James Ensor’s Colonial Connection

James Ensor’s Colonial Connection

On a routine visit to the archive in February 2022, I stumbled upon a letter signed by one of the most famous Belgian artists of the late 19th century, James Ensor. I was at the Archive et Musée de la Littérature in Brussels, looking at documents on performance groups in Belgium’s former colony of the Belgian Congo (current-day Democratic Republic of the Congo). It was while sifting through the letters of James Thiriar, a Belgian painter and sometimes–theater producer working in the Congo, that I encountered Ensor’s large, scrawled signature at the bottom of a short note from 1937. I was shocked to see, in the space of a few lines, Ensor alerting Thiriar to a new article he had written on “African masks.” I double-checked that I was not mixing up the sender and recipient. If there was one thing about Ensor that I had learned at the myriad Belgian art museums displaying his art to this day, it […]

Four Seasons at Harvard Law School

One of the many things former Harvardians told me before I embarked on my Master of Laws (LL.M.) at Harvard Law School was that the year would go by very quickly. Of course, they were right. One year at Harvard is indeed short. Yet, as my LL.M. has shown, one can do quite a lot in one year. In this blog post, I provide a snapshot of a year at Harvard Law School, through four seasons.

In Loving Memory of a Room – The Cube at MIT

Looking back on a Fulbright year at MIT, one might write about beautiful New England foliage, vegan poutine fries, boat trips to the east (Provincetown), train trips to the south (New York City), van trips to the north (Acadia), hippie scenes, Boston pubs, progressive Churches, and the very beginning of the American project. Yet, what occupies a special place in my heart in post-Fulbright times is something entirely different: a room at MIT, called ‘The Cube’. The Cube is the beating heart of MIT’s Program in Art, Culture & Technology (ACT), in which I completed my Fulbright project. The Cube consists of a large central floor used for classes, lectures and performances. It’s a space of intellectual exchange. This central floor is surrounded by two levels of individual studios in which ACT students develop their work. The stairs connecting the studios are colored in yellow, green, blue, red and orange, reminiscent of the many rainbow flags one sees so often […]

No miss, your bill has already been taken care of

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 […]

Lifelong Lessons Learned in Luxembourg

When I think back on the nine months that were my English Teaching Assistantship, I am appalled at the speed with which they went by. I think of the lessons I learned, both intentionally and a majority of them accidentally. Big and small. Easy ones and challenging ones. I remember the countless buses and trains. The sprints to catch them and the looks of defeat at missing them (both mine and those I saw as I sat by the window while we pulled off). I remember the language barriers, the feelings of unfamiliarity and the triumph when I understood that the cashier had asked me whether I was paying with cash or card in French. And more lessons. Daily, weekly, monthly lessons. Giving lessons while learning them. Like, lesson one (in case you’re ever in Luxembourg): bring the Öko-Tut! Öko-Tuts are these eco-friendly bags that you purchase at stores across the country and when the time comes to restock your […]

A Street View of Belgium

One thing that almost immediately struck me about Belgium, and Flanders in particular, is the sheer amount of cardio that people do on a daily basis. I saw mothers biking their children to school, professionals in full business attire biking to work, and countless people jogging through the streets on a daily basis. I come from a running family—one of my earliest memories is being strapped into a bright red stroller that my mom would push in front of her as she logged her daily miles—so I wanted to get involved in the running scene during my time as a student at Ghent University. I had only done half-marathons up until this point, but this time I was going to go all-in. I signed up for the Ghent Marathon, and began training. After a tough day of classes, learning Swahili grammar or the principles of medical anthropology, running was a release of stress and stopped me from getting overwhelmed by […]

Tidbits of advice for future Fulbrighters in Belgium

My name is David Defries, and I am an associate professor of history at Kansas State University.I study the Middle Ages with specialties in the Christian cult of the saints and early medievalFlanders. My Fulbright fellowship helped fund a year-long sabbatical in Flanders, based at theKatholieke Universiteit Leuven, during which I worked on a book titled Flanders and the NorthAtlantic World, 864-1127. My sabbatical has been incredibly successful, even if in mostlyunexpected ways. The process of securing visas to spend the year in Belgium was byzantine. My partner, who isalso a professor and was also on sabbatical, and my 7-year-old daughter came with me. Onething that we did not understand is that apostilles are like state-level notary public stamps. Youhave to get the apostille from the government that issued the document. This meant that in themiddle of the COVID lockdown, we had to send to California from Kansas to obtain an apostilleversion of our marriage license. We spent over $1,000 […]

Autumn is the warmest colour

Reflecting on my year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, there are so many different academic, cultural, and social practices I could comment on. The friendliness and can-do-attitude of Americans, my love/hate relationship with their food culture or the fact that every state and city offers endlessly unique travelling possibilities. However, the one thing that struck me the most while staying there, was the topic that reigns supreme in everyday boring conversation: the weather. I know, I know. Few subjects can be considered as banal as the weather, yet inexplicably Michigan managed to turn it into one of my most fascinating experiences. While I knew that Michigan winters can be brutally harsh, cold, and snowy, I did not really think much about the other seasons and what they might look and feel like. When I arrived on August 15th, I was completely taken aback by how unbearably hot it was. The heat scorched the buildings and trees until […]

My FLTA experience at Gannon University

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 […]