Women and War in Belgium

Women and War in Belgium

Gabrielle Petit stares defiantly into the distance, under gray skies in Brussels. Almost every morning, I walk beneath Petit’s stern gaze on my way to the archives, thinking about her last moments and about the long history of women and warfare. Gabrielle Petit was a Belgian woman who became swept up in the chaos of the First World War (1914-1918), after Germans overran Belgium in August 1914 and occupied the country. Petit fled as a refugee but then returned to Belgium as a spy for the British Army, gathering information on German military dispositions across Belgium beginning in August 1915. German soldiers soon became suspicious of Petit’s movements in occupied Belgium and arrested her for spying in February 1916. A German military court tried her for military espionage and condemned her to death. Gabrielle Petit allegedly say: “I will show you how a Belgian woman dies,” before being executed by firing squad on 1 April 1916. The bronze statue commemorating […]

A reflection on racism with Mary Wilson

Throughout my time in Belgium, I have recognized how differently Belgians see and perceive issues of diversity compared to Americans. In the United States, we are confronted with our race more often than Europeans, sometimes subtly with racial identification, such as on a form or survey, or through bolder individual acts where our background is questioned. In Belgium, improving diversity means looking at disparities in class and language, but the issue of race is often overlooked. It has been incredible to be a part of Fulbright’s commitment to inclusion across race, gender, age, religion and identity. The Fulbright Belgium Commission has been very proactive in seeking events to continue conversations about this topic, including the special opportunity to discuss the intersection of the American civil rights movement and Motown with Mary Wilson of the Supremes at European Parliament. After a meeting a week prior with the Fulbright diversity initiative, founded by Sangeetha Ramakrishna and Rianne Delacruz, I was eager to […]

Which Language for Local Food in Wallonie?

I just returned to my dissertation fieldwork site after 38 years thanks to a Fulbright Scholar’s Grant.  Back in the 1980s I examined the use of the regional Gallo-Romance dialect, Walloon, in Liège, Belgium and particularly in the puppet theater.  Over the past couple decades I’ve gotten increasingly interested in how people resist the global industrial food system. Upon arriving at the Liège train station last week, my interest was piqued by the poster announcing a show of local alimentary products called CBon, CWallon (http://www.cbon-cwallon.be). It took a minute to understand that they were not using aberrant initial consonant clusters, but the practice of using a letter (or number) to stand in for the name of that letter, like the francophone usage of K7 for “cassette.” I went to the C’est Bon, C’est Wallon Fair today, wondering whether the Walloon language would appear as well as the products of Wallonie. One of the first booths I saw was a beer […]

How a biochemist in Belgium found community through music

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 […]

The Kindness of Strangers

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 […]

Who are the people in the neighborhood? A historical look at “neighbors” and their communities. Dr. Sarah A. Cramsey

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 […]

That which Upholds a Society and Founds a Community: The Visible and the Unnoticed

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 […]

I’M FINALLY HERE: Starting my Fulbright, Getting adjusted, Navigating “solo” time

GREETINGS loved ones! Ahh… I can’t believe I’m writing my first Fulbright blog post! It seems like just yesterday I was editing my application essays until 4 am and entering class like a ghost the very next morning with a gallon of Loyola Starbucks coffee in hand. Those were the days… (sarcasm intended, though not regarding Loyola Starbucks. God I miss that place. And all the money I wasted there.). It also seems like just yesterday I was writing my blog posts about studying abroad in Leuven — this deja-vu is even more surreal, especially given the fact that I’m BACK in Belgium and there are just so many parallels between my time in Leuven and my time thus far living in Brugge. However, though I’ve only been here for just under a month, I already know that this experience will be far different from my previous time living in Belgium. Most obviously, I’ll be here for a substantially longer […]

2019 U.S. Grantee Orientation

Enthusiastic – and highly caffeinated – smiles greeted the Royal Library of Belgium as the newest cohort of Fulbright grantees slowly trickled into the building, newcomer jitters in tow, eagerly awaiting their program orientation. After a steady chorus of casual greetings and public transit mishaps, Fulbright Executive Director Erica Lutes formally opened the presentation by asking each grantee to introduce themselves to the group — and introduce themselves they did. This year’s group of Fulbright grantees boasts a wide array of incredibly accomplished individuals, with eight student researchers, nine English teaching assistants, and five scholars (to arrive in the spring) in Belgium, six English teaching assistants and one researcher in Luxembourg, and three Schuman researchers. With such a diverse range of backgrounds to draw from, there did not appear to be one academic stone left unturned. Polite chuckles laced with pride accompanied the account of many grantees’ interests, and, with projects like “exploring the role of prenylation in plant crop productivity […]

American Football in Antwerp

What could be more quintessentially American than football on a Sunday afternoon?  Since part of Fulbright’s mission is to share American culture abroad, while experiencing and engaging with local cultures, one of my plans was to find out about any local American football clubs and try to attend some games.  A Belgian housemate told me he knew several members of the Antwerp team and made sure to let me know when the season was beginning. A week before their first game, I found out the team was hosting a viewing party for Super Bowl LIII at a restaurant/bar and everyone was invited.  It turned out to be a great opportunity to meet the players, spend a night out late, and enjoy the game.  Everyone knows soccer is the preferred sport (by far) in much of Europe, and Germany and England are always the countries associated with American football.  Yet Belgium also has some insanely passionate and knowledgeable fans, and they […]

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