Even though I had been looking forward to studying in the United States for such a long time, I was still surprised by how amazing the experience was of pursuing a Master of Laws (LL.M) at Harvard Law School. In the first place, Harvard Law School is an incredibly stimulating intellectual environment. I mainly took courses in corporate law and finance, but the way the law is taught is very different from what I was used to. I had quite a lot of seminars, where the focus is not on the professor presenting a lot of material, but rather on a debate between fellow students – all of whom are incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable. In addition, many of the courses did not have exams, but required several response papers where you had to comment on the papers on the reading list. As an academic (I was in the middle of my PhD in corporate law before coming to Harvard Law […]
I am a bit of a unique Fulbrighter in Belgium. I have had the unusual privilege to serve as a grantee twice here, thirteen years apart. The first time was to teach English in 2005-6 at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve. That experience was the beginning of a lifetime connection between me and le plat pays. In the years since then, I returned many times for short visits and to maintain old friendships, including those with my cokotteurs (student dorm roommates) and my original Fulbright contact person in Hasselt, with whose family I have become very close. Meanwhile, after finishing my studies at Berkeley, I established an academic career in African studies. Now, in 2018-19, as an assistant professor at George Mason University, I have had the honor to return to Belgium. This time, the Fulbright Commission welcomed me as a scholar in order to undertake archival research on colonial literature and history at the Africa Museum in […]
When I first arrived in Brussels as a student researcher in September 2018, I was excited to finally do extended archival research for my dissertation. My project focused on sovereignty and the intersection of private, colonial, and local actors in southeastern Congo and Central Angola during the early 20th century. The project considered a situation in which interests among people from Congo, Belgium, Angola, Britain, Portugal, America, France and elsewhere all seemed to overlap in one region of Central Africa. Within the archives I expected to find consistent struggles among these actors over issues of economic and political authority during the early 20th century, and while I found some of these conflicts, it became clear that these struggles over authority really came to a head around Congo independence in 1960. Part of this was due to the fact that many of the available sources come from colonial officials who had an interest in presenting images of tranquility during the early […]
Absolute silence, the sound of a tranquil morning, was something completely foreign to me. Yet most of my mornings are now like this; filled with a sense of peace and comfort, similar to the feeling one gets from drinking a cup of hot chocolate on a cold night. I may not sleep as often as I would prefer, but I no longer wake up with a sense of immediate urgency, the way I used to in college. It’s hard to imagine that a year ago, my life was consumed by an endless stream of courses, organizational meetings, volunteer activities, and side jobs. I remember free time being scarce with mornings that consisted of repeated rings from my alarm. Starting my day involved checking my emails and trying to set a new record for how fast I could get out the door. So far, it’s 10 minutes. Who needs a lunch break when you can scoff down your sandwich on your […]
While I had high expectations for my Master of Laws (LL.M.) at Harvard Law School (HLS), even those were exceeded. One the one hand, the academic experience at HLS is unparalleled, at least in my experience. On the other hand, Boston (‘the birthplace of the American revolution’) is an excellent starting point to explore the broader United States—an endlessly intriguing place.
I am writing this blog post from the train from Chicago to Washington D.C., a train ride that takes 23 hours and 30 minutes, and this after I already was on the bus this morning that took 8 hours from Minneapolis to Chicago. I decided to travel by train so I had enough time to sit, relax and contemplate my nine-month long experience in the United States.
My Fulbright adventure began in September 2018 when I arrived in “The Windy City” to start a Master of Law at the University of Chicago. My year as a Fulbright scholar has been a truly amazing experience! I was able to connect with people from all over the world and got a unique inside to the American culture.
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.