On my first day in Dallas I bought a new phone that tracks the amount of miles I walk. And so step by step, the journey began. As my research exchange at the University of Texas at Dallas is coming to an end, I look back on a year of wonderful new friendships, cultural experiences, and travels, all of the above in over 500 miles of walking. And just like The Proclaimers, I would walk 500 more.
It didn’t take many miles to feel at home in Dallas. It is a warm place – literally and figuratively speaking. With temperatures easily reaching 30°-40° Celsius, I spent many weekends by the pool or attending outdoor events in the city. More heartwarming however was the way I was welcomed by my advisor, the PhD students, faculty, and staff of the Jindal School of Management at UT Dallas. The talks, classes, seminars, and lunches I shared with them made me look at research in a fresh way, resulting in a steep learning curve in a supportive environment, for which I am grateful to all of them.
As my journey continued, I encountered things I would never have expected before coming to Dallas. Instead of being surrounded by cowboy hats, horses, and guns, I found myself in a city brimming with young professionals, a vibrant art scene, and incredible cultural diversity. During my time in Dallas, I volunteered at a Thai temple, watched Indian Bollywood movies, went to an Iranian stand-up comedy show, celebrated Chinese New Year, and attended an Ethiopian celebration, just to name a few. One stereotype remains though: everything truly is bigger in Texas!
Apart from my walking miles, my frequent flyer miles reached a record-high as well. In the past ten months, I attended conferences in Vancouver, Fort Worth, Park City, and Houston; I visited friends in New York, Puerto Rico, Boston, and Los Angeles; and I attended Fulbright seminars in Reno and Philadelphia. During these travels, I met people from over 60 different countries and experienced over and over again the kind of magic that happens when you interact with like-minded people from different backgrounds.
Now that I am close to reaching the finish line, it is time to look forward as well. I am excited to go home and see my friends and family again, but most importantly to pay it forward: to share my experience and embrace people in Belgium with the same kindness and hospitality that I have received during my 500 mile journey in the United States.
Thank you to everyone who was a part of it!
2015-2016 Fulbright visiting researcher at University of Texas at Dallas