Being a resident member at International House New York (www.ihouse-nyc.org), most extracurricular activities came very naturally. Brotherhood prevails throughout its exceptionally diverse and rich environment, both culturally and intellectually. Never having seriously sung outside the bathroom, the warm invitation to join Ubuntu, the IHouse choir, came as a most fortunate challenge. Additionally, we regularly participated in events surrounding Black History Month, IHouse’s Sunday Suppers, the LGBT Cultural Hour, and even had a full-blown spring concert as well as a NY Subway performance.
Besides having lived at IHouse, which makes a stay in the Big Apple invaluable in its own right, it is very difficult to name but one, given the many, many rewarding exchanges on the human front.
Be it on the subway – with the native American who gently indicated that ‘nowadays everyone seems to be in the extortion business’, or the lawyer some weeks later who qualified that view as, “not inaccurate, not inaccurate”, before bursting into laughter – or walking midtown on 6th Avenue – where a shoe shiner commented on a friend’s footwear stating ‘Sir, this is NYC and we’re in 2013, those shoes are an outrage, you have got to acknowledge that!’ – or even during many strolls through Harlem – ‘Hey Irish, give them shoes and feet a Harlem treat’, as 67-year old former boxer Harvey asked, after which we had a thirty minute exchange, eye-ball to eye-ball – the time one takes to reach out to people and/or to respond to people reaching out, is almost always well-spent.
In marvelous Annapolis (Maryland), it was my pleasure to attend the 2013 Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference as an international delegate. Our round table focused on Education and Soft Power in a Knowledge Economy. I was astonished by the sophistication, the good manners and empathy of these women and men in uniform (‘midshipmen’) about to assume leadership positions in the Navy and the Marine Corps. Other encounters with enlisted personnel equally allowed me to nuance the somehow one-sided press coverage that is at times being given in my country to the actions and aims of Americans serving their country.
Warm thoughts go to Dr. Tina Lesher, a former Fulbright scholar, who invited some of us at the impressive Penn Club, together with her husband. Americans sure know how to dine in style!
The Fulbright Enrichment Seminar in Washington DC, dedicated to Democracy and Human Rights: Civil Activism and the Media, was also unforgettable and most instructive. Many thought-provoking exchanges with community and political leaders, and of course US Secretary of State John Kerry (http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2013/03/206335.htm) definitely added tremendous value to our stay. The American Fulbright alumni who accompanied us were the kind of people we should all aspire to become and remain: thoughtful, witty and open-minded.
Last but not least, I was impressed by the way religion is being lived and cherished by New Yorkers, both young and old. Attending some healing masses in Washington Height’s, amidst several hundreds Americans from Dominican descent, was truly exhilarating.
Upon departure to the US, an acquaintance had urged me to ‘prepare to meet very unsophisticated people’. I can only say that US residents, from the most diverse backgrounds, have proven him very wrong.
– Bart Nelissen, Fulbrighter 2012-13