It was the fifth day of our stay in the United States, and while on a road trip through California my partner and I were enjoying breakfast at a little diner in Visalia. The two regulars seated next to us had just addressed us because they could not figure out which language we were speaking. After a lovely conversation about Belgium (Something to the effect of ‘Yes, we are known for our beers!’, ‘And chocolates, correct.’, ‘We speak three languages’, ‘You’re right, It is a very complicated political system.’), their past in the U.S. Navy and many congratulatory wishes because we were going to spend the year at two prominent universities in the US, we wanted to pay our bill and continue our journey. Yet, it turned out that that was no longer necessary. The two gentlemen had already paid for our breakfast to wish us a warm welcome in the US. “That’s simply how we do things here”, they said when we went to thank them afterwards.
While it seemed like a logical, silly thing to do for them, we were quite amazed. Even more so: that small act of kindness made our day and became something that we will not likely forgot. What a wonderful gesture!
It was my first encounter with the American hospitality and openness that I have come to deeply appreciate over the year. It was often shown in the little things: the lady who compliments you from across the street, my landlords’ willingness to help me with whatever I needed to feel at home in my new apartment, and that friendly coworker who invited me to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family “because nobody should be alone on Thanksgiving”. Also while finding my way in a new city, I really enjoyed the many warm and interested conversations in diners, bars, grocery stores, etc. Those spontaneous encounters might be one of the things I will miss the most when returning to Belgium (and that I will try to keep up, because I truly believe that we – sometimes closed-off – Belgians can benefit from a dose of American openness and friendliness).
Also on a professional level, I was surprised by how willing professors, fellow researchers and program directors at the Yale Child Study Center were to become acquainted: to go out for a coffee or set up a zoom meeting to get to know one other and discuss our research projects. It resulted in warm interactions with numerous ideas for joint research projects and even more new insights into the topic matter I study. Experiencing this highly personable style of interacting and collaborating, has greatly motivated me to – upon my return in Belgium – reach out more to researchers both inside and outside my own research field, both at home and abroad. In addition, in the upcoming years I want to aim to provide the same possibilities for personal interaction to students with an interest in a research career and new colleagues within our own faculty. Given that it provided me with so many opportunities and invaluable relationships, I would love to create the same chances for others as well.
Saskia Malcorps is a Belgian Fulbright Visiting Student Researcher in Psychology to Yale University. Saskia Malcorps is a PhD Candidate and Teaching Assistant in Clinical Psychology at the University of Leuven. Her research focuses around the role of mentalizing in the development of children and adolescents who are at-risk to develop psychopathology. Saskia also works as a clinical psychologist at the practice center of the faculty Psychology and Educational Sciences in Leuven. With the support of a Fulbright Grant Saskia will do a research stay at the prestigious Yale Child Study Center, where her work will focus on research around parental mentalizing and early-intervention programs.Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.