Sachin Kumar Badkas '08 (India): Bienvenue à Bruxelles

Naturally, I was happy to be in my first francophone country - able to read signs and ask directions in French. It is a city of sharp contrasts - the metro stations and glass highrises for one. There was little time for any deeper impressions than that. The arrival flight was late and I got late for the departure flight. Boarding the train to leave the airport, three of us realized we had flown together from Copenhagen for the same event.

 We arrived at the hotel just in time to leave for the venue. That was good in a way; the hotel declined to check any of us in.

 At the venue, Tour Madou, it was nice to be reminded how guests of governments are treated. Fine champagne and delicate desserts punctuated the proceedings. Which, on the first day, mostly constituted speeches - Angeliki Verli, Head of Tempus/Erasmus Mundus Unit, DG Education & Culture, Ján Figel, Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth and Eduardo Marçal Grilo, former Minister of Education of Portugal. The official talk centered on one or two major themes - setting Europe apart as a destination for quality higher education, and in that direction, the future course of Erasmus Mundus. Questions from the audience, predominently members of the General Assembly (GA) such as myself, showed a lot of interest in the geographical spread of scholarships. Much discussion centered on the notion of the EU competing with the US for students, with an eye on China and India. The authorities seemed to concede that Asia held the biggest and expanding markets for education and was also crucial to EU diplomacy.

 During a later session devoted to an appraisal of the performance of the program so far, indicated by results of a student survey, many questions were raised about student issues. These ranged from housing, differential levels of tuition and living costs across Europe, disadvantages of mobility and the academic integrity of scattered masters programs. That was, of-course, not a forum where any of those could be immediately resolved. Back at the hotel, the long queue for check-in meant that some of us had to directly take the bus to the dinner venue. The dinner and ensuing conversations were great. Erasmus Mundus was the only common footing all of us had in very diverse academic fields - from bioethics and photonics to forestry and law.

 Day 2 was devoted largely to the EMA's internal (political) proceedings. Each team-coordinator gave a short presentation of their past year's work, six teams in all - Policy, Jobs, Newsletter, Conference, Magazine and Promotion. For the Policy team, Matt's presentation included a draft of EMA statute that they had prepared. This expectedly took long, as many members of the house raised issues with parts of the text. Just as on the first day, the manner of electing members of the GA proved a topic of much interest. Some members expressed their shame in having being selected by the course coordinator last minute. I shifted uneasily in my seat. Though I was chosen through an email election, none in my class formally knew the results. Hopefully, the next version of the statute - that we in the policy team are working on - will call for an open verifiable election.

 After lunch, we split into six parallel workgroups to decide on the new teams, elect a coordinator and their agenda for the next year. I joined the Policy team, and we elected Matt leader. When we gathered back in the auditorium, it was to the pleasant news of Jenni having been elected the coordinator of the Promotion team, which meant she now sits on the Steering Committee (SC). Chunyu was sort of a given. That is how two MESPOM alumni came to sit on the podium facing the audience.

 It was now time for the final event - Presidential Elections. Each of the five candidates was allowed 3-4 minutes to introduce themselves. Two could not make it to Brussels, ostensibly because invites reached them too late for the visa procedure. They had sent in a text each that Vito Borrelli, an EC official read out. For the record, Vito is as humble and personable an EC official as you are likely to ever meet. Then I was called in. I must have spoken to the gathering for 5 minutes. Hanneke Luth, who had served an year on the Steering Committee and was attending the event for the third successive year, also made a succinct case for her candidature. The last candidate held the house captive for 20 minutes, trudging on despite repeated bouts of premature applause. When he finally took his seat on the podium, the three candidates present were hammered by questions from the house. We did our best. After I made my way back to the only empty seat available, a stunningly pretty girl I had unfortunately not met turned to me and told me I had won her vote.

 As counting went on in the background, all members of the SC addressed the gathering, introduced new members and briefed us on their discussion during the parallel sessions. When I finally decided I did not want to reschedule my flight and was about to leave, Vito got up to announce the results. Hanneke rose to a loud applause and I stayed back those extra minutes to listen to the new EMA President.

 I had never been that late to catch a flight. The hotel Thon took the opportunity to rob me of € 25. I needed multiple doses of luck to be in time to board my flight. The first came in the form of another EM student leaving the hotel who knew a more direct way to the airport. The second was the news that the flight was delayed an hour. After splurging on the proprietary Belgian chocolates many in my class had demanded, began the long wait for boarding. This was my first time flying minus any counters - no checking in, no passport desks and minimal security. Luckily I met two other EM students booked on my flight back too. Time flew discussing the developments over the two days and the future.

 A walk across Lund is great after midnight as well.