A year in Pittsburgh

As a Fulbright Visiting Scholar I, together with my husband and two children (one and three years) went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We arrived on a cold Sunday, December 30th in an empty house in a suburban area. During our first month, we had snow, 0° Fahrenheit and snow days (schools, universities, certain institutions are closed due to the cold). 

Welcome to the Steel City, Pittsburgh! 


Despite the initial cold weather, it was remarkable how friendly, helpful and relaxed everybody was. Without knowing me, colleagues, neighbors, strangers in the streets were helping us and offering us advice. After I was settled, I started to get knowing the faculty of the Emergency Department. I was taught to always use the title of supervisors, the opposite here was true. Even the head of the Department was talked to on a first name base, whereby the threshold to discuss and ask questions was much lower.

Meanwhile, the children had their first American childcare and pre-school experience. The school system is totally different compared to the Belgian school system. The school was a combination of childcare and kindergarten where naptime is obliged, there is no start hour and end hour of the school day and during the summer, the school is open as usual. The classrooms are smaller with 8 children in my daughters’ class for one teacher and they start learning the alphabet from the age of 3, compared to 6 in Belgium. My eldest couldn’t speak a word of English and the youngest couldn’t speak in any language and couldn’t even walk when we arrived. After the first weeks of adjustments, which went smoothly without tantrums, my daughter started singing in English, or something that was supposed to be English. At first, we could not understand what she was singing until we asked the teacher, who told us it was their daily song “Brown bear brown bear”. With a list of titles of the songs of the class, we searched YouTube and from then on, we all learned the classic American toddler songs. 

So it started, we had not only our wonderful professional American experience but also it was a wonderful experience for the children and us as a family. Valentine’s Day was a big deal in pre-school, even the 1-year-old received little bags with gifts from his friends. Our first boo-boo report followed (when a child hurt himself) where besides ice also tender, love and care was applied. Then the Easter bunny arrived with (non-chocolate) easter egg hunts, special baskets and gifts. After six months, my daughter was talking in English about all her pre-school adventures and my son placed his first steps with a basketball in his hands walking to a little basket ring. It is amazing that they already teach the little ones so many verbal and motoric skills in a fun way. A remarkable finding was the emphasis on “sharing” in the school. Everybody in the classroom is a best friend and they just share with minimum hassles. The meals prepared in the school were also a new experience. Both breakfast and lunch were provided in the school, together with an afternoon snack. My children learned to eat granola, quesadilla, lo-mein, tacos, crackers with cheese, corn and much, much more. A little bit different than the usual potatoes with vegetables and some meat in Belgium but they both liked/loved it. I even need to say that my son is now crazy about corn. Childcare and pre-school is much more than just taking care of and watching your children, they really learn much more. 

Pittsburgh is a fantastic city for students and families with children. It is the city of the Steelers (NFL), the Pirates (Baseball) and the Penguins (ice-hockey). The children loved the hot-dogs during a Pirates game. The Children’s Museum is a must-see if you visit Pittsburgh with children (take bathing suits with you), together with the Carnegie Museum of National History, one of the 4 Carnegie museums in the city, with has one of the largest collections of Jurrasic dinosaurs in the world. With a consequence that a lot of dinosaur sculptures are spread all over the city with Dippy, a diplodocus carnegii as the mascot of the city. During the Pittsburgh marathon, my daughter ran her first Toddler trot, a mini-marathon for children from walking age until 4yrs (45m). Two other toddler trots followed as the experience with medals, gift bags and cookies was so good. Pittsburgh has the allure of a big city with the advantages of a small one. 


The fourth of July was a real experience as we had the opportunity to spend it with our neighbors in a very traditional way, eating hotdogs while dressed with a little hint of red, white and blue and ending the day watching the fireworks in the neighborhood.  A lot of special days followed, making special cards to honor the veterans on Memorial Day, Boo-bash party at school during the Halloween period where the trunks of the cars were decorated. After carving our pumpkin we joined our friends from the neighborhood going trick or treating. One minor experience was finding our carved pumpkin eaten by some of the animals in our neighborhood (squirrels, bunnies, groundhogs, chipmunks, …). During a wonderful, hot summer and a superb Indian summer, my daughter learned to ride a bicycle on a pink bike including the bike streamers. On a professional level, doing research about cardiac arrest at the University of Pittsburgh opens doors to the world. I got the opportunity to present at the largest European and American Resuscitation Conference. Who knows what the future will bring!

The first frost and snow arrived and our last days in Pittsburgh approaches. I will miss Pittsburgh and we will miss the school with the naptime, quesadillas, and Boo Bash. Drawings will be made to send to the former teachers and we will come back to visit our friends, colleagues and to visit Pittsburgh again. 

Dr. Cornelia Genbrugge is a Belgian 2018-2019 Fulbright Visiting Scholar to the University of Pittsburgh. Cornelia Genbrugge obtained her medical degree in 2010 at KU Leuven. She then started her residency in emergency medicine. During her residency she started performing research leading to a PhD on “Regional cerebral saturation monitoring in the cardiac arrest patient” in 2017. She is expected to graduate in Emergency Medicine in October 2018. She was awarded the Young Investigator Award of the European Resuscitation Council in 2017.

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