Every year, the Berlin Fulbright Seminar brings together around 300 American Fulbright grantees together from their host countries all over Europe. The conference is also attended by nearly 200 German Fulbright candidates about to embark on a research exchange to institutions in the U.S. Over schnitzel and beer, we mingled for four days learning about experiences in different European host countries.
One of the highlights of the conference was the presentations from the Fulbrighters. At the opening ceremony, we heard some incredible talks ranging from the “Muscle Activation of Human Motion during Vehicle Collisions” to the research of an astrochemist studying the composition of interstellar space. We were captivated by the performance of Desiree Brodka, the first German opera singer to do a Fulbright. Desiree spent her Fulbright year at the Oberlin Conservatory has since become an acclaimed soprano. She danced, sang, and held us spellbound until the final soaring note of the operetta Giuditta.
The conference schedule gave us liberal time to explore the city of Berlin on our breaks. It was my first time in Germany, so I played all the tourist cards. We traced the path of the Berlin Wall and admired the East Side Gallery: 1.3 kilometers of the Berlin Wall still intact and transformed into a street art gallery. We jogged through “The Green Lung” – Berlin’s equivalent of Central Park. We gaped at the Reichstag Parliament building and wandered solemnly through the maze of the Holocaust memorial. And yes, we took selfies at the Brandenburg gate.
Apart from the normal tourist attractions, we made sure to sample the abundant cafes and pubs scattered all over Berlin. Many of us grantees were giddy about how cheap food, coffee, and beer were in comparison to the high costs of Norway. Only 1 euro for coffee? 3 cups please!
The attacks in Brussels came during the middle of our stay in Berlin. Although we were assured that Germany was not in any danger of imminent attack, the shock of the brutal bombings radiated from Brussels to Berlin as one of the closest cities. Our hearts go out to those who were impacted by the attacks. Flags in Berlin were at half-mast and the Brandenburg gate was lit up with colors of the Belgian flag. All of Europe is in mourning and it is humbling and terrifying to be here at such a critical time.
Another main topic of the Fulbright conference was the refugee crisis. 139 American Fulbrighters teach English in German schools and many teach refugee students. We heard from those volunteering at refugee camps and working on the frontlines for integration of refugees into Germany. Fulbrighters shared heartwarming stories of students mobilizing to help out at the camps and intelligent refugee children picking up the language quickly. But the challenges of the refugee crisis are immense: How can we, as foreigners ourselves, help lower the walls of prejudice, poverty and illiteracy faced by the newcomers?
After Berlin, I returned to the mountains of Norway for Easter break. We drove out to the family farm in Trøndelag, Norway and spent some days at the cabin of my second cousin, Merete. In the spirit of a true Norwegian Easter holiday, we went skiing everyday and ate “Kvikk Lunsj” (the Norwegian version of a Kit Kat bar). The whole family also played an annual card game tournament of “Selbuwisst” in a round-robin style with over 35 participants. I discovered quickly from my cousins that the tournament is to be taken very seriously – the competition was fierce!
I also entered in an ice-fishing competition out on the frozen nearby fjord. This time the luck wasn’t on my side (see picture below). If there was an award for “smallest fish,” I would have taken home the prize. My only catch weighed a whopping 15 grams including the bag 🙂
Speaking of fish, we also ate the Norwegian traditional dish of “rakfisk” which translates directly to rotten fish. Last October, my cousins caught trout, salted them, and placed them in a bucket under pressure to ferment. Six months later the fermenting fish were sufficiently “rotten” and were ready to be eaten raw. We enjoyed the raw rotten fish delicacy with flatbread, potatoes, butter, onions, and sour cream. It actually tastes great! If you don’t believe me, you’ll just have to try yourself 🙂
Hoping you all had relaxing spring breaks as well! Now I am home in Tromsø. Sending wishes for peace and safety to you, wherever in the world you are 🙂