Monday, October 26, 2015

Bad Weather and Great Waffles: A Day Trip to Liège

Méindeg, 26 Oktouber.

After a whirlwind day in Mons, some Fulbright friends and I hopped on (yet another) Belgian train and headed to Liege.

Why Liège? I'm not going to lie -- my enthusiasm for the city was linked first and foremost to its famous waffles. Gaufres de Liège, with their thick chewy dough and crunchy pearls of sugar, are one of my favorite things on this planet and were invented by God himself. (Or so I've heard.)

But Liège is famous for a lot more than its waffles! The largest city in Wallonia (the southern, French-speaking region of Belgium), Liège boasts a population of almost 200,000 people. The city has a rich history dating back beyond the Middle Ages and, because of its close proximity to the Belgian border, played a significant role in both World War I and World War II. (It was Germany's invasion of Belgium and subsequent assault on the city of Liège in 1914 that marked the first battle of WWI.) Plus, the city is located just a quick two-hour train trip from Luxembourg City. So why not visit?!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Discovering Mons with Fulbright Belgium

Sonndeg, 25 Oktouber.

Moien from Luxembourg! I've been away since Friday night and it feels great to be back in my little country. ("How much longer until I can start telling people I'm Luxembourgish? Maybe another two weeks?" I joked on the train back from Belgium.)

This weekend, I headed back to Belgium -- for the third time this month -- for yet another Fulbright adventure. This time, however, I wasn't heading to Brussels but rather to Mons, a city in the southern French-speaking region of Belgium that has recently been named the 2015 European Capital of Culture. Fulbright had organized a special day trip to the city for current grantees and Fulbright alumni, including a guided tour and (most importantly) lunch.

Monday, October 19, 2015

An Afternoon in Amiens

Méindeg, 19 Oktouber.

To conclude our weekend in Normandy (and to break up the drive back to Belgium), we made one last stop in the city of Amiens. Amiens, the capital of the Picardy region, is a small but historic city in northwestern France. We spent a few hours eating and exploring the city center.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Mont-Saint-Michel -- Fulbright Does Normandy, Pt. 1

Samschdeg, 17 Oktouber.

Fulbright Belgium has organized some killer trips for its grantees, including an evening at Ambassador Denise Bauer's official residence in Brussels and a guided tour of Mons (next weekend). In addition to trips organized specifically for grantees, we've also been given the opportunity to tag along on field trips organized by CIEE, a college study abroad program. This weekend, we joined the CIEE Brussels students on a trip to Normandy!

After a long (and I mean looooong) bus ride from Brussels, we made our first stop at the Mont-Saint-Michel. It had been a long time -- we're talking fifteen years -- since my last visit and I was so excited to get out and explore!


In retrospect, the trip itself was more than a little surreal ... especially on the very first day. As a Fulbright ETA in Luxembourg, I am very conscious of my American identity. (In fact, four thousand miles away from the United States may be where I feel the most "American.") While in Luxembourg, I spend a lot of time both consciously addressing American stereotypes and unconsciously trying to avoid fulfilling them. And although I speak English daily in my residence and in school, I am growing accustomed to a place in which I am very much an outsider trying to fit in.

It's been over a month now since I was last surrounded by Americans ... and as you can imagine, to be thrown on an eight-hour bus trip with fifty of them was a little overwhelming! Still, I had a wonderful time getting to know the CIEE students and faculty and spending time with my fellow Fulbright grantees.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

That Time I Walked to Germany

Sonndeg, 11 Oktouber.

So ... I walked to Germany this weekend.

Before you mistake me for some kind of crazy ambitious athlete, let me clarify: this weekend, I walked across a bridge and crossed the border into Germany.

After exploring Larochette and Beaufort, Catherine and I were planning to call it a day. We were going to change buses in Echternach and head back to Luxembourg City. But even the best laid plans go awry! 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Hello, Châteaux: Beaufort Castle

Samschdeg, 10 Oktouber.

Castles are great. But one castle is never enough. So after exploring the town of Larochette and visiting the Buerg Fiels (read more about that adventure), Catherine and I moved on to another adorable small town with its own crumbling castle. Say "moien" to Beaufort!

I had visited Beaufort once before, when my friend Molly and I spent an afternoon in late October exploring the Luxembourgish countryside. Our trip to Beaufort and to Vianden was one of the highlights of my semester abroad and our two days in Luxembourg figured heavily in my decision to apply for a Fulbright grant in the Grand Duchy. So as I talked up the castle during our bus ride, I was mildly concerned that Beaufort might not actually be as great as I remembered.

Luckily, I was wrong. Beaufort is just as striking -- and just as marvelously unrestored and overgrown -- as it was two years ago.


Hello, Châteaux: Larochette Castle

Samschdeg, 10 Oktouber.

Can you believe that I have been in Luxembourg over a month? (My official "one month" mark is tomorrow, but I've technically already hit the four-week mark.) In honor of this anniversary -- and, more accurately, in recognition of the fact that nice weather is getting increasingly hard to come by -- I spent today on an incredible outdoor adventure!

Catherine, another Fulbrighter, and I decided to head north to central Luxembourg for some hiking and sightseeing. The first stop on our list was Larochette Castle, known as Buerg Fiels in Luxembourgish.

Uh. Maze. Ing.

In addition to Larochette, we also visited Beaufort Castle and returned to Echternach to do some border-hopping ... but you'll have to wait a little bit for those posts!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Opening a Bank Account in Luxembourg

Donneschdeg, 8 Oktouber.

When you're a Korean-born American Fulbrighter who wants to open a Luxembourgish student bank account, what can go wrong? Answer: everything.

But let's back up. As an unofficial step in my ongoing quest for Luxembourgish residency, I needed to open a Luxembourgish bank account. This is not an actual legal requirement for residency, but rather makes it possible for Fulbright Belgium to transfer my grant stipend every month. In theory, opening a bank account in Luxembourg is hardly a complicated process. There are entire websites full of lists of Luxembourgish banks: see Banking in Luxembourg from Expatica or Banks & Banking from AngloInfo. (Not to mention the fact that Luxembourg basically has more banks than it does people.) Although I put off going to the bank until finishing the rest of my paperwork and attending Fulbright Orientation, I had to get around to it eventually.

Why yes,  I am in need of independence! And, more importantly, money.

So a few weeks ago, I gathered any and all relevant documents that I could think of and headed to the bank. Faced with a rather overwhelming number of choices, I decided to go with the Banque Générale du Luxembourg (BGL). Since 2009, BGL has been part of BNP Paribas, one of the largest banks in the world with ATMs on every corner of Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. All I had to do was walk in and ask for a student checking account!

Except that -- of course -- it wasn't that simple. As you've probably figured out, there's no easy way to define my status in this country. To the people processing my residence permit application, I'm an international student enrolled at the University of Luxembourg. (They don't have a visa option for "Americans teaching Luxembourg but getting paid by an American organization located in Belgium" ... go figure.) To the people I meet in Luxembourg, I'm a (very youthful) English teacher. Even to my housemates, I'm a sort of student/teacher hybrid here on an academic exchange. It's really only my supervising teachers and Fulbright connections who know the truth and fully understand the program. As you can imagine, the prospect of explaining this situation to a bank employee was more than a little daunting. Ultimately, I decided on what I hoped was a simple and relatively accurate explanation: "I am an American enrolled at the University of Luxembourg and I need a Luxembourgish bank account in order to receive my stipend from the United States."

Sounds good, right? Right. Except that I used the word bourse -- scholarship. And apparently in Luxembourg, all scholarships are processed through a certain organization that provides certain paperwork and, of course, I had none of that.

Monday, October 5, 2015

"If I Say America..."

Méindeg, 5 Oktouber.

"If I say America ... what do you think of?" So began the first class of "American Studies I: Ideas and Ideals" -- one of the courses I'm helping to teach at the University of Luxembourg this semester. My supervising professor and I divided the classroom into groups, challenging the students to share what values, cultural icons, and issues came to mind when they thought of the United States of America.

As they finished their lists, representatives from the group made their way up to the front to write their ideas on the board. I could hear a groan as one group realized that "Thanksgiving" was already taken.

I honestly wasn't expecting to be surprised by their responses. After studying abroad in France and speaking with friends and relatives about American stereotypes, I feel like I've heard it all. Still, I found myself surprised by what did -- and didn't -- come up in our conversations.

Among the values or ideals that came to mind? Freedom. Patriotism. The military and the Allied Forces. (I was particularly interested in the inclusion of "the Allied Forces." My supervising professor later mentioned that many Luxembourgers of a certain age consider America beyond repute because of the American soldiers who liberated the country at the end of the Second World War.) The American Dream. A strong national identity. (In a country where the national motto -- "mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn" -- means "we want to remain what we are," this reference to a particularly strong American national identity also surprised me.)

The cultural touchstones proved to more a diverse list, with everything from Hollywood and the fast food industry to the Stars & Stripes and the bald eagle. One of my favorites was the cultural concept of "Republicans vs Democrats." Although I'm accustomed to our historically two-party system, it must seem particularly foreign in a country where no fewer than SIX distinct political parties currently hold seats in the national legislature,