Given its northern latitude and corresponding dark winters, I’ve enjoyed how Belgian cities fill the streets with lights during the winter months. Mechelen, the city where I live, kept its Christmas lights on all day long to counteract the grey clouds, and after January 1st had passed they were transformed into Valentine’s Day lights that featured hearts swinging above the city streets and adorning the Stadhuis (City Hall). During a recent week in February, Brussels took light installations even further in its annual light festival, “Bright Brussels.” I took the train in from Mechelen to explore the festival one evening and was impressed by the artistry of the installations and the ways they illuminated certain elements of Belgian culture. In tribute to Belgian artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, whose 450th death anniversary was in 2019, the Porte de Hal/Hallepoort served as the backdrop for b71’s “Winter,” an animated mural featuring characters from Bruegel’s paintings. Across Belgium, institutions are using technology […]
In January 2020, the U.S. Grantees Diversity Roundtables were launched. Two alumni of the Fulbright Belgium Program, Sangeetha Ramakrishna, a former ETA, and Rae Delacruz, a former Fulbright student researcher, led the initiative. The main goal of this initiative is to create a safe environment through which racial, ethnic, and sexual Fulbright minorities can learn, network, and converse about topics affecting themselves and others. In this interview, Sangeetha and Rae discuss the genesis of the U.S. Diversity Roundtables. Q: Where did the idea for a Diversity Initiative come from? Sangeetha: The idea of starting the Diversity Initiative came from my conversations with the other grantees in Belgium. It was not something I planned to do, even though the topics of diversity and inclusion are a large part of my background and career path. I am the daughter of South Asian immigrants, something that led to a lot of bullying at a time when inclusion was not really talked about. Now, […]
In high school I was definitely a band kid. I played in every musical group available to me, and my world revolved around music. The sense of belonging and community I felt as a member of a musical ensemble was unparalleled. This was why I kept playing in college, even as I decided to pursue a career in biotechnology research. When I applied for my Fulbright grant, I proposed that I would join a local orchestra to foster the same sense of belonging with my Belgian neighbors. When I arrived in Gent, I began researching different community groups. I found the Gent University Harmonic Orchestra (GUHO), a student-run,100-piece wind-instrument orchestra. I filled out an online questionnaire, and I was invited to audition. When I arrived, I played a short audition piece and was invited to stay for the rehearsal. During this first rehearsal, I was surprised how mentally exhausting it was for me to keep up with the directions and […]
Without the holiday of Thanksgiving holding Luxembourgers back from starting the yuletide festivities, Christmastime in the Grand Duchy begins in the middle of November. Strolling down the streets of Luxembourg City to the Place d’Armes city center, I was surprised to see the preparations for the installation of holiday decorations shortly after the end of October. Needless to say, however, I didn’t mind! This time of the year, bright, sparkling lights drape elegantly over nearly every major street, shops amp up the festiveness of their window decorations, and the irresistibly sweet smells of roasting nuts and all the traditional confections you can imagine waft through every inch of the city. In Luxembourg City, you’ll find not one, but three “Chrëschtmaarts” (Christmas Markets) that began on November 21st and will end on January 5th. If large crowds are not for you, not to worry! Various smaller towns throughout the country have their own smaller yet even more charming markets, full of […]
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).
Moving abroad takes a lot of faith: faith you will overcome the language barrier and culture shock, faith that you will be welcomed into the community, and a lot of faith that you are doing the right thing, even when things get tough. Luckily, my hop over the pond has been a pretty euphoric experience so far, mostly due to the kindness I have seen and found in Gent. Last night, I decided to make a trip to a sports center on the other side of town. As I sat down on the tram, I glanced at Google maps on my phone for the name of my stop. I had 5% of my battery left, just enough to make it to my destination. I stuck my phone in my coat pocket and read a book while I waited. After I exited the tram, I reached for my phone to check the directions again. Nothing. I rummaged through my purse, but […]
When I told my friends that I got a scholarship to go to the University of Missouri, most of them had the same reaction. I can’t blame them: before starting my application process, I would have had the same question… I used to explain to them that it was a small town somewhere in the Midwest, 600 kilometers south of Chicago. Today, as I am about to leave, my answer would be totally different. Columbia is not just a spot on a map anymore. It is a town and a University where I’ve been living for four months, and where I felt welcome from Day 1.
Moving to Ann Arbor made me feel all kinds of feelings a human will experience in a lifetime. The first days you feel excited, tired, hungry and unsure. If you are lucky enough, like me, you’ll have a colleague who helps you fill your refrigerator and a program director from IHAA who knows everything about taxes.
My parents have lived next to the same three families for thirty years. They have never fought over property lines, noisy parties or the shade provided by various trees. Relations between “them” and “us” have almost always been friendly. We wave hello, feed each other animals during times of vacation and redeliver errant mail. Yet, I can honestly say that I don’t really know them at all. Outside of the family unit, the first collective that most humans belong to is their neighborhood. And yet, “neighbors” in both my personal experience and in the historical past remain under-known quantities. More specifically, we might ask, what does it mean to have a relationship with a “neighbor” and how does it become possible to feel “rooted” on a street, in a neighborhood, in a city or in the broader nation? Ask we did. And after two days of discussing these questions and the larger issues of “neighbors,” a dozen experts assembled in Brussels began […]
Societies need people to function and communities need something in common around which to coalesce. These needs are met in different ways by and for different people. While we acknowledge the importance of doctors and lawyers, teachers and professors—what might be called the upper-class workers—we tend not to notice the people who have the greatest effect on our day to day lives. Yes, the upper-class workers are important, preforming specialized task or providing specific help in our times of need, but how often do we pass by the people who found our sense of normalcy. I’m speaking of the janitors, the grounds keepers, the bus drivers, the servers at functions—a group of people who, in my experience thus far, tend to be immigrants, or at least people of non-Western European descent. In my brief time in country, I’ve had people thank me for engaging them in conversation and listening to them. For asking questions about their experience and showing genuine […]