More then 5 moths ago – on Tuesday March the 19th to be precise – I received an email that would drastically change my life:
Dear Ms. Koziej,
Congratulations! You were selected as a Fulbright Belgium grantee.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Fullbright is a scholarship that enables students or researchers from almost all over the world to experience one (or more) years of study or research at a North American university. The university of my choice was Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, famous for it’s medical school and being the forerunner of the modern research university in the United States. I was particularly interested in their Humanities Centre and their Intellectual History program. Most American universities are horribly expensive, so you basically need a scholarship to finance this intellectual experience! That’s why I took a shot at the Fulbright… and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I got the news.
Preparing for my American adventure was exciting. The best experience was definitely the farewell reception at the US embassy in Brussels. Here, we could exchange our questions, fears, and excitement with the other Belgian scholars who where going to the United States. We also had the opportunity to meet the Fulbright board, some Fulbright alumni, and of course the former US ambassador Howard Gutman. On that night, I realized that Fulbright is much more than a financial aid, but rather a network of people with similar goals, despite different backgrounds and fields of work. They share the belief that knowledge and education can lead to a better world. For those of you who share this dream to study in the US, I wholeheartedly advise you to apply for the scholarship. In this movie, you hear me explain why you shouldn’t be afraid to try: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvQIKb_jbvc.
I booked my ticket: the 13th of August was going to be the day! Before that, I had to say goodbye to my friends and family of course! My boyfriend Oskar helped me trow a goodbye party. It was a beautiful evening, on the hottest day of summer. It was a bitter-sweet night with friends, drinks, music and a lot of hugs and some tears.
My departure came closer and closer. I have to admit that I had a lot of troubles grasping that I would leave for one year. I became conscious of all the “last things”: last time going to the butcher, last time eating my mom’s soup, and last time walking in my hometown’s streets. And when it came to packing my bags or looking for housing in Baltimore, I found myself procrastinating. Everyone around me kept mentioning my departure, but it wouldn’t get trough – I wasn’t ready. I was afraid to leave my comfort zone, my boyfriend, friends and family. I felt reluctant to leave this all behind and step into the unknown. For the first time in years, I felt really at home, rooted, not restless any longer. Was I really deliberately going to step on an airplane and leave this all behind?
The 13th came sooner than expected. There I was, at the airport of Brussels with my 2 suitcases, leaving for my adventure. It felt so surreal, like I wasn’t fully conscious of the reason why I was here. My brother, mom and dad where with me and when I walked trough the gate and looked behind as they waved me goodbye, it finally hit me. I cried briefly. I felt frightened and alone. But only seconds later, I sighed and said to myself, “now it’s time to proof yourself Stephanie!” The sadness and fear made place for excitement and eagerness. I had this “American dream” since I was 8 years old, and I was going to live it, and take everything I could out of it!
[feel free to leave a comment below, in English or Dutch, it doesn’t matter!]