Culture and Science and Bikes, Oh My!

Luiz Jacobsohn was a 2022-2023 Fulbright Scholar to Belgium. He conducted research on persistent phosphors at Ghent University focusing on how the manipulation of defects and the microstructure can tune the properties of interest towards new applications of these materials. Luiz is an Associate Professor with the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Clemson University. We sat down with Luiz to ask him about his time in Belgium and how it changed his career plans.

Q: “Describe a typical day in your life.”

“I found life in Belgium very pleasant! Contrary to my expectations, people are welcoming and very helpful. A typical day consisted of going to the university, enjoying lunch with my colleagues and co-workers, going to the supermarket more often than I’m used to, and happily biking everywhere. I also learned not to be bothered by the rain that much.

Q: “Has life in Belgium been what you expected?”

“No, it was much better than I dreamed of! I expected to find polite and respectful but distant people, yet Belgians are nice, interested, supportive and talkative! Everyone in Flanders spoke very good English and in general demonstrated a deep knowledge of their country, history, and culture. They were always very helpful.”

Q: “In what ways have you engaged with your host community in Belgium?”

“Luckily, monthly events were organized at the university which helped me break the ice and make connections. I also engaged with locals through common interests like sports, travel, and hanging out with my new friends. These interactions showed me ‘the real Belgium’ and how the locals see the world, the U.S., and their own problems. A particular way I found to get to know Belgium was to bike all over the country. I visited numerous cities and small villages, both in Flanders and Wallonia, taking advantage of the visits to try the local cuisine and learn about Belgium history.”

Q: “What was your favorite thing about living in Belgium?”

“My favorite thing about living in Belgium is how public transportation is so well-designed and accessible. Not only you can count on trains and trams, but biking is a means of transportation that everybody uses and respects. There are dedicated lanes for bikers everywhere and where they are not available bikers share the streets and roads with cars. On top of that, there are wonderful cycling routes, usually along rivers and canals, connecting cities. I biked everywhere and I loved it!”

Q: “What will you do after your Fulbright grant? In what ways has your experience in Belgium this year impacted your plans for the future?”

“It has always been clear to me that my Fulbright experience was the exception, not the rule. Once I return to the U.S., I’ll be back teaching and involved in many different duties at my university – things that I was exempted from doing while on my Fulbright/sabbatical leave. My experience in Belgium showed me that other lifestyles, government policies, and priorities can lead to successful personal and professional lives.”