Back to school turns 15 this year

I accepted my colleagues’ invitation to take part in the “Back to School” programme this autumn. I will therefore visit two schools: my former school in Tătăranu, the Romanian village where I grew up, and the school where I used to teach for about 22 years in Focșani, Romania.

This invitation was the reason of going back in time and checking a collection of news article and other pieces of content I saved during the years when I managed the “Back to School” programme at European Schoolnet, my former working place.

15 years of school visits

The “Back to School” initiative was born in 2002. We were asked by our former management team to come up with an activity idea to bring face-to-face public figures and classes to exchange ideas on EU related subjects.

Year by year this activity became popular among teachers and public figures. In addition to the emotional link of the guest with her or his former school, there was a strong need of students to meet public figures. The students wanted to question the guests directly and experience idea exchanges live on the latest developments in the field of EU policies.

There were teaching communities fearing to welcome politicians to their schools, as the political campaigns were banned in schools, especially during the years of elections.

Despite this fear, our team was able to come up with an attractive school programme. For a number of years I developed a twin guide, for both teachers and guests, with concrete “Dos and don’ts” and relevant suggestions on how to increase both informational and pedagogical values of a school visit.

There was a timid start of the initiative in 2002 and 2003. Year by year, famous guests adopted the idea as an effective way to encourage young people to speak out and express their views on what matters most to them. Key European and national public figures joined the initiative: European Commissioners, state presidents, prime ministers, members of the European and national parliaments, writers, singers, composers, to name a few.

HoldingHands_myEUROPE

Screen caption of a popular online activity bringing together students’ self-elongated portraits, to holding their hands online

Based on the emotional link with the former school, a guest found a common ground to share ideas and thoughts with young people.

Because of an increased popularity, many institutions adopted the exchange model and encouraged their staff to take part in the “Back to School” activity. The European Commission supported the initiative by encouraging its own staff to get involved while spending their holidays in their home countries. A strong promoter of the action was Margot Wallström, a former EU Commissioner.

The first body that officially adopted the Back to School initiative, at a larger scale, was the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union. About 200 Germans, national and EU staff went back to their schools between January and June 2007. From 2007 on, each country holding the rotational presidency of the Council of the EU integrated the Back to School action into their presidency programme.

I am glad to see that our idea was turned into an ongoing activity that become popular among institutions and schools.

More to come in the forthcoming articles on this blog.

Posted in Culture, Cultures and communication | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Întoarcerea la școală” împlinește 15 ani

Am acceptat invitația colegilor mei de a participa în programul “Întoarcerea la școală” sau “Ïnapoi la școală (Back to School, în original) în această toamnă. Prin urmare, voi vizita două școli: fosta mea școală din Tătăranu, satul românesc unde am crescut, și “Duiliu Zamfirescu”, școala la care am predat timp de 22 de ani în Focșani, România.

Această invitație a fost motivul pentru care am călătorit în timp și am revăzut o colecție de articole de știri și alte materiale pe care le-am salvat pe un suport electronic în anii când am condus programul “Înapoi la școală” la European Schoolnet, fostul meu loc de muncă.

15 ani de “Înapoi la școală”

Inițiativa “Înapoi la școală” s-a conturat prin 2002. Am fost rugați de fosta noastră echipă de conducere să propunem o activitate care să aducă personalități și elevi față-în-față pentru a schimba idei pe subiecte UE.

1stBAckToSchoolPetru2006

Una din primele mele participări în programul “Back to School”, într-o școală belgiană, în 2006

An de an această activitate a devenit populară în rândul profesorilor și personalităților publice. În plus față de legătura emoțională a oaspetelui cu fosta sa școală, a existat o dorintă a elevilor de a se întâlni cu personalităti publice. Elevii doreau să pună întrebări directe invitaților și să trăiască pe viu schimburile de idei cu acestia. Ultimele evoluții din domeniul politicilor UE erau si sunt de mare interes în mediul scolar.

Comunitățile didactice din multe tări s-au temut să primească politicieni în școli, deoarece campaniile politice erau interzise în școli, mai ales în anii în care aveau loc alegeri.

În ciuda acestei temeri, echipa noastră a reușit să propună un program școlar atractiv. Timp de câțiva ani am publicat si actualizat două ghiduri, unul pentru profesorii care găzduiau vizitele, și un al doilea pentru oaspeți. Ghidurile cuprindeau sugestii concrete, relevante pentru valorificarea dimensiunilor informaționale și pedagogice ale vizitelor.

Initiativa a debutat timid în 2002 și 2003. Anual, oaspeți celebri au adoptat ideea ca o modalitate eficientă de a încuraja tinerii să vorbească și să-și exprime opiniile cu privire la ceea ce contează cel mai mult pentru ei în zilele noastre. Au participat personalități cheie europene și naționale importante: comisari europeni, președinți de stat, prim-miniștri, membri ai parlamentelor europene și naționale, scriitori, cântăreți, compozitori si multe alte categorii.

Bazându-se pe legătura emoțională cu fosta școală, oaspetii au avut ocazia să împărtășească idei și gânduri cu tinerii.

Datorită popularității crescute, multe instituții au adoptat modelul și au încurajat personalul să participe la activitatea “Înapoi la școală”. Comisia Europeană a sprijinit inițiativa prin încurajarea personalului său să viziteze fosta lor scoala pe durata concediilor în țările lor de origine. Un promotor puternic al acțiunii a fost Margot Wallström, fostă comisar UE.

Primul organism care a adoptat oficial inițiativa “Înapoi la școală”, la scară mai largă, a fost Președinția germană a Consiliului Uniunii Europene. Aproximativ 200 de germani, personal din administratia națională și UE, au vizitat fostele lor școli în perioada ianuarie-iunie 2007.

Mai multe despre această actiune în articolele viitoare de pe acest blog.

Posted in Culture, Cultures and communication | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Maastricht’s Saint Servatius, the oldest preserved church

Dutch people claim that Saint Servatius Basilica, or Sint-Servaasbasiliek in Dutch, is the oldest preserved church in the Netherlands. And I believe them.

The church is named after Servatius, who died at Maastricht in 384. Servatius was an Armenian missionary who became the bishop of Tongeren, which is today a city between Maastricht and Liège, in Belgium.

The Church recently gained the title of Basilica and is the most interesting building of the 12th century on the River of Meuse.

The building mainly features a Romanesque architectural style, with half-circular arches. It looks massive, with solid walls and impressive piers.

The Basilica has a central portal with stone decorations, which enhance a stunning façade.

SaintServatiusMaastricht1

The Basilica is a national monument and measures 85 with 42.5 m. The tower is 56 m high.

The construction of the Basilica took place in three time periods between the 10th and 12th century. A number of Gothic and Baroque elements were introduced between the 13th and 18th century.

A number of lateral chapels, richly decorated with paintings, religious objects and stained glass windows, impress the visitors.

Posted in Culture, Cultures and communication, Travelling | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Maastricht’s notable time dimension

While visiting Maastricht one does not need to wear a watch. There are clocks everywhere and one can read the time either from a street clock or from the clocks decorating a number of old buildings. The clocks work well, so there is no reasons to be late or to ignore the time dimension, which is essential in the Netherlands.

Maastricht’s time stamps are visible in each corner of the city. As a time dimension sign, Maastricht is one-of-a-kind place enriched with beautiful street clocks and old buildings holding clocks of all colours and from different ages of history.

Street clock Maastricht

Street clock in Maastricht

Some of the city’s secular buildings are designed in Gothic style while many others are genuine pieces of Baroque, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture.

Maastricht Town Hall

 

Built in the 17th century by Pieter Post, the Maastricht Town Hall is a relevant example of the Dutch Baroque architecture. The building has got a beautiful hexagonal façade clock tower.

Het Dinghuis

 

This is a medieval courthouse, which was built in Gothic style around 1470. On top of it there is a tower with a silhouette visible from many corners of the city. On the main façade there is an impressive clock with only one hand. The clock bell still works today. Nowadays the building houses the Maastricht Tourist Office.

Sint-Janskerk

 

Sint-Janskerk or St. John Church is one of the most iconic buildings in the centre of Maastricht. The building tower houses a beautiful clock in four faces, so anyone can check the time from any angle. The clock bell bears the name of “gate clock”.

Maastricht Railway station

 

The station brick building was built in 1913. On its main façade George Willem van Heukelom, the designer, placed a beautiful clock.

Theater Aan Het Vrijthof in Vrijthof Square

 

This building serves as a playhouse and is located on one side of Vrijthof, the city main square. The house can accommodate about 850 people in the main room. There is no clock on the building, but the one of the Sint-Janskerk tower is very visible.

Posted in Culture, Cultures and communication, Travelling | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Touring Maastricht by foot

Maastricht’s old centre is well-packed with bars, restaurants and antique shops. Maastricht belongs to the Limburg province of the Netherlands, which borders Germany and Belgium. The cultural influences of the two neighbouring countries are visible mainly in the city architecture, local food and… in the language abilities of the locals. Maastricht’s inhabitants always smile and are ready to help with any piece of advice in their mother tongue, English, French and German.

Maastricht’s old city square bears the name of Vrijthof. We could not admire its genuine beauty and its balanced open space because the square was prepared to host a concert of the famous André Rieu.

IMG_7127

Vrijthof gets ready to welcome André Rieu, his staff & the public

The maestro and his staff wanted to celebrate the 13th consecutive year of his summer concerts in Maastricht through a special series of performances. We noticed that people from all around the world came for the event. We saw them checking the area. Some others, who did not manage to get a ticket, tried to book a restaurant seat facing the square.

Since the square was inaccessible we instead enjoyed a walk in the heart of the city. Touring Maastricht by foot gave us the possibility to admire the beautiful buildings around the city main square.

Maastricht’s streets are very clean, romantic and of very good taste. I rarely saw cobbled streets as the ones in Maastricht, where the rounded stones fill the surface perfectly, so a walker does not stumble upon.

The traces of a fortified ancient city are still visible. The strong walls and bunkers speak for themselves. There is no corner of the city centre without flowers of all colours and breeds. After all, we were in the Netherlands, the country of worldwide famous horticulturists.

Maastricht is crossed by the river Maas (Meuse in Belgium). The two sides of the city connect through a number of beautiful bridges.

There is a bus city line available to tour the city. The buses look like the American old buses. We saw some American “trace texts”, which are still visible on the bright and strong yellow background of the buses.

IMG_7188

We have never seen so many bikes in one place! Biking is already a tradition in the Netherlands and anyone can see the impressive number of bikes that are used as a sort of “national vehicle”. Needless to mention the Dutch national awareness of getting closer to nature and protect it.

We spent some time to admire the Sint-Janskerk and its temerarious clock tower.

Maastrichtenaars claim that their city is the oldest in the Netherlands.

Posted in Culture, Cultures and communication, Travelling | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maastricht’s Sint-Janskerk and its temerarious clock tower

Maastrichtenaars are Maastricht’s inhabitants. If they need to talk to you they are able to switch immediately to either English, German or French. This is so useful as I do not speak any Dutch.

As soon as one arrives in Maastricht it is easy to spot one of the highest city point, which is the tower of the Sint-Janskerk Church.

The Sint-Janskerk, or St. John’s Church in English, is a Gothic church in the historic centre of Maastricht. Along with the Roman Catholic Saint Servatius, they are the special “twin churches” of the Netherlands.

The Church impresses with its red tower of about 80 meters. The tower houses a beautiful clock on top. The main bell of the clock was removed by Germans in 1943. The tower was re-equipped with a new one in 1997.

The clock of the tower is a beautiful piece of fine mechanic art. The clock is in four faces, so one can read the time from any angle. The tower is made out of marlstone. Since the stone is soft and porous, the tower is protected with a coating layer.

The tower got back its bright red colour recently and looks like the original red available in the Middle Ages. The tower was painted in yellow during the 18th century, while in the 19th century turned white.

The Church is a famous venue for both public and private events. That might be the reason that the Church was closed and we could not visit it.

Posted in Culture, Cultures and communication, Travelling | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Maastricht, a culture of biking

Like any old cities, Maastricht of the Netherlands features a mixture of infrastructures which have witnessed the city history over its past 2000 years.

It is hard to believe that nowadays the city found a way to keep alive these structures and make room for biking lanes.

We rarely saw cars in Maastricht. Instead people bike and share their bike bell sounds across the streets.

We saw people enjoying restaurant food in street. Most of them came by bike and park the bike next to the restaurant.

We saw bikes of all colours and brands. We saw people of all ages biking: parents, grandparents and kids. Family biking seems to be a well-established tradition in the Netherlands.

We noticed that Maastricht’s traffic lights are adapted in such a way to facilitate cycling. The lights are equipped with detection loops so that they turn green before a cyclist reach the traffic light point.

The city heart is car free, but cars are not ban entirely. The city’s main square houses underneath a huge car parking.

There are plans to turn a motorway into a huge biking area lane to transfer the car traffic in a structure of underneath tunnels.

A bike journey in Maastricht is an enjoyable experience with no major risks to get hurt.

Posted in Culture, Cultures and communication, Travelling | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment