Fulbrighters of 2023-24

Creating a Little Home

On paper, the job requirements of an English Teaching Assistant are to provide a cultural exchange in the classroom and to engage with the community. In practice, you are tasked with creating a home in a completely new place. I worked as an English Teach Assistant at UCLouvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, while living in Brussels. Coming from a big city like Dallas, I chose to live in Brussels as I wanted to experience the center of Europe up close. I had already visited Brussels in the past years and loved it. However, I soon learned that visiting as a tourist and living in a city are two very different experiences. Anxiety and Perfectionism Through my high school and college career, I strived to try to be the best at whatever I do. I approached the Fulbright in the same way. However, I underestimated the time and energy needed for such a huge adjustment from transitioning out of undergraduate to living in […]

FulBIKERS in Belgium

Part I : FulBIKER in Gent I’m sharing this picture of my first time on my rented bike in Gent because I want you to note that it was raining, cold, and most importantly that I was wearing sandals. Despite the circumstances, I am absolutely thrilled. A bike in Gent unlocks the city. Within 20 minutes you are across the city. The red roads throughout the city are bike roads – bikes have the full priority and cars are not allowed to pass bikes. You have to learn the signs. An especially important word to know as a biker is ‘uitgezonderd’. Not only is it fun to say, but it also means you are allowed down this road although other traffic is not. This saves you a lot of time, especially once you learn that google maps can not always be trusted to make bike routes. You learn to ask the city bikers for bike routes, and to find the […]

My Experience of Daily Life as Fulbright Scholar in Antwerp

My time as a Fulbright Scholar living in Antwerp, Belgium has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Of course, my experience has been amazing because of the opportunity to engage with the important cultural opportunities that are unique to Belgium and Flanders, such as its arts, its architecture, and its history.  But it’s been most rewarding because of the chance to engage with its culture in a foundational sense: the experience of daily life in Antwerp. With that in mind, I will share my experience of a typical day during my time in this wonderful city. The Morning Commute I start every workday by riding a bike: a great way to start the day because, riding a bike is, well… fun! I’ve ridden a bike more often during this year in Antwerp than I have since I was in middle school, and I’ve enjoyed it just as much now as I did then. (Maybe more, because […]

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 […]

Embracing the moment

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 […]

Trains of Thought

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 […]

Fries, Friends, and … Flowers? Discovering the varied blooms across Belgium

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 […]