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The Fulbright Adventures 2: A Week in the Life

Updated: Oct 26, 2022

I don't plan to make this blog series a day-to-day or week-to-week recap thing— I feel like that would just get boring for people (or maybe myself). But this past week has been such a crazy one that I feel like I am obligated to detail it out. I would say that this past week is out of the ordinary but to be completely honest, every single day here in Utrecht has been so different and so exciting, I don't think I've experienced 'ordinary' (Allow me a quick reflective tangent on this point: That is perhaps the best (and potentially the worst part?) of moving to a foreign country— nothing is ordinary. The feeling of disbelief that I actually live here hasn't gone away and pops up even when I'm doing so-called mundane tasks like biking to work or buying groceries. I hope it never really goes away.)

Thursday (September 22, 2022)

I know I said there is no ordinary day here in the Netherlands but this really wasn't a normal day at all. Last Thursday, all of us Fulbrighters in the Netherlands were invited to the United States Ambassador's Residence in Den Haag (The Hague) to kick of our year of research and study in the country. Deciding to make the most of the free train to Den Haag, me and two of my fellow Utrecht Fulbrighters left early in the morning to check out Mauritshuis Museum, which featured none other than Johannes Vermeer's famous Girl With the Pearl Earring painting. I'm not as enlightened on art history as some of my lovely friends back home, but this museum was incredible and a great way to learn more about Dutch history.

We spent the afternoon and evening at the Ambassador's residence which looked like a New England colonial house situated in the middle of a city. This was a truly surreal experience— it was an afternoon of meeting some very interesting and influential folks like the Deputy Assistant Secretary for ECA at the State Department, the current US Ambassador to the Netherlands (the one recently confirmed is coming in a month or so), and the president of Utrecht University (who invited us Utrecht Fulbrighters to lunch at the Faculty Club!). I also met at least two Penn alums who invited me to join the Penn Club of the Netherlands— can't escape Penn.

It's been a while since I have seen a backyard in the Netherlands

Friday (September 23, 2022)

I had no time to process the Ambassador's meeting on Friday as I immediately had to prepare for my weekend in Munich, Germany at Oktoberfest! To be completely honest, I was very nervous for Oktoberfest. The trip involved two 11-hour buses, camping in rainy Munich, and a lot of beer drinking (which is not something I am particularly adept at). I made the necessary purchases which included a dirndl (a traditional German dress), anti-nausea medication, and warm clothing for camping. At 8pm, my friends Anika, Jamie, Anna, and I, along with 70 of our fellow international students, set off for Munich.

Saturday (September 24, 2022).

The night was chaotic. I didn't get carsick (a minor miracle), but our bus driver did fight a German truck driver at a random rest stop in Germany and we were forced to change into our dirndls at 4 am. We arrived in Munich at 7:30am and immediately headed over to Oktoberfest. After an hour of waiting, the doors finally opened and Anika, Jamie, and I immediately ran to the grab a table in one of the tents. While we unfortunately got separated from the rest of the group, we quickly befriended a group of German guys who translated all of the songs for us and taught us on the chants (most of them involved yelling at Dortmund soccer fans). Oktoberfest was more fun than expected— I'm not a big beer drinker, but most of the guys had over 8 liters, and the music was incredible. I have to say though, nine hours is way too long for Oktoberfest. For at least half of the day, I was extremely sleep deprived and cranky. I'm not entirely sure the dancing and music made up for the lack of sleep but Oktoberfest is truly one of those once in a lifetime experiences (as in, I'm not coming back).

Sunday (September 25, 2022)

Sunday morning was cold. After a long day of Oktoberfest, a bus herded us to a campsite outside of Munich where we stayed for the night. The camping itself wasn't too bad (they gave us air mattresses under our sleeping bags which was nice) but I woke up freezing. And I was already wearing three sweatshirts. My second thought Sunday morning was, "I cannot go to Oktoberfest today." Whereas most of the rest of the group prepared for another day of drinking, my friends and I decided to explore Munich. A day isn't enough to explore Munich, especially when you're sleep deprived. But my friends and I did manage to drag ourselves to Marienplatz Square (where we saw Arnold Schwarzenegger!!), Nymphenberg Palace, and the BMW Museum. I definitely didn't do Munich justice. I need to go back one day and I'm sure there will be more trips to Germany over the nine months. But, without a doubt, I had a better day than the people who went to Oktoberfest for the second day (and they was pretty obvious when we met the rest of the group to bus back to Utrecht).

Monday (September 26, 2022)

I was absolutely miserable when we arrived back in Utrecht 7am Monday morning. It was cold and wet and I hadn't a good night sleep in three days. As soon as I got home, I took a shower and passed out for 5 hours. When I finally woke up around 1pm, I headed to work. Normally, I would have taken the day off, but Cecile Laborde, the famous political theorist from Oxford, came to give a talk on discrimination and philosophy. Despite my sleep-deprived state, the talk was thoroughly enjoyable (although I skipped the open bar afterwards. Surprisingly, philosophers drink a lot and frequently).

Tuesday (September 27, 2022).

Tuesday was a normal work day that turned into a not-so-normal day. After a morning working on my research project (I'll devote a blog post to my actual work one day in case anyone's interested!), I kept my new PhD and postdoc friends entertained with stories from Oktoberfest. I'm still trying to make a good impression with my colleagues (I want them to think I'm decently smart!) so sometimes I feel like I shouldn't share my weekend plans or stories. Oktoberfest doesn't seem like something a good philosopher would go to. But I've been reassured countless of times by my colleagues that no one thinks less of me if I go out on the weekends or spend time traveling and experiencing new things. And they have been giving me great tips on cities and countries to explore while here in Europe. So that's another life lesson: To be a good philosopher, you don't have to be chained to your desk reading and writing all day. Having a life is good for your work and cultural exchange is a critical part of academia as well.

In the afternoon, the Ethics Institute had our biweekly colloquium where I read a great paper on public goods. Afterwards, some of us went to the Faculty of the Humanities party, which featured staff from the entire humanities field at Utrecht, which was held at the Railway Museum. A part of the party was, strangely enough, a talent show where I saw about a dozen professors sing a decent rendition of Dolly Parton's Nine-to-Five (I would post a video but don't want any professors to come for me, Trust me when I say it was something to see.) After the free wine and the free food, I biked home to celebrate my friends Jamie and Liara's birthday. For those of you who have seen my studio, it isn't big. But we managed to fit 20 people in Jamie's studio for a pregame and birthday cake. By the time the pregame wrapped up, it was 1:30am (on Tuesday night, or rather Wednesday morning I want to emphasize), and I was wiped. I decided to head home instead of the club where I heard the next day my friends stayed until 5:30 in the morning. Life abroad is pretty surreal. Back home, I would never stay out until 5:30am (or even 1:30am) on Tuesday night. But this feeling that we are here for such a short time, we have to make the most of ever moment, is so pervasive. It's propelled me to do countless of things (like most of this last week I've detailed) that I would never do back home. I think that's beauty of life abroad and of exchange. It's a life lesson I could definitely use back home.

(This isn't from Tuesday— it's from this morning when my friends Jamie, Lily, and I went to Haarlem (the original one). But it's really hard for me to take biking videos so Jamie took this one for me. This is our campus where I live).

Wednesday (September 28, 2022)

Wednesday was a normal work day and a not-so-normal post-work day. It was a good day— I made progress on my paper (more on that later) and went to a great talk from the Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) group. Then, at 8pm, my friends and I went night kayaking in the middle of the city. For those of you who may not be familiar with Utrecht's geography, the unique thing about Utrecht is that it has two level canals, as in there are stores and restaurants at the canal level (Amsterdam doesn't have that!). For those of you who plan to visit Utrecht one day, night kayaking is an absolute must. Yes, it was cold and yes, it was very wet but it was one of the most beautiful and magical experiences I've had. The city is at its best at night— when there are still people out but it's not too crowded and the lights sparkle with the trees. Everywhere we kayaked, there were cute cafes and restaurants and people hanging out on the banks of the canal. I did randomly bump into my supervisor while kayaking and he did proceed to call me crazy for kayaking at 10pm at night on a Wednesday. He's probably right. But crazy has never been so fun.

I wish I had a better picture but we were all moving and are all pretty bad kayakers. Trust me when I say this was an incredible experience.


There are more stories and more reflections but this post is already long enough. There's a lot more I could say about work especially which I am thoroughly enjoying, but I'll save that for the next blog post. Tot ziens for now!

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.

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