People-to-People Exchange in a Pandemic

People-to-People Exchange in a Pandemic

In March 2020, the world came grinding to a halt — and with it, the Fulbright Commission in Brussels. Within a week, the staff of the Fulbright Commission went from planning a seminar and organizing pre-departure orientations to packing up their desks and jumping into crisis management mode. Over the past several months, the Fulbright Commission staff has settled into a new model of working from home … but running a people-to-people exchange program from home has its challenges.

Navigating Teaching Assistantship

These past four months have been a true roller coaster. I have been hesitant to share my thoughts and experiences as they have not been as rosy/ happy as I hoped and 1. I don’t love talking about my feelings and 2. I don’t like to dwell on negativity. But I started this blog to share my pure and unadulterated feelings about my experiences in Belgium and it would be disingenuous to withhold much of what I have experienced just because it may be negative. With that being said, for the most part, my experience in Belgium has been wonderful. People have been super kind to me. I have been surrounded by family which has been really wonderful. Despite loving my wonderful family and having great people around me these past months have been kind of lonely. In November, I moved into my own place- I have 4 roommates and an AMAZING room (It is my dream room). I am […]

What Living in Belgium Taught Me About American Progressivism and Racial Justice

It is an interesting time to be writing and pursuing research on economic inequality. Like most of the rest of the world, the US is currently reckoning with a global pandemic that is widening inequalities—between higher wage workers who can do remote work and those who can’t, for example—, and the murder of George Floyd triggered a global conversation about white supremacy’s historical role in a particular kind of racial inequality. Yet income and wealth inequity has been endemic in the United States, particularly since the 1970s. This is partly why I moved to Belgium to study the impact of technological shocks (e.g. artificial intelligence) on the gap between the rich and poor as part of a Fulbright grant. And I was excited to learn more about Europe’s experience with progressivism from a Belgian perspective. As many in the US continue to push for policies like universal health care and higher tax rates for the wealthiest households, parts of Europe […]

Boom Cranes and Twinkle Lights: Construction in Antwerp

When I travel, I am not a light packer. So when I arrived in Antwerp ready to spend the next ten months in the city, I had quite a bit of baggage in tow. In fact, I’d packed my bags so efficiently that the airline made the courteous gesture of adding a ‘heavy lift’ tag to my suitcase. Cute. After skidding along a never-ending series of escalators, my ‘heavy lift’ bags and I made it to ground level of Antwerp’s cavernous marble station. With a last surge of energy, I scrambled through the nearest exit to the taxi queue. A line of cabs stretched along the exterior wall, and I puffed my way to the front of it, thinking all the while of the smooth, easy journey in the taxi from the station to my new apartment. Making the most of my extremely limited Flemish, I gave my new address to the first taxi driver in the queue. ‘Italiëlei?’ He […]

Animals of Belgium

Today, I’d like to talk about the animals of Belgium. For all intents and purposes, I am not an animal person. I was never a member of 4H or the FFA, nor did I fly to Australia to save Koalas from fires. I am not a horse girl. However, the fauna of urban Europe does not get enough credit. Animals deserve our respect and admiration. In this blog post, you will hear about several of my favorite creatures in Belgium. CATS Cats were sacred in ancient Egypt and they are sacred in my heart. Nonetheless, this is an affair of passion. Humans often forget that beauty isn’t skin-deep, whereas for cats, the operative term is tin-deep, i.e. cat food cans. Cats transcend culture, and they are excellent conversation starters. Yet in Belgium, I’ve felt a bit of culture shock. For starters, the French word for cat is le chat. In Dutch it is de kat. Belgian cats are round and […]

Fulbrighter Spotlight with Evelyn Adam

Evelyn Adams was a 2019-2020 ETA in Luxembourg. Now that she is settled back home in the US we organized a virtual meeting to interview her so she could share her experience with Fulbright. She shared some memorable moments, advice, and difficulties she had. Instead of a blogpost we decided to connect more with the grantees and suggested sharing their story through an interview. Can you tell us who you are and what you did on your Fulbright grant ? I am Ev Adams, I am from Williamsport Pennsylvania. As for my Fulbright grant, I was in Luxembourg, where I was an English Teaching Assistant. Specifically, I was in Differdange which is near the French border. I was working at an International school called the ‘École Internationale de Differdange et Esch-sur-Alzette’. It is a public international school which is becoming more and more popular in Luxembourg because it is such an international country. So, that was really cool, and it […]

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 […]

Our Voices Seminar: Navigating Identities in the Fulbright Program

American Fulbright grantees to Belgium and Luxembourg participated in an enrichment seminar on Our Voices: Navigating Identities in the Fulbright Program. The seminar, which was organized by the Fulbright Commission in the Netherlands with the support of the European Fulbright Diversity Initiative (EFDI) and the Fulbright Commission in Brussels, took place in Amsterdam from 29 February to 1 March 2020. Over the course of the two-day seminar, participants discussed questions around Storytelling, Intersectionality, Belonging, Alterity and Power, and Participation and Courage. Two grantees from the Fulbright Commission were selected to participate in the seminar. Kate Heintzelman, a current Fulbright ETA Program to Luxembourg, applied because “my time living abroad as a Fulbright grantee has been one of profound growth and challenge. I wanted to meet fellow grantees in other countries and discuss the parallels between our experiences”. Rae Delacruz, a current Fulbright student researcher to Belgium, wanted to participate for similar reasons: “Entering a field where addressing difficulties related to being a […]

Bright Belgium

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 […]

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