As my year at Yale Law School as a Fulbright student has come to an end, I want to reflect on what has been, for me personally, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned this year. Although I have been welcomed in the United States in the best way possible and the orientation with Fulbright upon my arrival immediately gave me a home-like feeling, my stay in this country has taught me something that – paradoxically – both unsettled and enriched me.
For the first time in my life I have experienced my own identity as non self-evident; as something that is contingent and arbitrary. While before I carried my Flemish, Belgian, European, Western, Caucasian identity on my back without ever feeling its weight, this year this baggage was suddenly put before my very nose. I think the best word to describe this experience is ‘responsibility’: something that begs a response and at the same time holds you accountable for it. Inevitably, my identity has been yanked out of its blind corner. What does it mean? What does it stand for? What kind of responsibility does it bring?
In times in which nationalist, populist and even fascist discourses perfuse our political stages, the contingency of my identity has perhaps been the greatest lesson I was taught this year. The Fulbright goal is to build human global networks, humanize relations between people all over the world to decrease the prospect of conflict, and infuse those international relations with empathy and mutual understanding. I am grateful to Fulbright for having given me the opportunity to study at Yale University, but also to better understand what kind of leadership and personal character traits are necessary to realize those universal goals. I believe that questioning one’s own identity in a globalized and interconnected world is a starting point to achieve such leadership. When I received my Master of Laws degree from Yale, I therefore did not see it as a confirmation of past achievements, but a call for future realizations; not as an honor, but a confrontational challenge; and not as a collection of academic credits; but a constant reminder of what we can and should do to make this world more home-like for everyone.
Thanks to Fulbright, I will be working with the Schell Center for International Human Right at Yale Law School upon graduation and start my internship with the Permanent Representation of Belgium to the United Nations in New York this Fall as part of my academic training. I nevertheless look forward to return to Belgium and, in the words of T.S. Eliot in Little Gidding, “to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.” Only through this unrelenting openness to incessantly question ourselves and our identity when others ask for our help, for a shelther and for a home, but also and especially when we ourselves are abroad and are guests there – as I have myself experienced this year – can we attain those Fulbright goals.
— Ingmar Samyn
2015-2016 Fulbright grantee