Exploring the Overlapping Layers of EU Integration in Practice

Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience (Kolb, 1984, p. 38).

Field trips, as a type of experiential learning, help in enhancing deep, active learning, and developing not only cognitive skills, but also social skills (such as the ability to cooperate). Much of the research on the impact of experiential learning suggests that it can have substantial effects on long-term retention, student success in the course, and related skills development. Moreover, getting students away from the traditional classroom setting and into a new environment facilitates community building and creates a shared experience for the students, which allows them to, as a learning community, deeply engage with and further explore the course material.

CTL Postdoctoral Fellow Gorana Misic and Daniel Izsak, Visiting Professor at the CEU Department of International Relations collaborated on designing a field trip for the MA students taking part in the course Europe in Crises: Integration under International and Internal Threat. The students visited the border town of Esztergom, Northwest of Budapest, and Sturovo/Párkány on the Slovak side of the River Danube, where they had the chance to explore how various policies and concepts of EU integration function in real life, and how they 'create integration' in previously split communities.

The aim of the Esztergom field trip was threefold: to explore the impact and limits of EU integration; to link theories covered in the class to the 'real world'; and to help students understand how field observations and interviews can be translated into academic language in terms of research questions, research design and data. To achieve this, the trip was carefully planned: from exploring the possibilities of the site (Esztergom/Sturovo), connecting them to the topics and theories covered earlier in the class, designing a clear set of tasks and instructions to guide the groups, to setting up the platform for communication and sharing of collected materials.

The trip was set up as a short group research project that included data collection through observation and interviews with the local population. It covered three areas: identity and community, overlapping integrations related to borders, and market integration. To understand the impact of integration on the community, the students were given the task of talking to the locals. "By interviewing locals on both sides of the border, students could get a sense of the extent to which EU integration is able to create, or in this particular case restore, a community. They also learnt how, despite all the efforts, crossing from one jurisdiction to another is still very much different from simply crossing the Danube from Buda to Pest", explained Daniel Izsak. Moreover, in exploring the identity component, the students observed the presence or absence of EU symbols, such as flags or signs. Izsak summarized some of the findings: "They discovered that despite the presence of EU symbols and the everyday benefits of integration (rebuilt bridge, dismantled borders, etc.), the locals tend to take these achievements for granted, and do not associate them with the EU, confirming in-class discussions about Brexit and the limits of European identity creation."

To explore the overlapping integration, the second task focused on the impact of Schengen, Customs Union, and Justice and Home Affairs when it comes to, for instance, border crossings. Finally, the last task was to observe and identify the limits of economic integration and the imperfections of the Single Market. This was done by comparing similarities and differences in selected consumer products (e.g. food and drinks) and prices in an otherwise closely integrated conurbation. Through this task, students could observe how the Single Market is often nationally segmented at the customer level because of national distribution, while closely integrated at the level of companies.

The student feedback on the field trip has been overwhelmingly positive: "I found the field trip especially useful as a non-EU citizen. To see the realities of what we talk about in class in person helped cement the concepts we had learned, particularly economic ones. This trip also showed me that real-world observations can be used for research purposes, and helped me feel confident to do some similar research/interviews in Serbia for a term paper", said Alexandra Karppi, one of the MA students.

All of the tasks were documented through photographs, and students used a previously created Facebook group to share findings and photos from the field trip. "When we talk about blended learning and integration of technology in teaching and learning, or more specifically – as in this case – the integration of social media, this field trip is a great example of a meaningful use of social media," said CTL's Gorana Misic, who also accompanied the students during the trip. "Given the nature of the field trip and the assigned tasks, Facebook proved to be the most convenient platform to share the findings (captured in photos), which was crucial for the discussion and analysis that followed already at the site - but also later on in the classroom. Since active reflection on the findings and on the whole experience is the actual teaching momentum, as well as the single most important component in enhancing student learning, documenting observations was essential. Interestingly, because of the EU integration, we were all able to use mobile internet and Facebook without paying additional roaming charges. The use of Facebook was thus not only a meaningful integration of technology in the field trip design, but also yet another example of the impact of EU integration in practice," Misic added.

Through collaborations such as this one, the CTL supports CEU faculty in exploring contemporary, research-based approaches to enhance their teaching, and helps to advance knowledge about teaching and learning at CEU and beyond. We thus invite faculty members to think of the CTL as a space for experimentation where they can develop ways to enhance their teaching.

Reference: Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, p. 38