45 Individuals, 45 Cultures, 45 Dreams and 45 Expectations: ONE BFTF SUMMER INSTITUTE!

On the 29th of June planes and cars, from all over Europe and the United States, were heading in the same direction: Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. 45 individuals, 45 cultures, 45 dreams and 45 expectations were represented at the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute 2013.

Soon the 45 strangers I met at the airport became friends. And as classes started the morning after we arrived, we already got along very well. These people would become one big family the following four weeks.

Most of us came to the institute, expecting to take part in some interesting discussions, learn new things in classes and visit some amazing cities. We indeed did those things, but none of us expected that these four weeks would change us so deeply as a person. Each day was a new challenge filled with new knowledge, encounters, surroundings, sounds and tastes.

Our group of 45 fellows can be described as very varied. Some were funny, others were sweet. Some were loud, others were silent. But we have one thing in common: we all have the will to do something that is bigger than any doubt! We were a group very ambitious, motivated and brilliant youngsters, determined to make a difference. As individuals we were all as different as our countries are. But that’s what made us strong as a group.

For me personally, such a divers environment is much more interesting than one where everything is obvious. By talking to these people, by discussing, by having different opinions, by disagreeing and by respecting their point of view, I learned much more than a teacher could ever teach me in school.

This program definitely took me out of my comfort zone. Being away from home for a month, speaking a foreign language, getting to know so many new people,… It all made me more confident!

The part of the program that stood out for me, was our homestay. No better way to comprehend the local culture then staying with a real American family. After my stay with them, I can proudly say that I not only have a family in Belgium but also one in the United States.

It’s been a month since I returned from the States. When I got home; friends and family asked me: ‘How was your stay in the US?’. The answer seemed obvious, but it wasn’t. It didn’t occur to me what I experienced in the States until then. This group of brilliant young people changed me and it’s hard to explain what we experienced as a group during these four weeks. I learned that a small group of thoughtful people can change something in the world. I hope one of our follow-on projects also will!

As I am writing this essay, a smile appears spontaneously on my face. The skyscrapers, the Purdue University campus, the friendly people, the fastfood,… As a traveloholic I enjoyed all of it! For one month the United States Department of State gave me the chance to live my own ‘American dream’.

Thank you fellows! Thank you Purdue! Thank you mentors! Thank you Johnson family!

I left the institute with 45 new friends, 45 impressions of foreign countries, 45 new places to visit and at least 45 new ideas to think about. We created a friendship that goes beyond borders. We didn’t say goodbye to each other, instead we said ‘see you soon!’.

Flore De Vylder – Belgian Fellow BFTF 2013 Purdue

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