In Search of Hawaiʻi in Antwerp

During the 2022-23 academic year, Rickey Larkin received a grant through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program to conduct research on the linguistic landscapes of poke restaurants in Belgium at the Universiteit Antwerpen. We sat down with Rickey to ask him about his time in Antwerp.

Q: “What inspired you to use poke as your object of study? How did that lead you to Belgium?”

“I was lucky enough to visit Belgium once before applying to visit a friend. During that trip I became interested in researching the public display of language in Belgium in particular because of its unique multilingual society. While there, I met with my sponsor, Dr. Mieke Vandenbroucke. We had a discussion on a related project on graffiti and I left ready to work on the proposal. However, after walking around Antwerp and seeing the large number of poke bowl restaurants I realized quickly that it made more sense for me, coming from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, to examine these restaurants instead.”


Q: “You were based at the University of Antwerp, but your research on poke restaurants took you all over the country! Describe a typical day in your life.”

“My grant took place in winter. A typical day involved riding my bike (often in the rain) to the train station, where I would catch a train to a neighboring or far off town. There I would go to the poke restaurants I had planned to document. After talking with people, I would often sit at a cafe to write field notes and have a drink. Returning home I would often meet with friends from the expat community. The expat community also consists of a large number of Belgians that want to meet people from different parts of the world. We would get dinner or go out to a bar for a drink. Drinking is a large part of Belgian life, but the bars also have alcohol free beers or drinks. It was not uncommon for someone in the group to refrain from drinking. Of course, the frituur (fry shop) was a common end of night stop.”

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

“I spent a lot of my time at the climbing gym teaching new climbers in Belgium how to climb safely. In order to belay someone, you need to have some fundamental knowledge about how the belay system works, and in Belgium it’s not necessary that you complete a test in order to belay someone (unlike most American climbing gyms). As such, I found that I could be helpful in showing new climbers safety techniques.”


Q: “Can you tell us the story of a particular memorable moment from your time in Belgium?”

“Once I visited Bruges for a day trip and I planned on taking the train home. Bruges is a lovely city with a focus on its restored medieval architecture. After spending the day conducting research and visiting the tourist sites, I rushed to the station in order to catch the last train. After about 20 minutes the train stopped at a station and shut down for the night. The conductor did his final check and saw me sitting in one of the carts–I had taken the wrong train! I ended up staying on the beach in Knokke until the trains began to run the following morning.”

Q: “What advice would you give to someone who is considering applying to the Fulbright Program?”

“I would recommend having a clear goal in mind and considering that goal in relation to place. Why do you want to go to this place in particular? What makes this place fit into your future plans? What can you bring to this place? Place-based thinking is a good way to live one’s life in general, and is helpful for Fulbright and other exchange programs.”