From theater to music to dance: Connecting to psychology in Luxembourg

While my fascination for studying psychology has always been connected with conducting psychological research, I did not realize that I would connect with my favorite discipline in three, non-traditional, artistic ways – theater, music, and dance – during my Fulbright year in Luxembourg. In fact, my Fulbright year was full of activities that I had never done before, both academically and non-academically. I received a Fulbright Research Grant to study cultural psychology at the University of Luxembourg, specifically researching the acculturation experiences of Americans and Japanese in Luxembourg using a qualitative approach. As a side project, I also conducted an autoethnographic study, keeping a diary of my own experiences in Luxembourg. Given my bicultural background with American and Japanese roots, I was grateful for this opportunity to not only reflect on my own position as a bicultural researcher by interviewing participants from my respective cultures of origin but also reflect and navigate my own cultural identity, which was and will be a continuous, lifelong process.

At the beginning of the grant, I joined a student-led theater group on campus called “Belval Express Theater,” after hearing about the group from my Fulbright mentor. The theater group is unique in three ways. First, the theater group is composed almost exclusively of psychology students. Second, a talented psychology student writes and directs all of the plays. Third, all plays performed are psychology-themed. I had the opportunity to perform in two plays – all of which conveyed important messages on mental health and society. In the plays, I acted as (1) the Old Lady holding her black cat, (2) “Love” for the “Lonely & Love” scene, and (3) played a short violin solo.

To begin, I had never acted before, so acting on stage felt very exposing, but I told myself in the beginning that I would push myself. At the same time, it was also my very first time putting a stage microphone on next to my ear and standing on stage with glitter makeup on, so it was a special experience. I must admit that the experience made me very nervous but I was very happy that I was able to deliver a successful performance. 

Picture of theater stage in Maison des Arts et des Etudiants (MSA)
Acting in first theater performance
With theater partner from second theater performance

Second, in November 2022, I was invited to participate in a Japanese dance at the annual international bazaar, held at the LuxExpo. At the international bazaar, booths from over 50 countries aligned in order to share aspects of their countries of origin, such as cultural products, food, and/or performances. I volunteered for the Japanese booth, and the dance we performed was called hanagasa odori, in which “hana” means flower, and “gasa” means umbrella. It is a traditional dance from Yamagata prefecture. We therefore danced wearing yukatas with traditional umbrellas decorated with paper flowers. Although I have Japanese heritage, this was my very first time participating in a Japanese dance, and I did not expect to receive such an opportunity in a small country such as Luxembourg. The next day, I was surprised to see a picture from our dance featured in the Luxembourger Wort. However, that day, I was very happy that I had an opportunity to connect to my Japanese roots and be a part of Japanese cultural events, which was something I had oftentimes missed out on due to my US upbringing. Performing in the Japanese dance thus allowed me to reflect on my Japanese identity, which then tied into the psychology research projects I was working on in Luxembourg.

Performing Japanese dance at International Bazaar

Psychology as an area of study, while broad, is at its core founded to ultimately make people happier and to enable people to live more enriching and fulfilling lives. I was able to connect to my field of study outside of research, through various artistic forms. As an aspiring physician-psychologist, I saw how my cultural experiences and research connected to the importance of understanding new psychological theories and methods to improve the field of medicine and also the importance of providing cross-culturally competent patient care.

Lastly, I would like to thank my Fulbright mentor, who had not only supported my Fulbright research projects but had also watched me perform in all of the activities above and has been by my side throughout my grant year – from beginning to end.

With Fulbright mentor at end-of-year Fulbright presentations at the US Embassy in Luxembourg

Saki Nakai graduated from Oregon State University in 2022 with degrees in psychology and mathematics. At the University of Luxembourg, she conducted qualitative interviews on the American and Japanese population living in multicultural Luxembourg to understand their cultural identity and acculturation processes. During her Fulbright year in 2022-23, she also engaged with the local psychology community, found creative outlets, and continued studying French and Luxembourgish to connect with locals within Luxembourg’s unique multicultural and multilingual setting.

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.