Save a seat and make room for others to ensure that the opportunities afforded by our education do not enrich our lives alone

How can you describe a year at Harvard and express your gratitude to those who contributed to this unreal experience in one post? It’s impossible. But at least I’ll try to encapsulate it in three takeaway messages for future Fulbright students. 

A degree at an American top institution is very little about your degree’s program or content. It is about the people, the diverse encounters, and the synergies created. Institutions like Harvard select people from all over the world with different backgrounds and geographies to create, research, and work together with the resources and under the name of the institution. The mix of great minds and the collision of ideas create world-changing innovations and produce groundbreaking research. As French philosopher, Nicolas Boileau once wrote: “Du choc des idées jaillit la lumière.” (Enlightenment comes when ideas clash and collide.) Harvard is the perfect example of the proverb and lends us the space to hear, digest, and accept each other’s differences and opinions. This is precisely what made Harvard and the US great, and only if we continue to do so can we be able to build a better world. Coming to a US top institution to witness this phenomenon is already worth it. I am incredibly grateful, lucky, and privileged to have participated in this.

There is no stigma for failure. Trying to build something valuable, failing, trying again, and then failing again is completely normal and is even encouraged in American society. The most crucial part is that you learn in the valley and build resilience along the way. Being a serial failed entrepreneur is even respected and sometimes helpful to get support for your next cutting-edge idea. We Europeans are, in general, more risk-averse. We are afraid of failure and especially of its social reactions. But we shouldn’t be. Go all in, regardless of the outcome. It will always be worthwhile. Believe in the power of your dreams, be decisive, and think about a long-term goal to achieve with passion and perseverance. 

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The American Dream exists, but it is only valid for the lucky few. It occurs and persists in a very unequal society that is mainly profit-driven. This societal system that benefits the lucky few negatively affects the poor and less fortunate. The vast capital and the massive influx of money leave behind already disadvantaged people resulting in alarming public health crises, and homelessness in major cities of the United States among them.  As our Harvard president Lawrence Bacow remind us, we should all think about how we, as privileged Harvard Alumni, with high chances of success and professional opportunities, can save a seat and make room for others to ensure that the opportunities afforded by our education do not enrich our lives alone. To ensure that we keep our society human and inclusive. 

I want to be careful, not too critical of, and neither too lavish in praising things foreign or home. Still, these three societal and perhaps cultural differences made me realize that there is no perfect country or ideal society. International exchanges allowed by programs such as Fulbright and thoughtful reflections on your exchange allow us to create a better world for tomorrow. It allowed me to learn these valuable tenets, especially and most importantly that we need to learn from each other and appreciate each other differences. I am excited to take home what I learned and share my education with my community, country, and most importantly, with the people who need it the most. 

See you soon, America!

Gauthier Willemse is a Belgian Fulbright Student in Public Health at Harvard University. Dr. Gauthier Willemse graduated Magna Cum Laude from KU Leuven Medical School. He devoted the past four years to surgical training during which he also published scientific articles and presented research at conferences on international surgical training. Gauthier was born in Brussels, Belgium to an internationally minded family. A polyglot, Gauthier cultivated a global mindset and volunteered extensive medical expertise in low- and middle income countries. These experiences sparked a deep passion for social advocacy, which led to the co-founding of Residents Abroad, a non-profit organization facilitating international opportunities for care workers. He currently acts as the medical coordinator of the largest COVID-19 vaccination center in Belgium.

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.
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