Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 1 - Brussels, Belgium

Day 1 of my Eisenhower Fellowship started off strong. I am participating in the European Union Visitors Program (EUVP). Around 200 people from around the globe come to Brussels, Belgium, headquarters of the European Union, to meet with members of the EU to discuss topics relevant to their work. My program manager Vitor put together a terrific program that looks promising for meeting with people in sports, science, and policy.

Meeting the Other EUVP Members

But my first conversation of the morning provided the most interesting takeaway of the day. There are 3 other participants this week, Haddis Tadesse of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (USA), David Wallsh on a Rosenthal Fellowship (USA), and Ms. Gokce Uysal-Kolasin, an economist from Turkey. We were discussing each other’s work, and when I mentioned I study Chronic Traumatic Encephalpathy, Gokce, aka Gigi, said, “That’s like a dayak aptali or a dayak salagi. In Turkey a dayak aptali is ‘one who became stupid because of a beating.’” Apparently corporal punishment in Turkey is so frequent and severe that they have a term to tell parents “anywhere but the head.” Maybe Turkey is way ahead of us on this issue… or way behind.

After a visit to EUVP headquarters to discuss my program, we went over to Parliament for a fine lunch (wine included, of course), where Gigi provided us with another gem. We were discussing how 23 languages are spoken at the EU, and everyone who works there must speak at least 3 languages, and how difficult it is to get the nuances of spelling and grammar in other countries. I mentioned how American spelling must be difficult as there are so many exceptions to our rules. Gigi agreed, adding, “What is a spelling bee? We’d never have a spelling bee in Turkey. There is no point. Everything is spelled like it sounds.” That ruined a childhood point of pride for me - winning 3 spelling bees in a row in 5th grade – as it appears it is not as much a talent as it is a necessary teaching tool for inefficiently spelled language cobbled together from so many others.

Intro to the EU

The European Union itself is a fascinating organization, with 27 European countries working together on economic and political issues, with the jurisdiction and laws determined by treaties, most recently the Lisbon Treaty of 2009. Most Americans don’t know much about the history and structure of the EU, including me before a presentation from Mr. Klaus Hullmann, administrator in the Visits Service of the Directorate for Communication, Press, and Protocol in the Committee of the Regions of the E.U. (The titles here are fantastic).

Meeting with the Commission for Research, Innovation, and Science

Vitor set up a meeting for me with Patricia Reilly, member of the Cabinet of Mr. Maire Georghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Innovation, and Science. She was joined by Dr. Philippe Cupers, Head of Sector Neuroscienes for the Unit of Medical Research and Innovation of the European Commission. With this meeting I was hoping to gauge their level of knowledge and interest in sports concussions and CTE, and it was a very positive meeting. Dr.Cupers and the EU are already involved in a collaboration with NIH on gathering data to develop diagnostic and treatment protocols for traumatic brain injury (TBI), and he came with a published paper on their progress for launching this large scale study. However, the CTE work had not yet made the agenda, so it was exciting to discuss the state of research and directions it needs to travel to make meaningful contributions to public health.

Perhaps the most interesting take away was provided by Ms. Reilly during our conversation (that will come up a lot on this trip) that in America we have pitch counts in youth baseball to protect a child’s elbow, but do not even consider how often they get hit in the head in American football or soccer. Ms. Reilly leaned back and said, “That’s interesting. We even regulate how often a jockey can whip his horse!” It’s true – look it up. In some places, every whip after 8 is a fine…

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