Creating a Little Home

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 […]

Lunching in Luxembourg

The cultural differences I observed between the U.S. and Luxembourg can be summarized by a simple act: lunch. Almost every day, I eat lunch with my colleagues. I received a Fulbright Research Grant to complete a project on the gut microbiome at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH). I was grateful for the opportunity to expand my microbiology skillset, especially in a lab abroad. The bacteria I study help us digest our food, and the composition of our microbiomes is largely influenced by our diet. Therefore, lunch quite literally affects my research, but my lunches in Luxembourg were so much more than that.  When I first came to the LIH, I was overwhelmed. The plethora of languages that my diverse colleagues spoke, not to mention the lab jargon and foreign measurements, made me feel unprepared. I spent the first few weeks learning as much as possible and trying not to ask too many dumb questions. The only time I truly […]

Living with a Host Family Throughout my Fulbright Grant Term in Belgium

I was initially hesitant to fit my small number of belongings to the cracks and crevices of an already occupied and overflowing Belgian home. Nine months ago, I would have never imagined myself moving in with a host family for my Fulbright year. Growing up as an only child and enjoying the comforts of my own space throughout college, sharing everything except a bedroom with a family of five—or six if we count Yalta, the 15-year-old Schnauzer and Bouvier des Flandres mix—was uncharted territory. But reflecting back on my experiences in Belgium now, I would not change a single thing. Living with a Belgian family throughout the grant period allowed me to immerse deeply into my host country’s culture. The Liénarts and I often shared intimate dinners where my host mother would gossip about the women in her bridge club and I would inquire about the meanings of Belgicisms she placed so effortlessly into her sentences. I once accompanied them […]

Finding Transatlantic Parallels at the EU-NATO Seminar

Upon receiving my acceptance to Belgium’s Fulbright program, there was one thing that remained top of mind when I requested my city placement. I was fascinated by Belgium’s role in hosting numerous EU functions, including plenary sessions of the European Parliament. I hoped to spend my grant period in Brussels – a small yet lively city known for its sprawling green parks and towering Gothic cathedrals – fondly referred to as the heart of Europe. A few weeks later, I was delighted to discover that my Commission had placed me in my city of choice. I was even more excited when grantees were given the opportunity to apply for a spot at Fulbright’s annual EU-NATO seminar. Organized by Belgium’s Fulbright Commission, the seminar included visits to institutions like the European Commission, European Parliament, and NATO Headquarters. Meetings were also arranged with representatives of the U.S. Mission to the European Union, the U.S. Mission to NATO, and the U.S. Embassy to […]

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 […]

The Future is (Ful)Bright – My Experience at the 2023 EU-US Young Leaders Seminar

While reflecting on my time as an ETA here in Belgium, I am overflowing with joyful memories from both in and out of the classroom. My time in Belgium has been filled with meaningful experiences and exchanges, one of my favorites being my time representing Fulbright Belgium in the sixth edition of the EU-US Young Leaders Seminar (YLS). The three-day event, which was organized by the U.S. Department of State, Delegation of the European Union to the United States, the Fulbright Program, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States, brought together 25 American and 25 European Young Leaders to discuss some of the most important issues facing both sides of the Atlantic. This year’s seminar topic was Active Civic Participation, focusing on its prominence and importance in every aspect of modern-day society. Our first day of programming began with a welcome dinner for all of the participants. While I expected this event to be somewhat of a standard […]

Charting My Year in Luxembourg

The best way to capture my Fulbright experience was presented to me on the first day of orientation. On September 15, 2022, 30 Fulbrighters, including me, sat in neatly-lined white chairs at the offices of the Commission for Educational Exchange between the United States, Belgium, and Luxembourg inside the Royal Library of Belgium. The Fulbright Program Officers presented numerous useful tips for living abroad in Belgium and Luxembourg – from how to set up a bank account in Europe to how to navigate public transportation. What I would come to find most useful, though, was a graph. This graph – albeit simplified – depicts the peaks and troughs, the shocks and adjustments, that one may experience while living 5,000 miles away from home. I found that my experience tracked the pattern of this chart. Arrival and Honeymoon On my flight from JFK to Brussels, I buzzed with excitement. I spent the past 1.5 years working on my application to serve […]

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 […]

James Ensor’s Colonial Connection

On a routine visit to the archive in February 2022, I stumbled upon a letter signed by one of the most famous Belgian artists of the late 19th century, James Ensor. I was at the Archive et Musée de la Littérature in Brussels, looking at documents on performance groups in Belgium’s former colony of the Belgian Congo (current-day Democratic Republic of the Congo). It was while sifting through the letters of James Thiriar, a Belgian painter and sometimes–theater producer working in the Congo, that I encountered Ensor’s large, scrawled signature at the bottom of a short note from 1937. I was shocked to see, in the space of a few lines, Ensor alerting Thiriar to a new article he had written on “African masks.” I double-checked that I was not mixing up the sender and recipient. If there was one thing about Ensor that I had learned at the myriad Belgian art museums displaying his art to this day, it […]

Lifelong Lessons Learned in Luxembourg

When I think back on the nine months that were my English Teaching Assistantship, I am appalled at the speed with which they went by. I think of the lessons I learned, both intentionally and a majority of them accidentally. Big and small. Easy ones and challenging ones. I remember the countless buses and trains. The sprints to catch them and the looks of defeat at missing them (both mine and those I saw as I sat by the window while we pulled off). I remember the language barriers, the feelings of unfamiliarity and the triumph when I understood that the cashier had asked me whether I was paying with cash or card in French. And more lessons. Daily, weekly, monthly lessons. Giving lessons while learning them. Like, lesson one (in case you’re ever in Luxembourg): bring the Öko-Tut! Öko-Tuts are these eco-friendly bags that you purchase at stores across the country and when the time comes to restock your […]