign of peace and democracy since the Alsace region has switched hands so many times. The other EP building is in Brussels, and the MEP (Members of European Parliament) spend their time between the two areas. One week in Strasbourg to vote and discuss, two weeks in Brussels with their committees. Every MEP must be on two committees, of their own choice. Currently there are 20 standing committees. The EP works currently in 24 official languages, and to be an interpreter, you must know at least four different official languages.

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Megan: I found it cool that the building was structured with such a symbolic meaning. The overall circle represented their unity, the center courtyard can be accessed by the general public to show democracy, and the glass all over the building is to show their transparency.

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Ariel: I found the most interesting part of European Parliament to be the sheer number of translators required to facilitate translation into all languages required by the European Union. While there are less than thirty official languages of the Parliament, there are 70 translators required, to ensure that everything is appropriately received, both by the public and by other representatives. Today’s guide informed us that it would not be unusual to see members laughing or responding dyssynchroniously to the debates and speeches presented, because of this language barrier. Representatives might even wait for two translators, depending on their language and the intermediate language spoken, before they understand the nuance of the matter at hand. Even so, official interpreters in European Parliament must be fluent in three languages, aside from their mother tongue.

While the architecture of the building itself was aesthetically pleasing, there was a great deal of thought put into the symbolism associated with the architecture. The round shape signified the unity of the European Union, while the central courtyard was reminiscent of a roman “agora”, or marketplace, and was meant to symbolize democracy. The building is also comprised of many glass windows, which is symbolic of the transparency that the European Parliament strives for, toward its citizenry.

Ilijana: I really enjoyed getting to see the area where the meetings and debates are held and learning about how the procedures work, such as translation ( everything is immediately translated into every member state language by translators and interpreters who sit behind windows watching the meetings).

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Rachel: My favourite part of the European Parliament was the entrance atrium of the building. The entire area was basically a courtyard with an expansive open roof. As we walked through the atrium, we could see the giant glass windows of the offices that lined the building walls. We later learned from our tour guide that the openness of the atrium is symbolic of the European Parliament’s transparency. At the centre of the atrium was a large, hollow glass ball. This was apparently a gift from Wroclaw, Poland. Incidentally, Poland is also the home country of the European Parliament’s current president, Martin Schulz.

This afternoon, a group of students took lunch in one of the cathedral squares, as it was a beautiful day (about 20 degrees Celsius). After lunch, we explored the famous Layfayette shopping center, and wandered the streets of Strasbourg. While strolling along, we came across a few bakeries, where we made purchases in anticipation of the long bus ride the next day, as well as an ice cream shop, where we bought a mid-afternoon snack. We also found a small store that specialized in handmade soaps, and some of us bought gifts to take back to our friends and family. After our shopping excursion, we went back to the hotel to change, and then went for dinner ate a restaurant near the Cathedral. A lot of us ended up sunburnt from enjoying the sun too much considering it was our first real experience with it on the trip! Not having rain while we were here makes it a lot more enjoyable!

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A couple of other students to the centre of Strasbourg with the tram and we had a wonderful grilled salmon lunch at a cafe in one of the beautiful streets. After lunch we continued down the endless pathway of boutiques and shops most of which we do not have in Edmonton. It was interesting to see how different the service in the boutiques is compared to Canada and most North American stores. The sales people in Strasbourg come right up to you and try to help you as much as possible despite the language barrier that exists, even if you say you are just browsing. In Canada I find that if you say you are just browsing, they leave you alone for a while and only occasionally check up on you. After quite a few hours of shopping, we went to get some delicious ice cream that tasted even better than it looked!

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