Saturday March 16th
At 4:30 a.m. my alarm went off, and I ran from my room in a Madrid airport hotel, caught a taxi, and made it through security with exactly enough time to join the massive Ryanair priority line, enjoying my breakfast of a vending machine granola bar while I waited. When I arrived in Berlin, I took the train straight to Alexanderplatz, where Fulbright Germany was hosting the week long Berlin Seminar. I dropped my luggage in storage and joined the buffet line for the first of many hotel meals to be eaten standing around tiny cocktail tables or sitting on conference room floors. I immediately found the other Spain Fulbrights sent to the seminar, and we claimed a cocktail table in a far away corner.
There were 10 Spanish grantees selected in lottery out of 180 total. I was ecstatic when I learned that I had won the lottery and would have this opportunity to be surrounded by such amazing grantees from all of Europe.
Dr. Oliver Schmidt, the Director of Fulbright Germany, gave the opening remarks and managed to leave Spain off the list of countries in attendance, even though Spain has the second largest commission. The theme of the conference was courage, and Dr. Schmidt began with a lecture on the topic.
Ansichten eines Clowns (Views of a Clown)
Next up, Jim Williams, a “medical clown,” came to perform. He began his bit by sharing that he had lived in the Slovak republic for 12 years and equating it to 12 Years a Slave: 12 Years a Slav. The joke was not well received in the room of Fulbright ETAs, researchers, and scholars and set Williams on a pathway for a rough next 30 minutes of jokes. With a full time job of cheering children up in hospitals, he must be a kind guy, but jokes regarding slavery are not acceptable.
Let the Networking Begin…
Next, the first of many networking events began. Different conversation tables hosted conversations about the “fear to plant roots in my host country” and “living in a small town.” At these tables, I met grantees from Andorra, Italy, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Sweden, Norway, Germany, and many others. Germany was a HUGE presence at the conference, bringing the most grantees from the U.S., but also sending many Germans to the U.S.
Welcome Evening: Saturday Night Live + Dinner & Drinks
Back in the main conference room, the evening began with over 500 guests listening to the bluegrass music of Dr. Lee Butler a Fulbright Scholar in the Czech Republic. Following the performances, everyone filed out of the conference room to many rooms filled with German dinner buffets and tables of wine and beer.
We all ate, drank, and were merry until the event’s end. Following the last call for food and drink, I joined the Balkans ETAs to find a nearby bar. I stuck close to my friend Azlin, a Bulgaria grantee and sister from UNL Chi Omega. Azlin and I followed behind the leaders, Dimitri from Kosovo and Paul from Germany. After a 30 minute walk and waiting outside an old converted church, the bouncers let us enter in groups of three. Ciara and I begged for a lower cover fee and succeeded!! I danced in Dunkerclub with Olivia from Bulgaria, Ciara from Montenegro, Sam from the UK, Andrew from the Czech Republic, and a few others. Dunkerclub is pretty much exactly like the vampire bat cave from The Lost Boys. EEK! I danced for an hour and then walked home with Andrew so we would be able to catch some sleep before the mornings session.
Sunday March 17th
The morning session began at 9:00 a.m., and after so much traveling, I took my time, arriving a few minutes late to the first session. I ate breakfast with Sam from the UK, who I had met the night before, and his friend Samantha who is currently at Bristol on her Fulbright. We bonded over our time in Bristol while eating omelets, bacon, and toast from the breakfast buffet.
Does it Take Courage to Debate (and Stand for) the European Idea?
This first morning session was a conversation between grantees from Norway, Slovak Republic, Netherlands, Turkey, and Poland about the European Idea with more musical performances from Fulbright Scholars. The session ended, and all 500 grantees moved to the lobby for a coffee break. Conversations during meals and breaks centered on the different experiences of English Teaching Assistants (ETA).
A few other sessions about living abroad, geared towards the Germans followed before the next buffet.
A time for me to find my fellow Spanish Fulbrights or new Balkans friends to chat while eating German meats, salads, and ice cream bars.
Following lunch were more sessions about living abroad. After spending an entire week at the Fulbright Spain Midyear Conference in Valencia, I have pretty much exhausted this subject; however, I really enjoyed learning about the experiences of people living in eastern European countries.
Standing for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity
Last year there were issues regarding diversity and inclusion at the conference, Fulbright Spain being a major party demanding change. This year’s conference mentioned diversity and inclusion regularly, although really just skimming the surface. Although there seems to be limited change at this moment, I foresee a lot more efforts in the future to better support Fulbrights who are a minority ethnically in their Fulbright host city/country or are of a sexual orientation that is highly discriminated against in the host country.
Citizen Ambassadors in Challenging Times
An introduction to a powerful speech from Jeffrey Bleich…
Fulbright Berlin Lecture: Acts of Courage, Conscience, and Compassion
Jeffrey Bleich was appointed to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in 2014 by President Barack Obama after serving as the Ambassador to Australia. He is a partner at Dentons law firm, clerked for the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and served as President of the California State Bar Association.
Bleich gave a speech about courage, that at its core called for compassion and kindness. He referred to President Barack Obama as Barry which made us all swoon. Bleich talked about how politics of division are hurting us all, especially on topics like gun control. He also told us that he reviewed all of our applications and gave the green light. I appreciated his focus on being genuinely kind and standing up for what is right, that is courage at its core.
Fulbright’s Got Talent
BACKFABRIK at Clinker Lounge hosted a talent show with a contortionist, cover of Wait For It from Hamilton, and a unicyclist, among many other acts. I went with some Spanish ETAs post kebab and left with some Balkans ETAs, calling it an early night.
Monday March 18th
Keynote: “Diversity is a Reality: Inclusion is a Choice”
Speaker Stephen Frost, founder and CEO of Frost Unlimited, and Raafi Alidina, an associate of Frost led a speech on how their company helps other companies to diversity their staff, including more minorities of race, sexuality, and gender. These two men only mentioned women within the context of Raafi’s wife doing housework TWICE, and how he really tries to help her with the burden of cleaning. Like COME ON! Frost is gay and Alidina is not white (and shared that he is bisexual) but hello, you’re still not representing HALF of the population of the world and you’ve simplified them (mujeres) to the domestic stereotype twice in a presentation about diversity and inclusion. Sigh.
Escape the Conference & Sightsee
Post Frost Unlimited, I took a break from the conference. With Tiffany and Brent, both Spain ETAs, I walked to see the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag Building, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Gendarmenmarkt, Memorial to May 10, 1933 Nazi Book Burning, and saw lots of beautiful churches, opera houses, and concert halls on the way.
Back to Alexanderplatz for a buffet lunch before afternoon presentations.
Four different Fulbright grantees, both ETAs and Researchers gave presentations. Here are the speakers, their host country, and topic listed:
Ann Hartlieb, Spain: Extending our reach beyond the classroom
Elizabeth Ransone, Germany: Research on mining the bacterial world to discover and identify new peptide classes
Kelly Fisher, Norway: Observations on the Norwegian and the American classroom
Rachel Moss, Poland: Performances of Jewishness and Cultural Transmission in Interwar Poland, 1925-1939
Fulbright Ceremony & Reception at Universität der Künste
In the evening, we were all transferred by bus to the Universität de Künste for speeches, the Fulbright Jazz Band, dinner, and drinks. The Keynote speaker being the former High Commissioner for Peace of Columbia.
The Decision to Make Peace – The Case of Colombia
Sergio Jaramillo Caro served as Colombian Ambassador to the EU and Belgium in 2017 and 2018 and as the High Commissioner for Peace in the Santos administration in Colombia leading secret negotiations with the country’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
In my opinion, Caro’s speech was disappointing. He spoke of negotiations with the FARC for nearly 30 minutes without telling a story. Secret negotiations must have been terrifying, challenging, and exhilarating, yet he conveyed none of this in his demeanor or story telling. He shared how the events unfolded casually, as if we had all been highly aware of the details of the FARC, progression of Colombian leaders, and the SECRET peace negotiations. I rudely utilized this time to read the entire wikipedia page about the FARC to salvage a speech delivered with no thesis.
Finally, dinner was served and the wine was free flowing. We (I am a Balkans bandwagoner by this point) continued our pattern of eating, drinking, and being merry.
At the event’s close, I headed on the metro in a large group of Fulbrights, a mix of Balkans and Germany ETAs. I stuck with my friend Stephanie from Bulgaria and Andrew from the Czech Republic. After an hour at a bar surrounded by a lot of mingling ETAs, I slipped out, grabbed a kebab, and called a taxi home.
Tuesday March 19th
Morning at KINO International
The morning sessions included Welcome Remarks by author Claudia Rusch, Dialogue: Courage to Overcome Walls Then and Now – Germany, Europe, and the World with a dance performance by my new friend Sam from the UK, and the European Keynote: The Future of the European Idea with Thomas Bagger, Head of Foreign Policy for the Federal President’s Office, and Adam Michnik, Editor-in-chief of Gazette Wyborcz in Poland. Wyborcz was detained many times from 1965 to 1980 for opposing the communist regime in Poland. He is the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, among many others. He spoke about his experiences and his opinions as to how the world should move forward.
Pretzels, mustard, sandwiches, chicken noodle soup, fruit, and soda. The pick me up that everyone wanted and needed after the late night out.
Yoga Session with Jenny Lee, Alumna of Fulbright Germany
Auditorium yoga meant deep breathing and meditation in a room of strangers, which really builds intimacy like no other.
Input & Discussion: Civil Society and Intercultural Understanding
Sawsan Chebli is the Permanent Secretary for Active Citizenship and International Relations of Germany. She is from a German Muslim family; as one of 14 children of parents who immigrated from Palestine. Chebli sees herself as a bridge builder between two different worlds and strives to build a framework for civic engagement to help others contribute to democratic society and find unity in their differences.
This session was very poorly navigated by Fulbright Germany. The floor was opened up to questions without a real presentation from Chebli. She was given only about 30 minutes to talk and take questions. Chebli is very strong willed and worded. She challenged the first person who asked her a question for their language choice. With so little time, only 2 or 3 questions were asked, and we all left the room without any significant conclusion from the questions. I was interested to learn that the millennial generation of Muslims in Germany, although born in Germany, feel so separated from Germany society that they generally do not identify themselves as Germans, but instead from the country that their parents or grandparents (or great grandparents) are immigrants of. This session should have been 90 minutes to allow for a presentation and questions. Overall, Chebli is a force as a public servant; however, the session did not allow enough time for any real discussion.
Walking Tour: Walking Where the Wall Once Stood
I had been looking forward to this ALL WEEK LONG. I didn’t really know what to expect or much of the wall I would see. Our tour began underground, in a metro station that was closed at the time the wall stood. The train still passed through the station but did not stop because it was in East Berlin. We left the station and our guide brought us to a random driveway. We stopped in a circle around him, and he asked us for signs of whether we were in East or West Berlin. We looked around noticing the architecture, but then he had us look down to the drain cover at our feet that said (in English) MADE IN THE GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC.
Next, we then made our way to where the wall once stood, now marked by stones in the ground. We walked along the wall past Checkpoint Charlie and the location of the headquarters of the Gestapo, or secret police of Nazi Germany. The wall still stands here in front of the museum the Topography of Terror. Our guide shared photos of the places we stood when the wall was still standing to compare to the present. He also shared stories of successful and unsuccessful escapes over the wall. He concluded our tour by asking us why the wall fell and if our parents remember what they were doing when the wall fell. He said that he never thought the day would come.
The Courage to say Goodbye: Farewell Party and Flying Buffet
The evening began at Frannz Club with cocktails and waiters carrying around an assortment of tiny appetizers. We were all searching for the buffet before we realized there was no main course. After a few appetizers, I had eaten enough to fulfill my desire for dinner. The venue had rooms for dancing and chatting, and honestly felt a little like a sorority formal. After a few hours of chatting up some new friends and Ambassador Bleich, I headed out with some Balkans and German ETAs to the next destination.
I followed to Druide Bar, which specializes in Absinth, which I now know I hate for the black licorice taste. It was fun to set the drink on fire before passing it off to Carsten an ETA from Germany. Post Druide we moved to another bar that really wasn’t my speed, and we all kept chatting. The group split up, and I went back to Frannz Club to dance with the Spanish grantees before calling it a night.
Wednesday March 20th
Slow morning Breakfast
The final breakfast meant asking my favorite waiter for one more veggie omelet and eating a german pancake/crepe with applesauce. I then headed into the final session.
Media Literacy and Critical Thinking: Workshop for English Teaching Assistants
Barbara McCormack, the Vice President for Newseum Education, focused on what constitutes real Media Literacy in a world of disinformation, how to evaluate if media is fairly covering a topic or event, how to teach controversial topics, and how to put this into practice, with four ETAs, from the Balkan countries who had previously attended a media literacy seminar with McCormack, presenting how they teach media literacy in their classrooms.
A presentation by Dimitri Diagne was a highlight of the whole conference about his experience as an ETA in Kosovo, focused both on his students and himself. As he spoke, a collection of artwork was projected behind him, showing blackface at court from a classical painting in Vienna, an advertisement for a musical Afrika! Africa! taken in a public transit hub in Berlin, among other pieces of art that generalized and stereotyped black bodies, culture, and people. His presentation was poetic and poised, especially in the use of media to add an additional dimension to the story he was sharing. In a conference that attempted to speak to courage, this presentation nailed it. He finished his presentation with a quote by Audre Lorde that brought me directly back to my favorite class, American Reform Literature. The quote confirmed how last place aversion theory affects black women, reminiscent of a famous Malcolm X quote that Beyoncé restated in Lemonade that the most disrespected, unprotected, and neglected person in American is the black woman. Diagne shared an example of teaching videos of Solange’s new album in his classes in Kosovo to analyze race, gender, and sexuality. Seriously so dang cool.
Thanks to Diagne, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider is next on my reading list.
The final lunch of the conference was my time to say goodbye to many new friends that I hope to meet again, whether that be in the U.S. or in Europe.
Eastside Gallery & Oberbaum Bridge
Before heading to my airport hotel, I went with Tiffany of Spain and Stephanie of Bulgaria to visit the Eastside Gallery from its beginning to the end at the Oberbaum Bridge.
Finally, I grabbed dinner once at my airport hotel and went to sleep early after a week where I most definitely deprived myself of sleep.
Thursday March 21st
I woke up on Thursday morning and made my way to the airport. One (3 hour) plane from Berlin to Barajas, one (30 minute) metro from Barajas to Chamartin, one (5 hour) train Chamartin to Ourense, and one (15 minute) walk to my apartment stood between me and my bed. I arrived at 8:00 p.m., ran to buy groceries, started my laundry, and began a 2 day hibernation before my next trip to Malta.
Thanks for tuning in. Until next time, ciao!