Tigers are everywhere in Columbia, Missouri. All students, called ‘Tigers’, wear caps, shirts, sweaters and bags with the animal logo. Several stores only sell yellow-and-black flags, mugs and toys. And if you want to survive the humid summer heat, you can buy ‘Tiger Stripe Ice Cream’ (with vanilla and chocolate flavor). So the first thing I did when I arrived in my new hometown, was buying a yellow ‘Mizzou’ t-shirt.
The tiger is the University of Missouri’s official mascot. Thanks to the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program, I had the opportunity to study one semester at its School of Journalism. As a tiger, I participated in a weekly seminar with other professional journalists from around the world. And I attended excellent classes on Business Journalism, Magazine Editing and Investigative Reporting.
The latter was my most exciting class as all students had to do their own investigation, for example on university policies, racism or gender issues. With my background as a business journalist in Belgium, I decided to cover a giant industrial energy project in Missouri, the Grain Belt Express. A local news website, The Missouri Independent, eventually published the story I had worked on for months.
The spirit at the Journalism School is very informal. Students call professors by their first name. Professors (who love to talk about their family and dogs) are very accessible and teach in a concrete and practical way. Students, at most 22 years old, learn what they need to become a good journalist. Despite the huge amount of homework and assignments, many students also work as ‘real’ journalists at the school-owned newspaper, radio station or TV channel. America’s can-do attitude at its best.
I was afraid that Columbia would be a boring village (with only 120.000 inhabitants). But ‘CoMo’ turned out to be a lively progressive college town with a cool atmosphere. As I lived in an apartment opposite the School of Journalism and close to downtown, I could walk everywhere. On one of my first walks, I was pretty surprised when a stranger suddenly shouted “I love your glasses” to me. But after a while, I started to appreciate the enthusiasm Americans express for everybody and everything.
I know: Missouri doesn’t sound very sexy. The state is often nicknamed ‘Misery’ in the US. But that’s not true. Missouri is a pretty fascinating place. It includes vibrant big cities like St. Louis and Kansas City, and a green southern part with the enormous Lake of the Ozarks. One day, I invited a group of international students on a tour to three hidden gems: Hannibal (the hometown of the writer Mark Twain), the Bonne Terre Mine (where we walked in a former lead mine turned into an underground diving lake) and the Oktoberfest in the picturesque village Hermann. It was one of the nicest trips I took.
Missouri’s central location facilitates traveling to neighboring states, such as Iowa and Oklahoma. From Columbia, I drove to places Belgian tourists would never visit. Like Bentonville, Arkansas, where the Walmart family has financed an impressive art museum. Discovering this beautiful and unique country, with its rich culture and extraordinary people, was one of the greatest adventures of my life. I think I will keep wearing my tiger shirt back home.
Lukas Vanacker is a Belgian 2021-2022 Fulbright Scholar to the University of Missouri (Journalism Award). Lukas Vanacker is a journalist at Belgium’s leading financial and economic newspaper De Tijd. He writes about local and international business with a focus on real estate. In 2020, he published his first book ‘Typisch Belgisch’ about remarkable habits many Belgians share. Lukas started his career at the government agency Flanders Investment & Trade. He holds a Master in Law degree from Ghent University and a Master in Eastern European Studies from Free University of Berlin. When he is at home in Brussels, you will often see him cycling in the city.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.