On 11 June 2019, the U.S. Embassy to Belgium hosted the annual Fulbright Pre-Departure Orientation. The annual event is attended by outgoing Belgian, Luxembourgish, and European Fulbright grantees who are preparing to leave for the United States in the coming academic year.
During my time as a Fulbright grantee and European Studies graduate student at KU Leuven in Belgium, I have conducted interviews with Muslim communities from various backgrounds to identify the factors they believe lead to polarization within subsets of their communities while analyzing their perceptions of the Belgian ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ strategies. I have learned some key lessons in conducting such sensitive research in Belgium and I will highlight them in this post.
“Isn’t it super cold in Chicago?” is one of the first questions I get asked when I tell people I’m doing my Fulbright here. The answer is yes, which is why I decided to pack my skiing jacket. That turned out to be a wise decision. In Chicago, it snows and it gets cold – really, really cold. This year the famous polar vortex passed through the Northern Midwest, breaking negative record temperatures. Even eyelashes weren’t safe. Needless to say, this was quite the event. Yet, what was even more remarkable about the whole experience was how unconcerned the locals responded to it. For example, the bus I usually take to the University was still running (see photo). Being a Belgian myself, accustomed to a more modest climate, I have gotten used to the idea that once the first hints of snow trickle down from the sky, it’s safer not to rely on public transportation anymore. But not in Chicago. […]
As the students file in for their first seminar of the semester, I cannot help but notice how homogenous they appear. They quietly take their seats and proceed to converse with their friends in hushed whispers. Among these mostly white students, I hear mostly Flemish. This is understandable since, as soon as I begin the seminar, we will all be committed to the English language for the next two hours.
Excited to go to Europe, but worried about leaving your best (dog) friend home? I brought my 70-pound golden retriever, Bear, with me on my three-month Fulbright to Brugge. Absolutely no regrets!