A Journey to Remember

“I can’t believe I will be going to Luxembourg!” I screamed when I was notified of my Fulbright finalist status in March 2018. Finally, my hard work and determination had come to fruition and I would be soon embarking on a journey of a lifetime.

As I prepared for my departure, I was confident in my ability to adapt swiftly to a new culture and was certain that my experiences as an immigrant in America, beyond doubt, primed me for this new excursion. After all, I came to America as a young child from Haiti and assimilated to a new culture that was not only entirely different than what I was used to, but where the average person did not look like me.  I thought to myself, I am a chameleon, if I can adjust from living in a poor country to thriving in a first-world nation—with many challenges of its own—then surely Luxembourg will be a breeze?  And then, came September!

Visiting Vianden, in the north of Luxembourg!

As soon as I landed in Luxembourg—I was faced with my first challenge—language. Having spent the first 11 years of my life speaking French, the language was one of my mother tongues. Regrettably, over time—my French speaking abilities dissipated—as there was no use for the language in daily life in America. Nonetheless, my understanding of the language remained but my conversational skills were nominal. Yet, I believed that communicating with locals in Luxembourg would not be so complex, that is, until the occasion finally arose. To my surprise, I became unusually timid and was apprehensive about how my French would be perceived by others. Overtime, I realized that much of the locals were just as uneasy with their English as I was with my French. This awareness helped to ease my discomfort and, to my amazement, revealed that many people in Luxembourg struggled with language as nearly half of the population are migrant. This would be the tip of the iceberg of my culture shock.

In America, I was always praised for my go-getter attitude and independence considering that intra-dependence is a highly prized characteristic, particularly, in the American professional world. On the contrary, I found interdependence to be, more so, the norm in Luxembourg. I was so accustomed to autonomy that navigating through such a collective society proved to be one of my most challenging tasks. Despite the hurdle of finding a happy median between intra and interdependence, I grew to appreciate a culture where the well-being of others was valued and self-care was conventional. I became accustomed to lounging in cafes with a hot cup of cappuccino and a slice of chocolate cake. I also learned about the many varieties of teas and their modes of preparations among others.

Furthermore, through discourse, I found myself debunking many of the myths and misconceptions regarding the norms in America. For instance, many were stunned that I studied French, German and Spanish during my early years in school. Correspondingly, it was apparent to me that many, outside of America, were unaware that a number of secondary curriculums in the U.S. have language requirements other than English. Hence, my fondest memories in Luxembourg will forever be exposing others to an America that is vastly different from what is seen in mass media.

In addition, as a researcher, I had a unique opportunity to learn about the Luxembourg population through my own research, which explored the association between immigrant status and health outcomes. This project led me to the addictive and compulsive behavior (ACB) lab at the University of Luxembourg, where I was able to be a part of an amazing team, exchange ideas, collaborate with the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities at NIH and visit the World Health Organization headquarters in Switzerland.

Overall, my experience in Luxembourg—in my perspective—brought forth a very important realization … representation matters. Akin to my experiences in other countries I’ve visited, I was readily assumed to be from Africa. Matter of fact, I could see a change in facial expressions as I disclosed that I was an American from Pennsylvania. It dawned upon me that I was not what was expected when the term “American” comes to mind. Accordingly, exemplifying the diversity of America, as a second-generation immigrant and Black woman, was remarkable to say the least. In my mind, I was a living, breathing depiction of the American dream—as I know it—strutting the streets of Luxembourg. Therefore, I will always be grateful for the support of the U.S. Embassy, the Belgium/Luxembourg Commission and the ACB lab for an incredible journey that I will always remember.

As a recipient of a Fulbright scholarship to Luxembourg, Launick Saint-Fort is spending the 2018-2019 academic year conducting research in public health. After completing a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State University, Launick spent two years at the National Institutes of Health conducting research in behavioral and population health as a Fellow. In Luxembourg, her research will investigate the impact of immigration on the state of tobacco in Luxembourg, particularly, the influence of country of origin on the heterogeneity in tobacco use behaviors.

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.