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 […]

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 […]

U.S. Grantees Diversity Roundtables

In January 2020, the U.S. Grantees Diversity Roundtables were launched. Two alumni of the Fulbright Belgium Program, Sangeetha Ramakrishna, a former ETA, and Rae Delacruz, a former Fulbright student researcher, led the initiative. The main goal of this initiative is to create a safe environment through which racial, ethnic, and sexual Fulbright minorities can learn, network, and converse about topics affecting themselves and others. In this interview, Sangeetha and Rae discuss the genesis of the U.S. Diversity Roundtables. Q: Where did the idea for a Diversity Initiative come from? Sangeetha: The idea of starting the Diversity Initiative came from my conversations with the other grantees in Belgium. It was not something I planned to do, even though the topics of diversity and inclusion are a large part of my background and career path. I am the daughter of South Asian immigrants, something that led to a lot of bullying at a time when inclusion was not really talked about. Now, […]

A year in Pittsburgh

As a Fulbright Visiting Scholar I, together with my husband and two children (one and three years) went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We arrived on a cold Sunday, December 30th in an empty house in a suburban area. During our first month, we had snow, 0° Fahrenheit and snow days (schools, universities, certain institutions are closed due to the cold).

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 […]

In Flanders Fields

This past Monday was Armistice Day, which commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of WWI and Germany on November 11th 1918. In Belgium, Armistice Day is a national holiday, which meant that schools and many businesses were closed. Since I didn’t have to teach, I decided to take a train to Ypres (also spelled Ieper, in Dutch), which was the center of the Battle of Ieper during World War One. Today, it is known as “the city of peace.” I’d never been to Ypres before, so I woke up early, packed my backpack with warm-weather gear, tea, a knitting project, and an umbrella, and went to Gare du Nord (the nearest train station) to take the 7:37 train. I transferred trains in Kortrijk, and in total, the trip took about two hours.  Upon my arrival, I basically just followed the crowd out of the train station, since I assumed that nearly everyone was also in Ypres for Armistice Day […]

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