An American Perspective on the EU-US Young Leaders Seminar

“In Iraq, I was a son, a brother, and a student, but when I fled, I became just a refugee.”

This testimony opened the EU-US Young Leaders Seminar, which brought together 25 American and 25 European students and scholars to learn about migration. The conference gave me the opportunity to discover what the European Union is doing to restore dignity to refugees such as Mustafa, who, despite being displaced, has so much to offer.

In America, images of migrants in boats dominate media portrayals of migration in Europe. Yet in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union, I learned of EU’s efforts to accommodate them once they reach shore. The conference centered on migrant integration in the areas of education, culture, and the economy, so that newcomers can successfully rebuild their lives.

A panel discussion on cultural integration

Voices from these European and American scholars provided firsthand testimonials of the challenges facing the various countries where they studied, as well as their own efforts to assist. Participants shared their inspiring work as English teachers, dressmakers, and documentary filmmakers. And the meeting of European and American perspectives sparked lively debates: is personal freedom or assimilation more important when it comes to displays of religious affiliation or difference in gender roles?

When we weren’t hashing out the intricacies of cultural integration, we explored the best of Brussels. Both the Fulbright Commission and the EU in Brussels rolled out the red carpet by hosting a reception with government, academic and NGO leaders from the US and the EU. And they topped it all off with our very own waffle truck — a sweet reminder that food is the best bridge between cultures.

At the penultimate session, the Migration Policy Institute left us all with a challenging idea. Studies show that migrants tend to mirror their host population’s political participation, educational attainment, and economic success. This finding suggests that one of the best ways to foster migrant integration is to build the best society we can and migrants will follow suit.

Under such a framework, transatlantic cooperation becomes of primary importance as we work to ensure that no one is just a refugee. The highlight of the EU-US Young Leaders Summit was the number of young leaders who understand the complexity of migrant integration but who are equally committed to utilizing the many strengths that immigrants bring. The EU and the US can achieve much by learning from one another, and this conference showed such synergy in action.

This story is part of the #EUatSchool series, showcasing the wide array of EU educational programs, grants, and competitions open to Americans. From Erasmus+ to Euro Challenge to Kids Euro Festival, each week we’ll publish new stories written by the high schoolers, college students, researchers, and educators who have experienced and benefitted from these programs first-hand. Find new stories on Medium each week.

The EU-U.S. Young Leaders’ Seminar takes place over 2.5 days in Brussels, gathering 25 American Fulbright students together with 25 European students who have participated in EU exchange and research programmes such as Erasmus+ and Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions. During this enrichment seminar, participants exchange their research findings and experiences with each other and also engage with EU and U.S. policymakers and civil society representatives. Learn more.