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U.S. Fulbright

Food and Spirit(s): Communicating in Switzerland

August 13, 2020

By Anna O. Giarratana, Fulbright U.S. Student to Switzerland

“Food is a universally vital part of our lives, representing history, traditions, and culture. Each of us relies on food not only to survive, but to comfort ourselves, communicate with others, and connect us to our forebears.”

—Sam Chapple-Sokol

When I started my Fulbright at the Zurich Center for Neuroeconomics in Switzerland, I was largely excited about the professional opportunity before me; I had just finished the PhD portion of my joint MD-PhD program, and I was joining a research lab on the forefront of conducting experiments in the nascent field of neuroeconomics. The field, studying how people make decisions, brings neuroscientists like me together with economists, computer scientists, and psychiatrists. In addition to my research, I was also eager to spend my weekends exploring my hobby interest, traditional food—in particular, traditional cured meat products. What I didn’t anticipate when I started my Fulbright was how important those culinary trips would be in giving me a sense of community within the country.

 

Enjoying saucisse aux choux in Orbe.

 

In my first few weeks, I researched online to identify fall festivals highlighting traditional Swiss cured meats. The last weekend in September, armed with Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) Transit and Google Maps, I set off to find the Fête de la Saucisse aux Choux à Orbe. After two hours of rail travel and walking, I found myself in the small hilltop town of Orbe, transported back centuries as I watched local artisans make the famous saucisse aux choux, a local sausage made with cabbage. My efforts to engage the local artisans in discussion about their process suffered an initial set-back when I tried speaking German, which I had studied in preparation for my move to Zurich. I was now in French Switzerland. Uh oh.

What are the French words for “What is this?” again? Luckily, in response to my blank stare, the artisans switched to German and then to Italian, and I was able to muddle through the exchange. I learned that day that the Swiss tend to be fluent in at least two of the national languages, in addition to English, inspiring me to dedicate myself more diligently to my language studies.

 

Learning to make kalbsbratwurst at Olma Messen.

 

In the following months, I explored Switzerland, a small country but one brimming with unique culinary traditions. I joined a wild food foraging group in Zurich, traveled to St. Gallen for the Olma Messen agricultural trade show; to Porrentruy for the “Feast and Market,” Fête et Marché de la St-Martin; to Chur for the fall exhibit, Guarda Herbstmesse;, to Bonvillars for the Marché aux Truffes; to Gruyères to the La Maison du Gruyère; to Lucerne for Käsefest; and to Ticino for its Stranociada carnival. And, along the way, I gained a greater understanding—through food—of Swiss history. I learned about the different cantons (member states) that make up Switzerland, the languages they speak, the traditions they practice, the products they create, and the values they hold.

 

View of Gruyères.

Vineyards at the Truffle Market in Bonvillars.

 

Most importantly, it was through these travels and my bumbling German/French/Italian questions that I made my best friends, both Swiss locals and other internationals like myself, over our shared love for food. We sustained these cross-cultural friendships by creating a rotating dinner group, where we took turns hosting and making our native food or traditional Swiss foods. I learned to make capuns and härdöpfel pizokel from the Graubünden region of Switzerland, enjoyed moqueca from Brazil, and taught others how to make my favorite Italian-American family recipe, potato gnocchi. We shared food, wine, and anecdotes from our time and travels, domestically and internationally. I heard firsthand about the importance of the direct democracy system in Switzerland, which results in voting on quarterly referendums. I learned more about life in India—its different regions, the way the university system works, and how highly valued a government job is. In China, the bestselling books placed in the entry display of bookstores are not works of fiction, but nonfiction books highlighting the value of self-improvement. I shared my experiences with healthcare in the United States: as a medical student, I have a vested interest in improving the U.S. healthcare system. I solicited opinions on what works and what doesn’t work, internationally. Beyond interacting with my local community, I have connected to a global audience by describing my Swiss food explorations on my personal blog and Instagram account “The Gastrochemist.” I have heard from homesick Swiss expats, as well as interested people around the world.

 

Homemade Swiss Capuns

 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this idea of a global community created and sustained through food has become even more vital. Serious conversations with my roommates about past crises they have lived through occurred over shared homemade wiener schnitzel. While I have been practicing social distancing, the internet has allowed me to learn about the comfort foods others are making in countries such as Italy, Singapore, and Australia. Meanwhile, I’m sharing some of my comfort food projects, most recently making homemade pasta with a rabbit sauce called tajarin al ragù di coniglio. I never could have predicted where I would be six months into my Fulbright: alone in a room with the internet, cooking just for myself, but sharing with the world. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that we’ll get through this together, with a little food and a lot of human spirit.

 

Anna O. Giarratana is an MD-PhD student at Rutgers University – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Originally from Franklin Lakes, NJ, she attended Bryn Mawr College where she majored in Chemistry and cultivated her love for global learning. She is passionate about interdisciplinary, multinational work – believing it to be the best way to tackle difficult problems. As a neuroscientist, she has contributed to the field with multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals and presentations at international conferences. For her Fulbright, she worked at the Zurich Center for Neuroeconomics, an innovative interdisciplinary center dedicated to understanding the cognitive process of decision-making.

U.S. Fulbright

Fulbright’s Continuing Impact on My Life

July 28, 2017

Lin Shi, 2013-2014, European Union, with fellow Fulbrighters visiting Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on an excursion organized by the Council on International Educational Exchange; (from left to right) Samantha Lopez, Nathan Hoffmann, Drew Lerer, Maggie Balk, Myles Creed, Lin Shi, and Marco Rimanelli.

I was excited and grateful to be awarded the Fulbright-Schuman grant to the European Union back in 2013, which gave me an opportunity to immerse myself in two European countries for a nine-month period. That fall, I boarded a plane to Brussels to work as a researcher in Liège, Belgium for several months and then relocate to Rotterdam in the Netherlands for the second portion of my grant. My goal was to study the European Union’s public and private pension systems with the intention of eventually sharing my research findings back in the United States. (If you’re interested in more details about my research and experiences, please see my earlier post here.)

One thing that is so special about the Fulbright Program is that it’s not just an academic/teaching opportunity, but also a chance to be immersed in both the community of the host country as well as the broader, global Fulbright community. Since returning to the United States, I’m thankful that my connection to my mentors and friends in Europe have continued along with connection to the Fulbright community more broadly.

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U.S. Fulbright

Service Meets Self-Interest: A Disabled Veteran Does Research Abroad

March 8, 2017

Michael Verlezza, 2014-2015, Canada, participating in an annual tradition – The Fulbright Canada Orientation Hockey Game at Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo Credit: Rebecca Lawton)

Not long after 9/11, I enlisted in the United States Army. Eight years and two deployments later, my outlook on life grim, I opted to separate from the military. Rudderless, I enrolled at Bridgewater State University with the aim of completing an economics degree, and after some success, I was invited to an informational meeting with a member of Fulbright’s outreach team. Lured largely by the prospect of free pizza, I attended a meeting that would reset my life’s course.

As a freshman, I had taken a Canadian history course, and coupled with my complete lack of language skills, Canada seemed the strategic choice. Initially, I pitched a proposal that had me studying international exchange rates. I was assured that this was boring (even by economists’ standards) and told to go back to the drawing board. Not long after, the VA’s report outlining the frequency of veteran suicide was published. As a disabled veteran myself, I began to wonder what American tax dollars were getting us if they weren’t ensuring the safety and care of my fellow vets.

My Canadian history professor set me up with the Principal of the Royal Military College, and I put together a proposal whereby I would study federal spending on Canadian and American veterans. In addition, I proposed I augment my analytical skills (and thus my research) by taking a Master’s of Mathematics and Statistics from Queen’s University in Ontario.

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Foreign Fulbright

We Are the “They” That Can Change the World: My Hult Prize Experience

October 6, 2016
tenele-dlamini

Tenele Dlamini, 2015-2017, Swaziland (left), attending the 2016 Hult Prize Regionals in San Francisco, California – the only participating all-female team

I have always been passionate about making a difference in people’s lives. Studying economics as an undergrad exposed me to the field’s power and how it can be used as a tool to transform people’s lives. This passion led me to apply to the Fulbright Program. Now, I’m fortunate enough to be a Fulbright Student enrolled in the Graduate Program of Economic Development (GPED) at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

This past academic year, I had the honor of representing my university at the 2016 Hult Prize Challenge Regionals, in San Francisco, California. The Hult Prize Challenge is an initiative of The Clinton Foundation. It is an annual case competition open to university students from all over the world that they enter through their universities. Each year presents a new challenge of global concern that students have to solve. The challenge is mostly a way to mobilize social entrepreneurship as a method to solving some of the world’s biggest problems.

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Foreign Fulbright

Eight Reasons Why I’m Grateful to the Fulbright Commission

August 14, 2013

Toby Young1. People who haven’t been to Harvard complain that those who have will always let you know about it within five minutes of meeting you. Doesn’t matter if it’s a propos of nothing, they’ll always find a way of shoehorning it into the conversation. I’m happy to say I’m not like that. I wait at least 10 minutes. So that’s reason number one: I can tell people I went to Harvard.

2. At Oxford, where I studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics, I was taught in a very different way to the method. I was taught at Harvard. I didn’t go to any lectures, never participated in any discussions and only talked about my subject with my tutors. The tutorial system is good at teaching you how to think, but not so good at giving you an overview of your subject. I ended up with a firm grasp of a few things, but not much sense of how they all fitted together. At Harvard, by contrast, the basic model was lecture followed by class discussion. That turned out to be the perfect complement to the education I’d received at Oxford. It was like being given a map of my subject for the first time.

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U.S. Fulbright

Life as a Fulbrighter is Good: Here Is How I made it Happen, By Brett Martin, 2007-2008, Italy

December 29, 2009

After graduating college with a degree in economics and psychology, I did what everyone else I knew who graduated was doing: I moved to New York City and worked 80 hours a week as an investment banker. I liked it, but it became obvious that I was much more interested in building my own business than buying and selling pieces of other peoples’ businesses. I began looking for a platform that would enable me to learn how businesses are built before taking the plunge. One night, I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while:

“Where have you been?” I said.

“Studying resource mobilization in Argentina.” he replied.

“That’s awesome!” I responded. “How did you pull that off?”

And that’s the first time I ever heard about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program – a magical program that enables passionate people to pour themselves into pursuing their dreams while promoting goodwill abroad. Most people think that you need to be a 4.0 student to get a Fulbright grant. Not true. You don’t even have to be a current student (!), but you do need to at least have your bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Through your application, you just need to be passionate enough about your cause and becoming an American cultural ambassador to convince the U.S. Government that you are worth funding, and will make good use of your time abroad. I can only share my Fulbright experience, but here’s my advice to potential applicants.

1) Pick a topic of great interest to both the U.S. and host governments.

1. Grant writing 101: you are asking these governments for a lot of money. Pick something that they care about.

2. I chose “The Effect of Globalization on the Italian Textile and Fashion Industries.” Italy’s family textile businesses have been decimated by low-cost, Asian imports. The Italian government wants to know how to make those businesses more competitive. Guess who else is worried about low-cost, Asian imports? You got it, Uncle Sam. Fulbright funds hundreds of projects every year that are politically and culturally expedient, so there are many options to choose from.

2) Pick a relevant and timely topic.

1. It’s better work on something new and exciting than to pick a topic that’s been beaten to death.

2. Globalization was about as hot as it gets in 2006. A woman in my Fulbright class studied the Slow Food Movement. The Italian Fulbright Commission was basically asking for her autograph.

3) Pick a topic that is personally relevant.

1. You need to convince the selection committees that you are PASSIONATE about whatever it is you propose to study, be it textiles or sea snails. Since the Fulbright Program does not require an end-of-grant report in order for you to receive funding, the committees need to know that you are going to follow through on your work and that you’ll be an excellent cultural ambassador.

2. I wrote about seeing Italian textiles manufactured by a family business first hand during my undergrad study abroad in Siena. I also demonstrated my commitment to the garment industry by interning at Dolce & Gabbana.

4) Pick a topic that leverages your unique skills.

1. Are the skills you have particularly relevant to the project on which you propose to work? They should be.

2. I studied industrial and competitive dynamics 80 hours a week for two years straight on Wall Street.

5) Bring skills that aren’t available in the host country.

1. This is similar to my previous point except that not only should you be qualified for the job at hand, few in your proposed host country should be able to do what you do.

2. Italy doesn’t have a crazy excessive work culture, so there are very few people there who have spent 80 hours a week trying to understand why some companies succeed and others fail.

6) Bring back unique skills that will benefit the U.S.

1. Uncle Sam is usually footing at least half the bill for you trip, so make sure he is getting something out of the deal (in addition to all of the good will you are going to spread!).

2. As mentioned in my first point, I brought back a better understanding of how small and medium sized businesses can compete with low cost foreign businesses. I’m currently putting the results of my Fulbright research into practice by starting my own business.

7) Secure as many solid affiliations as possible.

1. Nine months is NOT a lot of time to produce anything meaningful, especially when you have willingly immersed yourself in a culture and language you may know little about and in which you may not function “efficiently” in the first place. The Fulbright Program wants to know that you are going to hit the ground running. To do so, you are going to need some support and infrastructure in the form of an affiliation.

2. Most people have some connections from their current university or with professors from their study abroad experiences. I didn’t have either, so I just cold emailed over 75 business school professors all over Italy. I included examples of my work and offered to work on their projects for free. I ended up with my own office (and wonderful secretary) in the best business school in the country.

8) Use every possible question, no matter how small, to convey the value you will bring. Every word counts.

1. This is obvious.

2. I think I wrote the equivalent of entire paragraphs in a few single line spaces in my application.

9) Read everything on the website and talk to past grantees.

1. You can learn a lot by looking at who received grants and what they did. Talking to past grantees will give you an idea of what to expect. You may also listen and watch former grantees talk about their experiences.

2. I definitely got help from my buddy who was a Fulbrighter. Stick it out.

3. Make sure to check in with your campus Fulbright Program Adviser, if applicable. It’s never too early to start learning about your school’s Fulbright application process and deadlines.

4. The application process can be boring and tedious and easy to blow off. Don’t blow it off. It’s worth it. You’ll thank me later. I promise.

Photo: Brett Martin, 2007-2008, Italy, taking a break from the office to check out the sailing at La Spezia.

Brett Martin was a Fulbrighter at the Universitá Bocconi in Milan. His Fulbright research on organizational bottlenecks was recently published in the Harvard Business Review. He is currently building a better way to find new restaurants at www.thedataowl.com.