Becoming Bolder through Crossing Borders: Californian Living

Sven Van den Bossche was a Belgian 2022-2023 Fulbright Visiting Student Researcher in Literature at the California State University, Long Beach. Sven Van den Bossche is a PhD researcher working on the intersections of literary studies and (trans)gender studies. His project at the University of Antwerp and Ghent University investigates how various transgender identities, trajectories and experiences can be rendered visible through literary techniques, such as metaphors, temporal ordering and narrative voice. Next to his academic work, he loves nature, obscure literature and archives, and strives to make the world a more welcoming place for trans people. As a queer and trans activist, he believes in a radical politics of care.

Q: “Can you please describe your grant project?”

My Fulbright grant project is a part of my ongoing PhD research on transgender narratives in Dutch literary fiction. In general, my project focuses on the possibilities of literary techniques, such as creative metaphors, shifting perspectives, and alternative plots, to shed light on the diversity of subjective trans experiences. In the US, I mostly explored the field of queer and trans ecologies, which helped me develop a theoretical framework for studying literary trans representations beyond the human.

Q: “What have you accomplished during your time in the USA? What can you tell us about the initial outcomes of your program?”

During my time in the US, I was able to discuss my research project with several leading scholars in transgender studies, such as Susan Stryker, Aren Aizura and Marquis Bey. I attended several lectures and the conference ‘Queer and Trans* Ecologies’ in Minneapolis. With the help, feedback and inspiration from these people and experiences, I was able to finish an article, as well as the theoretical chapter of my dissertation. At the University of Kansas, I was invited to present my ongoing research. Through all of these encounters, I developed a strong network in trans studies that not only benefits my own thinking, but will help me in strengthening the field in Belgium.

Q: “Has the United States been what you expected? In what ways has life in the USA surprised you, either for its similarities to or differences from your own culture?”

The United States has turned out to be a much more positive place than I initially thought it would be. It took me some time to adapt to what I saw as a more individualistic culture, but now I can see that Americans in general are very open and welcoming to new people, and much less reserved than Belgians. There also exists a wide range of community groups and organizations that allowed me to find new connections easily. So not only did my idea of an individualist culture turn out to be incorrect, the attention to the individual sometimes also has positive effects. It made me more assertive, more in touch with my goals and desires, and I felt more encouraged to pursue them. While Belgians sometimes tone down their ambitions or way of expressing themselves out of fear of looking pretentious or too eccentric, no idea or way of living is ‘too much’ in the US. This allowed me to become bolder in my thinking.

Q: “What will you do after your Fulbright grant? In what ways has your experience in the USA this year impacted your plans for the future?”

My exploration in trans studies in the US has shown me that academic networks or fields do not have to consist of a huge amount of people. All that is needed are a couple of individuals who have the time and resources to come together and organize opportunities for others to join and connect. While founding a center for trans studies in Belgium once seemed a faraway dream, I can now see which steps to take to get there.

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

The experience of living in the US or the application process might seem very daunting or intense, but Fulbright offers a lot of guidance and a warm community that allows you to grow in the direction in which you want to grow. The program does not have a clearly defined path to follow, which allows you to define which values, skills, people, organizations, places, or experiences are important to you. So my advice would be to openly and honestly think about the question: what do you want to do with the opportunities Fulbright has to offer?

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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.