Bound for BrusselsPosted by admin on 11/08/10 • Categorized as Fall/Winter 2010
To see recent students’ photos of their time abroad, visit What They Saw: Study Abroad in Pictures; a film about the history of study abroad at Beloit College is available on YouTube.
By Amy Elliott’06
In 1957, the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community (EEC) to promote peace and economic growth between its members. Three years later, Beloit College sent a delegation of ambitious young scholars to Brussels, Belgium, to study emergent common markets in Europe.
“We were watching the thing get off the ground,” Joan Lindhorst Cathcart’61 says of the EEC.
Cathcart was one of 12 students, most of them juniors and seniors, to be selected for the program. Dubbed the “Brussels Sprouts,” they represented a range of disciplines and a spectrum of worldliness.
Beloit students had studied abroad before 1960, either individually, through other universities, or with independent programs like the School for International Training. But the Brussels seminar—along with the opening of the World Affairs Center and the development of an International Relations program—formalized and expanded Beloit’s commitment to international education. Under what was then known as the World Outlook Program, Beloit made its earliest moves toward what has now become a respected, 50-year-old program of comprehensive study abroad and global learning opportunities.
During that first fall semester in 1960, students took a crash course in French and a short class on the foundations of the EEC and its implications for peace, global diplomacy, and an integrated European economy. They donned suits and dresses and boarded a prop plane for a 14-hour flight to Brussels in mid-October. Once there, they stayed with host families recruited through the Experiment in International Living, a pioneering international exchange program.
The student-participants had a diverse range of international experiences before completing the semester. Robert Houdek’61, for example, had already decided to dedicate his life to the foreign service; he’d even run into Nikita Khrushchev on a mountaintop during a cultural exchange program to the Soviet Union. Frank McClellan’61, on the other hand, was “a little farmboy from Delavan, Wisconsin” who thought an experience overseas might enrich his small agricultural community when he came back to establish his business there after graduation.
Fifteen years earlier, World War II had ravaged the continent and frayed relationships between EEC member countries. Cathcart remembers her host family struggling to adapt to post-war realities. The father, she learned, had fought for the Nazis and had been a prisoner of war for several years.
“After they let him out in the late ’40s, his family disowned him, so he went to Argentina for another six years,” she says. “Then they contacted him and asked him to come home and support them, because they weren’t able to do it on their own. Two wars had pretty much wiped them out.”
Led by Professor of Geography John “Old Dad” Kemler, the Sprouts met with business leaders, government officials, and diplomats, including William Walton Butterworth, one of the first U.S. representatives to the EEC, who held a dinner at his home for the Beloit students.
“We were really talking to people who were trying to put this idea together, to make the common market work,” says Cathcart. Side trips throughout Northern Europe included excursions to Bonn, Cologne, Rotterdam, Dusseldorf, and The Hague.
Brussels provided a rare window on the early years of the EEC and Europe’s post-war reconstruction efforts, and that made a lasting impression on the Sprouts. Many Sprouts are still fascinated by Europe’s ongoing experiment in international economics and government.
“Everyone in Europe saw the necessity of making the community work,” says Cathcart. “That’s the idea we came away with: You can bury a lot of bad feelings if survival is the question.”
“We saw this dream of coming together—it was so real and so strong—when it was just forming,” says Patricia Hamilton Gyi’63, another Brussels participant. “To see how it has matured and been implemented and in some places is fraying, it’s really sort of a life cycle. It will be fascinating to see how it continues to evolve.”
Brussels also presented a unique global context for current affairs throughout the world, including what was happening back home in the United States. Gyi remembers voting in the 1960 U.S. presidential election from the American Embassy.
“It was an exciting experience,” she says. “When we returned in January, President Kennedy was beginning to announce his goals and objectives, which were very world-oriented, such as establishing the Peace Corps.”
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