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.
In January 2022, I had one full semester as a Gannon University FLTA under my belt. I was slowly but surely getting used to life in Erie, Pennsylvania. Since my arrival mid-August, I had delighted myself in the full seasons this part of the United States has to offer. Erie’s cold and snowy winter filled me up with energy, and I felt ready to spend another semester sharing my language and culture with the students of the Gannon community. I was also happily noticing signs of my acclimatization to the US and local cultures. My small talk skills were improving (having a small conversation with a coffee shop barista was no longer a struggle!). I had become an expert at finding local vegetarian spots downtown. I had been to the Presqu’Ile in the early hours of the morning and had proudly collected my first Erie beach glass. I had even turned two pieces of beach glass into earrings! The beginning […]
Contrary to many international students that I have met in the previous years, going to study in the U.S. was never something that I was consciously searching for. I have always had often negative perspectives and prejudices regarding the U.S. as a country and culture. Nevertheless, 2 years ago, when I have been presented with the opportunity to enroll in a master’s program with the University of Arkansas as a partner, I have decided that it would be a great chance to enhance my experiences, skills, and knowledge.
We left for New York City in January 2021. The world was in turmoil. The coronavirus was still wreaking havoc across the globe, and a few days before our departure, an angry mob had stormed the US Capitol. Due to a US entry ban for EU citizens, our paperwork had not been approved until the very last minute. Moving across the ocean seemed more daunting than ever. And so, finally being able to set foot on American soil, not as a tourist but as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar, almost felt surreal.
After defending my Ph.D. in Autumn 2019, I departed to Fayetteville, AR, to start my joint Fulbright and BAEF postdoctoral fellowship at the Department of Biological Sciences of the University of Arkansas. In this blog post, I share my experience as a Fulbright fellow in Arkansas, both before and during an unfolding pandemic.
I was walking the streets of Deadwood, a town in South Dakota, when a window display stopped me in my tracks. “The only good journalist is a dead one,” a graphic T-shirt for sale read. Accompanying the text was a silhouette of a person, hanging in a noose under a lone tree. Surely, with a history of racial lynching and a present-day mental health crisis, such images (being sold for profit, nonetheless) would appall anyone? I had been in the country for less than 48 hours, as a journalist on a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Missouri, and the provocative messages hit home hard. None of the other passersby batted an eye.
Tigers are everywhere in Columbia, Missouri. All students, called ‘Tigers’, wear caps, shirts, sweaters and bags with the animal logo. Several stores only sell yellow-and-black flags, mugs and toys. And if you want to survive the humid summer heat, you can buy ‘Tiger Stripe Ice Cream’ (with vanilla and chocolate flavor). So the first thing I did when I arrived in my new hometown, was buying a yellow ‘Mizzou’ t-shirt.
Have you noticed, my friend told me over brunch the other day, “that Belgians in D.C. usually intend to move back to their home country at some point?” My friend is from a little Flemish town not too far from Antwerp. I myself grew up in another little town not too far from Antwerp. Yet, we met in Washington D.C. (granted: it was in a Belgian-owned bar during a game of the Belgian Red Devils). We both recently moved to the U.S. capital. She is one of the many wonderful people I would never have met had I decided to remain at home, in my comfortable Belgian bubble.
In August 2020, I packed two suitcases, bought a one-way ticket to New York and moved across the ocean in the middle of the pandemic. The main question preceding this move was: “Should I go or defer?” Some people warned me that due to the pandemic I will not have the ‘real’ Fulbright experience.
After a year like 2020, it felt quite unreal to go to the American Embassy for our visa and to get on a plane in January for the big Fulbright experience. The first weeks were tough: COVID case numbers were rising everywhere, the hospital I was doing my research at was busy planning vaccinations, causing a delay in the onboarding processes, the apartment I booked for the first two weeks wasn’t quite like it was advertised,…