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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
Perhaps the moment that best reflects my time in Luxembourg would be the night of my final Lëtz school. For a majority of my time in Luxembourg, my Wednesday night’s were spent within the walls of the monastery of the Brothers of Verbum Spei. Each week, the Brothers would welcome young adults to their home and present a seminar covering topics of philosophy and theology. Following the seminar, they would invite us upstairs to enjoy snacks, home made beers, and fellowship. It was a true community. When the night was ready to be concluded we would gather in their chapel to pray together before returning to our homes. During the closing prayer of my final Lëtz school the magnitude of the last nine months finally hit me. I remember as people left the chapel one by one I remained on the floor with tears in my eyes for the first time in a long while. Yet the tears were not […]
Over these last few months of my Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant, I’ve been enjoying my commute to school, gazing out the window of my train as it zooms past the mountains, the rivers, and the farms of Luxembourg. But I can still remember my apprehension when I first learned that I would be traveling 63 kilometers (about two hours) on the train each way from my host city of Esch-sur-Alzette, in the south, to teach at a wonderful secondary school and an amazing primary school in the small town of Clervaux in the north, an area known for its historical significance as a site of heavy combat in WWII’s Battle of the Bulge. After crunching the numbers, I discovered that I was traveling across approximately three-quarters of the entire country each way. Despite the long distance, over the nine months of the grant, I’ve come to savor these long train rides. The trains have not only transported me from […]
When one thinks of Belgian motifs, a few things typically come to mind: piping hot, double-fried fries; glossy praliné chocolates; and fresh, garlicky mussels straight from the North Sea. Or else, gothic architecture alongside art nouveau homes alongside Flemish stepped gables. But there is one beauty of Belgium that isn’t as well-known, or at least, that I wasn’t expecting: the flora of this country is ever-present and breathtaking. Adventuring with other Belgium ETAs, and some native Belgians, I have frequented many cities and towns across both Wallonia and Flanders as I learn more of the history and culture of this relatively-new-in-name, deep-rooted country, and many of these adventures happened to center on some form of flowers. Looking back on these experiences throughout the year, I can see so much of Belgium in these delightful (and sometimes very thought-and-concern-provoking) arrangements of plants, stemming from my first days upon arrival. The uniqueness and beauty of these blossoms reminds me a lot of […]
Tucked away in Flanders, Ghent is an interesting mix of old and new: known for its Medieval architecture and famous historical skyline, the city is also very much alive and equally known for its vibrant student culture, music, and art scene. There’s something for everyone in this hidden gem of a European travel destination. You can take a kayak down one of the canals, enjoy a drink on a café terrasse, stroll along the banks of the Leie river, and check out the city’s formidable Gravensteen castle. The view from the Belfry, topped with a golden dragon affectionately nicknamed Roland, offers a beautiful vista which includes the city’s cathedrals. If you’re a fan of Medieval art, the Ghent altarpiece in St. Bavo’s cathedral is a must-see with a mysterious past (a significant story lurks behind the unsolved case of a missing panel.) If you’re a fan of spontaneous street art, take a quick look at Graffitistraat or sign up for […]
Contrary to many international students that I have met in the previous years, going to study in the U.S. was never something that I was consciously searching for. I have always had often negative perspectives and prejudices regarding the U.S. as a country and culture. Nevertheless, 2 years ago, when I have been presented with the opportunity to enroll in a master’s program with the University of Arkansas as a partner, I have decided that it would be a great chance to enhance my experiences, skills, and knowledge.
We left for New York City in January 2021. The world was in turmoil. The coronavirus was still wreaking havoc across the globe, and a few days before our departure, an angry mob had stormed the US Capitol. Due to a US entry ban for EU citizens, our paperwork had not been approved until the very last minute. Moving across the ocean seemed more daunting than ever. And so, finally being able to set foot on American soil, not as a tourist but as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar, almost felt surreal.
Over the course of the past several months, I’ve been fortunate to develop a relationship with the monks and seminarians of the order of Verbum Spei located in Esch-Sur Alzette. The connection began first between me and a seminarian from New Zealand named Jonathan over our shared struggle of being native English speakers living in Luxembourg. Each Sunday, I would make my way to St. Henri, on the northern side of town, struggle through understanding the mass in French, and spend 30 minutes afterwards talking to Jonathan. In October, the parish began weekly seminars on theological questions and there Jonathan would translate the talks for me. After the talks, I would get to spend more time conversing with members of the community and other Brothers. On Wednesdays, the parish held the young adult seminars with talks that were followed by the Brothers inviting us into their home to enjoy bread and their home made beer. Following a mass in early […]