Generals for breakfast and presidents for dinner

I still clearly remember my arrival in New Haven, now over a year ago. To give me the time to settle in and attend the Fulbright Orientation Gateway in New Jersey, I had arrived two weeks prior to the start of university. Exhausted after the long flight but eager to explore the city that was to become my home for the coming year, I wandered down Prospect Street. I started at the School of Management – one of the few university buildings with a modern architectural design – then headed downtown, going from one college to the next, strolling through their courts, and marveling at the Hogwarts-looking constructions.

The campus immediately reminded me of Oxford and Cambridge: the colleges’ stone facades that give you the impression they have witnessed centuries (although many at Yale were built but a few decades ago), the neatly cut grass courts creating an airy and serene atmosphere and the many libraries which are a testament to the university’s pursuit of academic excellence. What struck me, though, was the almost eerily quiet atmosphere. Apart from a few students riding their bikes under the evening sun, it seemed that life on campus had frozen.

Two weeks later, that drastically changed. With the start of the academic year, students filled the many colleges, professors returned to their lecture theatres, and the university shuttle buses resumed their endless loops around the entire town. New Haven was brought back to life in an instant. This was my first reminder that New Haven was unlike the cities I had previously lived in. The campus didn’t merely complement the city; rather it dictated its rhythm. Naturally, given the university’s grandeur, I was surprised to find out it housed just over 13,000 students – far fewer than many of its counterparts. What astonished me even more, was that regardless of its size, and despite it being over two hours from major cities like New York or Boston, it never failed to attract public figures from across the globe.

Coming to Yale, I was looking forward to attending lectures and talks given by academic pioneers, such as Nobel laureates Shiller and Nordhaus – after all, that was one of the reasons why I had decided to apply. What I had expected less was the plethora of talks given by visiting political figures such as 2016 runner up Hillary Clinton, ex-secretary of state John Kerry, and Senegal President Macky Sall. Reading and hearing about the Hillary investigation in the news media for years, and then having ex-FBI director James Comey narrate the story from his perspective episode by episode, made for a fascinating talk. Attending a talk by General Petraeus about the US involvement in Afghanistan, although I did not agree with his views, provided an interesting military perspective on the conflict. These are but a few examples of the talks I was able to attend.

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President Julius Maada Bio (right) and Chief Innovation Officer Dr. David Moinina Sengeh (center)

The best thing about these talks was the frequency at which they occurred and the open access, which I, as a university student, was able to take advantage of. Every week there would be a different talk, focusing on a new social and political debate. “Have you heard – the president of Sierra Leone is giving a talk this afternoon” a friend of mine told me during a lecture one day. Two hours later, I was sitting in front of President Julius Maada Bio, listening to him as he spoke about his mission to eradicate systemic corruption in the country. When I had woken up that morning, little had I known that I would be listening to an ex-general now-president recount mounting a coup to overthrow a military regime. It was the freedom, ease, and spontaneity with which I was able to attend these events that were almost as exciting as the talks themselves.

Of course, my Fulbright experience extended far beyond the lecture theatres. The talks are but one example of the innumerable rich encounters I was able to take advantage of. Throughout my year in the US, I was able to dive deeper into my academic field of interest, make friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime, and explore the USA. Going on road trips up to Montreal and down to Florida allowed me to get a glimpse of many different states and to see places I would otherwise never have had the chance to. The only regret I have is that the experience came to such an abrupt and unexpected halt. The last half-semester which promised to be the most exciting one –attending the Fulbright enrichment seminar in Nebraska and running a marathon with classmates in New Jersey among other things – was unfortunately reduced to quarantining for two weeks at home and Zoom meetings. Nevertheless, my time in the USA remains one of the most fun and enriching experiences I have had. A big thank you to the Fulbright Program for helping to make it a reality!

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Preparing for the annual Yale-Harvard American Football game with classmates

Luca Kopf is a Luxembourgish 2019-2020 Fulbright Graduate Student at Yale University. As part of a 2-year Master in Management, Luca will be spending one year at Yale University, where he will focus on analytics and computer science within the field of business. Luca’s curiosity to discover new countries, cultures, and lifestyles has encouraged him to study in an international environment (the UK where he completed his Bachelor in Civil Engineering and France where he undertook his first year of Master) and has led him on many backpacking trips, such as through the Ecuadorian Andes, along the Silk Road, or across the Himalayas. His extracurricular interests include outdoor sports, in particular, skiing, trekking, and alpinism.

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