Languages and Latitudes

Jean Bodet is a 2017-2018 American Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Belgium. A recent graduate of Auburn University, he is spending the academic year teaching English at Hasselt University.  Below, Jean reflects upon his first two months in Belgium, and the unique opportunities that have come along with his placement in Hasselt.

I’m on a train to Brussels right now for a work engagement, and that’s the coolest sentence I’ll ever write in my life. I’m still not quite accustomed to the concept that I casually work in Brussels a few times a month; to the status appropriated to being a faculty member in academia; to the thrill of walking across the Grote Markt in Hasselt and knowing that this is my city now; to the soaring windmills, the symmetrical fields of grass clipped by spotted bovine lawnmowers, the yellowing leaves that the trees shudder off with the coming cold (Alabama has no Fall).

And the work. I love it.

As a Fulbright recipient, your first weeks in your host nation will be full of settling rituals: local government legalities, bank account setups, finding grocery stores, et cetera. Honestly, I’m still dealing with these tiresome chores after a month – my bank account is opened, but blocked; I’m waiting on my bank card anyways so I couldn’t use it regardless. Thus, I can’t pay my first rent. Thus, I can’t officially be put on payroll. Thus, thus, thus, thus…

I’m also waiting on my furniture insurance contract (yes, that’s a thing) and residency card to be mailed to me. I DID succeed in borrowing a bike—the means of efficient transportation over criss-crossed Belgian paths—which was promptly stolen a week later; lock clipped and all. I’m waiting on the university to validate my request for a loaner. I do, however, have a steady group of friends that are great – a Fin, a Czech, a German, two Spaniards, an Italian, and three Belgians form the crux of our band.

Anyways, back to the work: I’ve met a number of faculty in Economics, Biomedical, and Law fields. I’ll also be working closely with the Cell (Department) of Research Funding. My duties to this point comprise of what would be a teaching assistant position in the U.S. to a few classes in these fields. The classes are all English-language centered with a focus on writing and presentation. I will help the professors with classwork, test, and oral presentation assessment, and I will design and lead a few lectures of my own on American English, American culture, etc. along the way. Further, I’ll work with students at their request in improving linguistic skills and preparing assignments and homework. The most interesting class so far is a Biomedical English class which has no grades; it exists entirely to help students as they prepare oral presentations to pitch to hospitals in hopes of being hired. If they ask for my help, it’ll be fun, but either way I’ll sit in on all their presentations (they’re ‘due’ in a month or so) to help edit and improve.

Long-term, I’ll be fashioning workshops and seminars for delivery to faculty, PhD students, Master’s students, and Bachelor’s students. These lectures will focus heavily on informing the aforementioned folks concerning American-style oral presentation skills, writing skills, and topics of American culture of relevance to their academic or professional fields, tailored to their stage of life. I’ll help bolster Universiteit Hasselt’s newfound academic relationship with a University in Peru and related English-language writings and meetings. I’ll pick up a few more classes as the semester continues. And, finally, I’ll design a Biomedical English course with a professor from the ground up and see that through next semester.

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A MESSAGE OF DIRE URGENCY: Belgium’s landscape is stunningly flat – its most poignant geographical features are the windmills that stick up like lightning rods, faithfully powering the idyllic farm-towns and their massive churches.

A MESSAGE CONTINUED:

I am working individually with approximately nine faculty in three academic fields on their own projects (all mentioned above, either specifically or in multiple capacities and under different titles). That number will flourish further over the coming weeks as I am introduced to College PXL and Liège, two more academic institutions that have asked for me on loan for a couple weeks each. One institution is in Hasselt, the other in the city of Liège, seat of the county of Liège. I’ll let you guess which is which.

If you do it right, you’ll snuggle right into the perfect position of being a faculty member and a student at the same time. I’ve done dinner and drinking with both groups and I love the different atmospheres. If you’re like me and you have an insatiable desire for mature and intellectual conversation that has buddied up with a drive for electric locations and talking to everybody, you’ll find fulfillment in the balance as a Fulbrighter.

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FLOWER-LOVERS, HELP: I don’t know what botanical beauty these are, but there are hundreds of acres of four-foot tall, tiny, yellow fleurs bathing the landscape in artificial sunlight and it’s nothing short of mesmerizing. LET ME KNOW IF YOU’RE FAMILIAR.

I will arrive in Brussels in a few minutes to work a conference for international academia. Oh, right, this will be another duty of yours: responding to the calls of your mother program for help in any which way she desires. They’re all quite fascinating and engaging for those of us who love academics, and she’ll plan neat trips for you in return (and continue to pay you). Plus, who wouldn’t want to be able to say, “I’m on a train to Brussels right now for a work engagement”?

Read more about Jean’s experience in Belgium at his personal site, Languages and Latitudes. Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.