The Fulbright Gateway Orientation in Bloomington, Indiana, marked the start of my US adventure in August. Since this was such a unique experience, I was very much looking forward to the Fulbright Enrichment Seminar during the second semester. This time, the event took place in Denver, Colorado. Given the overall theme of the weekend, “Democracy in Action. U.S. Politics and Elections”, swing state Colorado was the perfect place for this Enrichment Seminar!
John Frank, a Denver Post Political Correspondent, kicked off the weekend by sharing some of his insight on the 2016 Presidential Election during the opening dinner in the Colorado History Museum on Thursday. On Friday we had a panel discussion about the political polarization in the U.S. society with Michael Berry, a professor of Political Science, and Adam Paul, the Mayor of the City of Lakewood. On Saturday, it was our turn to put the newly-gained knowledge into practice during the U.S. Election Simulation Workshop. We were divided among the different swing states and two Fulbrighters were presidential candidates. The presidential candidates created their own party and ogether with their Vice-President and Chief of Staff they visited our states to do some campaigning. Afterwards the two candidates confronted each other during a debate where the swing states had the chance to ask their remaining questions. Once this presidential debate was over, we had to vote in our respective swing state, according to how we thought the inhabitants of each state would vote. Finally, the result of the elections was announced during the closing dinner.
The weekend, however, was not all about politics. We visited the breath-taking Red Rocks Amphitheatre. This open-air amphitheatre is built into the rocks, with, apparently, extraordinary acoustics as a result. Which we could only agree to be true when we heard some musicians play a few sons. But we could especially see with our own eyes why this is such an amazing venue. What a view! We could even spot Denver in the distance.
Next to exploring some of Denver’s nature, we also got the chance to meet some Denver locals by means of a “home hospitality”. Divided into smaller groups, we were invited at a local family’s house to share dinner and stories. This was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend!
The day after we were again divided into smaller groups, but this time to do some community service. I went to the foodbank and was surprised at how organized this is in the US. We formed an assembly line, starting from folding the boxes to filling them and finally closing and storing them, ready to be distributed.
The best part of the whole seminar, however, was to meet the other Fulbrighters from all over the world and learning more about their country and culture. Getting to talk to people from all over the world about their experiences and beliefs allowed me to really experience Fulbright’s message of “mutual understanding”. A message I hope to carry out further during the last months of my stay in the US and to continue sharing once back in Belgium!
– Cilia Mathieu
2015-2016 LL.M. at the University of Virginia