My Fulbright Experience
Here you can read about some of our Fulbright grantees’ experiences in Denmark:
I spent the first month of my Fulbright fellowship reviewing and examining the interviews I conducted on a previous research trip to Denmark in 2011. This research trip was the one that inspired my Fulbright research project. I have been reviewing the photographs, the audio files of the interviews, and related textual materials. This is the first stage in my process of transforming visual and auditory exhibits into a communicable installation artwork.
I have been cataloging the visual exhibits (photographs, diagrams, and pictorial imagery gleaned from the related textual materials) in order to proceed to the next stage of transposing them into illustrations. I have also begun the process of gleaning, organizing, and synthesizing text that can accompany illustrations. Together, the text and the illustrations will be combined with InDesign and analog layout methods into a format that can be printed in a combination of lithography, etching, silkscreening and risograph techniques at that Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. I met with the two printmaking laboratory facilitators for introductions to their lab and the techniques and am now able to begin using the laboratory, which is the most incredible laboratory I have ever had access to
Digging into the audio files has entailed listening to the footage, notating the content and narrative arc of the conversations, and then editing them in Adobe Audition. I completed an initial draft of audio interview I conducted regarding Middelgrunden Wind Cooperative, bringing 3 hours of audio into a concise 30 minute piece. The piece discusses the evolution of the wind cooperative, the impact of changing government policies on wind energy, and how integrative technologies can be understood as concepts rather than objects. Next, I embarked into the notation of the interview I conducted with one of the employees of the Damhusåen Waste Water Sewage Treatment Plant. The edited audio file will highlight not just the means with which the treatment plant cleans the water, but also the plant’s efforts to massage social constructs of water use with the use of an animated music video and illustrations about the importance of not using the toilet as a trash can. The latter was particularly interesting to me because in the United States social correspondence between the water treatment plants and the public is nonexistent. Yet, it makes sense that by corresponding with the public, water pollution can be avoided at the source, rather than always having to be dealt with by the treatment plant. With these interviews, I have been contemplating what kind of cohesive form they could take and currently I am aiming on making them into a podcast series that can be linked to a website with pdfs of the illustrations.
In reviewing the research, it has become clear that a major difference between the ecological initiatives in Denmark and the United States lays at the infrastructure level. In the United States it appears there is much focus on the individual level and less in the infrastructure level. Infrastructure will be the first main theme tying together the interviews.
With regard to putting research into practice, I have also begun collaborating with Danish-based art-architecture group Detours on a site they are working on in Copenhagen called Containerby. Located on a previously vacant strip of land paralleling the train tracks leaving from Nørrebro Station, Containerby consists of a series of shipping containers that have been converted into workshops, including metal and wood workshops, and a stage for cultural events. It also serves as a site ongoing experimentation in architectural forms and is currently transpiring a house and mobile cinema. The ground floor of the house consists of a shipping container and a greenhouse. The shipping container has been transformed into a kitchen and social space, heated by a rocket stove mass heater. The greenhouse houses a permaculture garden and a cider fermentation unit. The upstairs is an artist studio that I have been given to use during my time as a Fulbright. Inside the studio, I have started a probiotic nursery that is an axial of a transpatial probiotic nursery that was hatched in London this year. Cointainerby is an optimal site for me to put research into practice because its small-scale infrastructure and systems are still being created. In the last month, I created a composting unit for experimenting with the humanure compost method. I also was asked to work on developing a water system for filtering incoming and outgoing water. I have begun collaborating with Danish artists Kristian Byskov and Margarita Krag on the water system. Our current plans are to fabricate a slow sand water filter for turning the rainwater siphoned off of the roof into drinking water. We also have discussed creating a mulch basin greywater system for returning the effluent water from the kitchen sink to the hydrologic cycle by watering a constellation of dwarf fruit trees. I have also been helping envision the interior design of the kitchen. The intention is to make as many things handmade as possible. I have started creating a series of earthenware dishes at the ceramics studio at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. The instructor there has been immensely helpful and now that I am beginning to get the wheel throwing technique down I look forward to working with her to learn about Danish functional ceramic design and also work with an ochre clay body unearthed in Denmark. Other plans for the Containerby site include continuing to work in the greenhouse permaculture garden and extending it to the garden beds in the yard beginning with a late fall planting, building a bicycle-powered washing machine, and, ideally, fabricating small-scale wind turbines.
In extracurricular experiences, I helped with the organization of the Hidden Economies Seminar that took place at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, I began helping design a magazine issue for the group Crisis Mirror, and I have also gotten in contact with the editorial team for visAvis about helping design their upcoming issue about asylum and migrant rights issues. I have also enjoyed attending an acroyoga classes held at KU and a kickboxing class at the Youth House. This past week I took a trip to Sweden to meet with an artist whose practice is based in walking and weaving. We walked to a textile mill that has been spinning yarn for over 100 years. I am currently riding home on the train with a skane of undyed yarn and bag of lichen we collected to dye it. It was such a delight to get to experience another part of Scandinavia and have the opportunity to meet with other artists that inhabit or are attracted by this area. Next weekend I will travel to Berlin to meet with an inflatables artist I collaborated with in New York. It is very helpful to be able to continue building relationship with him and other artists in Europe. It has been my experience that building a network of relationships with different artists across Europe and the US is immensely valuable for both practitional and professional development.
The underlying focus of this month was getting settled in Copenhagen. It was quite interesting getting to experience a bit of governmental systems by registering for my CPR and NEM ID, and astounding to have universal healthcare for the first time in my life. I haven’t been to the doctor yet, but look forward to that experience, as universal healthcare is not something we have in the US and I am curious to see how this system works. The arts academy has been extremely helpful and generous. They have even given me a studio at school to work at for the year.
In two weeks the first official seminar for the School of Walls and Space will take place. I am looking forward to meeting the entirety of the other students, getting to participate in the workshops, and collaborate with the students as a guest researcher.
My stay has been stimulating and productive, so far. First, the graduate students and post-docs in my department are great. I learn new things from them every day, and try to discuss my work with them whenever possible. Second, working with my supervisor has been a very rewarding experience. Among other things, he has introduced me to new topics in the literature, and is helping me rethink my writing style. We are making excellent progress on our first paper project. I expect to have a draft manuscript completed by mid-February, at the very latest. At this rate, it is reasonable to assume that I will be able to finish two dissertation chapters while in residence. Finally, I have enjoyed living in Copenhagen, and meeting other students from around the world. I am especially fond of the bicycle culture here, and I am certain that I will use my bike more when I return to the US next year.
My experience so far has exceeded my expectations. In many ways, I feel that I have learned more in the past 2-3 months than I did all last year. Being in a completely new environment has really stimulated my creativity, and this is exactly what I was hoping for when I applied for an award from Fulbright. Being abroad has also led me to consider the possibility of taking a job in Europe—or elsewhere—when I complete my PhD next year. This is something that I had not given much thought to prior to my arrival. Perhaps it might sound a bit naïve, but living in Copenhagen the last couple months has reminded me that the US is just one country in a very big world. I have realized that I really need to do more to reach academics in other countries. Among other things, this will mean reading journals that are edited and published outside of the United States, and traveling to international conferences whenever possible. Second, living in a larger city has reminded me that there is a world outside of the academy. Most universities in the US are on small, isolated campuses. This makes it easy to lose site of the ‘real world.’ Here, traveling to my office in the morning, I see people unloading trucks, delivering packages, etc., and as strange as this might sound, I find it refreshing to see these kinds of things. It reminds me that I need to make my research accessible to non-specialists, and more importantly, that I should devote a percentage of my time to more practical projects that have the potential to benefit the public in some way.
I have met a number of Danish people, and am now living with an undergraduate student from Jutland, who I know fairly well. He is an avid outdoorsman, and has invited me to go to his hometown on a hiking trip. We have tentatively scheduled the excursion for late December. I am very eager to see the local plants and animals, and I hope to meet some more people from that part of the country, as well. In the coming months, I plan to give a talk to a local bee keeper society about potential solutions to the colony collapse crisis that are currently being discussed by the international research community. I will also start taking Danish classes sometime after the first of the year. I had planned on doing this earlier, but found that I needed the extra time to settle in to my new surroundings. In summation, my stay has been rewarding on many different levels. I have learned a lot of new things about the country, and have been making great progress in my research. Although it is difficult to be certain about this, I believe I have been able to uphold my end of the cultural exchange bargain as well. I plan to continue working on the cultural give-and-take aspect of the program in the upcoming months.
Hepatitis C Virus Research Project
In my original Fulbright Statement of Grant Purpose, I proposed conducting cell culture studies at Hvidovre Hospital in which I would assess the extent to which clinically relevant strains of hepatitis C virus (HCV) are capable of escaping the pressures of human monoclonal antibodies by adopting adaptive mutations; however, since the HCV field has changed dramatically in the past year, upon arriving in Denmark it became necessary for me to alter my specific research plan based on the latest publications.
Although hepatitis C virus was first discovered decades ago, most scientific research of this deadly pathogen had to be conducted in chimpanzees; at the time, cell culture systems, which represent important tools in the field of virology for studying the viral life cycle and therapeutic drug strategies, did not permit HCV infections. In 2005, a strain known as the JFH virus was found to be infectious in a human hepatoma cell line; ultimately, this major breakthrough has lead to the production of effective therapeutic drugs that have the ability to cure most patients.
Unfortunately, one of the greatest challenges associated with treating hepatitis C virus is the virus’s tremendous genetic diversity. The seven highly distinct genotypes, which differ in their genetic make up by approximately 30%, not only respond to current therapies differently but also infect distinct global populations at varying rates. As a result, it has been necessary since 2005 to develop cell culture systems for the remaining HCV genotypes in order to eventually provide a scientific tool that will lead to treatments with broader efficacy.
Although genotype 1 infects more patients than any other HCV genotype, the development of a viable full-length genotype 1-cell culture system proved to be especially challenging and remained unavailable for many years after 2005. Recently, members of the Copenhagen Hepatitis C Program (CO-HEP) at Hvidovre Hospital successfully engineered 19 adaptive mutations into the “H77 strain” of HCV genotype 1 and created a viable cell culture system. While these 19 mutations in the genotype 1 genome have allowed the virus to grow in hepatoma cells, the reason for their efficacy has yet to be determined. This uncertainty has prompted several research questions for me that I am studying at CO-HEP: which phase of the viral life cycle does each mutation impact? Are all 19 mutations necessary for a viable infection?
In order to study these adaptive mutations, I have started my work by engineering viral RNA constructs in which each of the 19 mutations has been individually back mutated to the original sequence. Removing each mutation one-by-one will allow me to study the effect of each mutation at each stage of the viral life cycle and to determine whether the individual mutation is necessary for viral fitness in hepatoma cells. While creating these 19 viral constructs represents a considerable amount of preliminary work, CO-HEP has provided me with excellent resources for advanced PCR molecular cloning techniques, including the latest site-directed mutagenesis kits.
To date, I have successfully back-mutated all 19 adaptive mutations; however, I have so far only succeeded in sub-cloning 9 mutants into the original H77 backbone construct. I anticipate that by mid-December, I will have finished all 19 viruses and be ready for the infections. While cloning these 19 viruses, I have also worked to repeat the original H77 cell culture viability experiments to gain experience using CO-HEP’s tissue culture facilities in advance of beginning my large scale infections. So far, there have been several set backs in the cloning process; however, this is not uncommon with molecular cloning, and every member of CO-HEP has been extremely helpful in offering troubleshooting advice when issues arrive.
Finally, I have started a side project in the wet-lab in which I am continuing to research p7, the HCV protein I studied at The Rockefeller University. Given the new availability of this genotype 1 strain, the HCV scientific community has the opportunity to answer questions that came up in prior studies with chimpanzees that were infected with HCV genotype 1. Therefore, I have re-created a series of mutations in the p7 region of HCV genotype 1, which were previously identified in infected chimps, in order to address a hypothesis I have developed about the controversial kinked N-terminal helix of the protein. Given the large number of previous clinical studies regarding the H77 strain, this side-project represents the power of the new H77 cell culture system that I am primarily studying.
More broadly, working in Hvidovre Hospital has been a highly educational experience for me beyond the realm of the CO-HEP labs. As part of the Clinical Research Center at Hvidovre, CO-HEP members attend weekly seminars where Danish medical researchers present their work from many different fields. Through these weekly “Rød Tråd” seminars, I have learned a lot about research in Denmark and about how the unique health care system here permits a wide range of important studies. In addition, having developed relationships with some of the physicians in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Hvidovre, I have received tours of the hospital and its advanced isolation facilities; this has been especially interesting in light of the recent Ebola crisis. Finally, Professor Jens Bukh, my research mentor at CO-HEP and the director of the program, meets with me regularly and has already offered many unique perspectives; as a former investigator at the NIH (for 16 years), he has been able to discuss with me the differences between research in Denmark and in the United States.
Graduate Level Coursework
Unfortunately, the courses from 2013 that I proposed to take in my original Statement of Grant Purpose were not available for 2014; however, I have enrolled in coursework at the University of Copenhagen that I believe is equally relevant to my Fulbright experience and HCV studies.
Given the uneven distribution of HCV genotypes globally and the recent finding that certain patient populations are more prone to have a genetic predisposition for chronic infection, I am studying the extent to which ethnicity plays a role in a patient’s susceptibility to infectious diseases through the course “Ethnicity and Chronic Metabolic Diseases” at the University of Copenhagen. Although it has been firmly established that “race” has no biological—or at least genetic—basis, physicians continue to use “race” or “ethnicity” as a clinical tool. I find this dichotomy to be fascinating, so I will be broadly exploring the ways in which the embodiment of race affects human health and disease.
Currently, I am enrolled in Danish language courses. Although my communication skills are still limited, studying Danish has been especially helpful for me working in a Danish hospital environment; many departmental meetings are in Danish, some of the staff does not speak English, and I have enjoyed practicing my language skills with the Danish scientists. In addition to spending my time in the working environment with Danes, I have had the opportunity to work with many researchers from other countries; CO-HEP is a highly diverse program, with members from all over the globe—Vietnam, China, Canada, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, and so on—who have, in the spirit of the Fulbright Program’s Mission, offered many diverse perspectives to me about science, medicine, and education from around the world.
Unfortunately, I have not found time yet to participate in other organizations in the local community outside of the hospital. This is largely because the nature of my research project, which (as I get started at least) demands a highly flexible and committed schedule; I am almost always at Hvidovre seven days every week. Once I finish creating my viral constructs and can begin a more regular work schedule when the infections begin, I hope to do some volunteer work in Copenhagen. Given my rewarding past experiences tutoring English to refugees in New York, I would like to find an opportunity to volunteer some time teaching English locally in Copenhagen. Finally, as I mentioned in my Statement of Grant Purpose, I hope—time permitting—to become involved in the Nordic Skiing organization in Copenhagen when the season starts after the winter holidays.
“Our future is in your hands and young people like you. Maybe someday you and your peers will look across an international table and finally get it right.” –Mrs. Mitchell, my sixth grade English teacher
Greetings from Århus! I hope everyone at the Danish-American Fulbright Commission has been well, despite the clouds, rain and wind that have finally rolled in – although I can’t complain after that incredible October we had, which the Danes tell me was the warmest in over 100 years. To update you on my experience here so far, I’ve divided this essay into the two sections: academic/research, and cultural exchange. Enjoy!
My academic and research experience is off to a great start and has definitely lived up to – and perhaps has exceeded – my expectations. I am enrolled in two classes, “Danish Politics and Welfare in Comparative Perspective” and “The Politics of Inequality.” The first course has provided me with an excellent, in-depth look at the Danish political system and the welfare state. My classmates are all exchange students from Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, and Australia, which has provided me the opportunity to compare the Danish political system and welfare model with not just the U.S. model with which I am most familiar, but also other Western nations through class discussions and outside-of-class group work. The class has also introduced me to several academic texts on the Danish welfare model, especially from a historical developmental perspective, which I had not seen before, and therefore has helped deepen my level of background knowledge. The second class on inequality has been really interesting and exposed me to some new theoretical frameworks within political science, such as the “Power Resource Theory,” which places an emphasis on the political organization and mobilization of the working class in order to achieve redistributive policy gains (as evidenced by Social Democratic parties’ success in expanding the welfare state in the Scandinavian and many European countries throughout the middle of the twentieth century) as well as the “Varieties of Capitalism” approach, which has illuminated how liberal market economies (such as the U.S.) differ from social/corporate market economics (such as Denmark/Germany) and how each influences the development of the welfare state and levels of inequality in the countries. The students in this second class are mostly Danes, so I’ve had the chance to learn from their perspectives on both Denmark and the U.S. through class discussions and group work outside of class – and to share my perspectives on both as well. The class is also conveniently taught by my affiliation, Carsten Jensen, which has enabled us to keep up a continuous dialogue on what I’m learning and my research goals. I’ve found the readings and class discussions and group work for both courses to be stimulating and informative while not being overwhelming. In short, I’m learning a lot, and really enjoying it!
My research experience has been equally rewarding. This semester I’ve focused on conducting an in-depth literature review to become more well-versed with the intricacies of the Danish welfare model through a combination of my coursework and independent reading. I’ve also had the opportunity to participate in a paid research assistantship which was offered to me by Carsten. The topic is a cross-country conditionality of welfare state benefits during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, i.e. what sorts of conditions did a person have to meet to qualify for benefits (a means-test, work-test, morality-test, etc.), and what conditions applied to the recipient after receiving benefits (loss of right to marriage, vote, run for office, etc.). This research has been a nice “value-added” part of my experience by acting as a supplement to the literature review I’ve been conducting on the Danish welfare model, and will be very helpful when I apply to graduate school in the U.S., since I will be a stronger candidate not just for acceptance but also to qualify for a scholarships/financial aid, which are often linked to teaching or research assistantships at the masters level in the states. Looking ahead, I plan to wrap up my literature review at the end of the semester and to start conducting my interviews soon. In addition, I’m actually looking into using my interviews to write a series of journalistic articles on different aspects of the Danish welfare model. I’ve been in touch with fellow Fulbrighter Ben Schenkel, who is not only conducting similar research but also has a journalism background, so we are currently looking into different stories we could write and different newspapers/publications/online news outlets to whom we could potentially pitch our pieces. Overall, I’d say my research is on track and has been very interesting, I haven’t encountered any major problems or obstacles, and I’ve had solid support from my affiliation. Combined with my classroom experience, I’d say my entire academic/research experience has been incredibly stimulating and rewarding to this point.
Since I studied abroad in Denmark through the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) in spring of 2012, one of the ways I’ve attempted to engage in my community is by re-connecting with my Danish host family and many of their relatives and friends I met during my semester abroad, as well as DIS faculty and staff. I’ve visited my host family twice so far, and they were gracious enough to invite me to join them for both Christmas and New Years – and I could not be more excited to experience my first Danish Christmas with them! I’ve also gotten together with my host mom’s niece and her husband and baby son, as well as my host dad’s goddaughter and her husband and two twin baby girls (I’m convinced they are the three most adorable babies in the Kingdom of Denmark). In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to re-connect with some professors from DIS, including John and Nancy Kelley, Carsten Pape and Jacob Buksti – who also has assisted me with my research. I also recently had the opportunity to meet friends of our family – Poul Arne Hoier and Jytte Hoier – who are Danish. Poul Arne has spent his life working for Lego, and while he was leading the company’s North American sales and marketing operation, he befriended my aunt, uncle and cousins, who were their next-door neighbors in Suffield, Connecticut. I recently visited them in Billund, where they picked me up from the airport, included me in an employee-only tour of the original Lego factory, and then took me to the Legoland park. It was a great experience to finally meet them and to learn more about the history of my favorite childhood toy.
In Århus, I’ve also engaged with my local community in numerous ways. I’ve taken advantage of the free Danish lessons offered by the municipality, and although I’ve found the language quite difficult – even after my previous semester here – it has definitely helped me understand more of the culture and what is said and written around me, and the Danes always appreciate it if you can attempt at least a few words or phrases (even if they switch over to English once they realize you’re not a native speaker ). I’ve also been very involved with a group on campus with brings Danish students and international students in the political science department together for different activities. For instance, we’ve organized a trip to the Aros art museum, a group dinner, a series of get-togethers at Friday bars, and we have a Christmas party planned for later this month. I’ve really enjoyed the chance to not only talk with and learn more from the Danes about their culture and perspectives on politics, the U.S., etc., but also to learn from fellow international students from all over the world. I’ve found our conversations about politics and cultural differences to be incredibly stimulating and one of the most rewarding parts of the experience so far. I think that my classes and especially the outside-of-class group work have also provided opportunities for similar discussions. In addition, I’ve personally organized a series of small, informal dinners with some of the Danes and international students I’ve met, in order for us to get to know each other better and to continue our discussions (I actually have one planned for tonight with a German and a Dane). I even put one of my Danish classmates, who is interested in studying abroad in the U.S., in touch with Anne at the Fulbright Commission. Speaking of Anne, I helped her staff a booth at a study abroad fair she attended in Århus back in October, where I answered questions that Danish students had about studying abroad in the U.S. and offered them the chance to follow up with me by email if they had any additional questions. I’ve also taken the initiative to plan a movie night with the Studenterhus to show the American film Lincoln which would include an introductory lecture by a professor in order to talk about the American political system as it’s depicted in the movie and how it compares to the Danish, and others countries’, systems. We had planned to have the movie night earlier this month, but a scheduling conflict forced the Studenterhus to reschedule it, likely for next semester. I’ve also tried to take advantage of trips offered through the Studenterhus to visit different parts of Denmark. So far, I’ve seen both Skagen and Ribe, two great places which I otherwise might not have visited (Skagen was especially neat with the Råbjerg Mile of sand dunes). And finally, I organized a day-trip to Mols Bjerge National Park for a group of eight of my fellow international students back in September. With the help of the travel agents at the local bus station, I put together an entire travel itinerary for the day, and we managed to see some really neat sights!
Off campus, I’ve been trying to visit some local Danish folk schools/gymnasiums in order to talk with students about the U.S. and answer questions they may have about studying there, as well as cultural differences in general. My flat-mate is Danish and a school teacher, and originally I wanted to visit one of her classes, but she recently switched jobs and is teaching in a new school, which has made arranging a visit more difficult. So, alternatively, one of my fellow international students is actually related to the head of the French language department in all the folk schools/gymnasiums in Århus, so we have been in touch with him about arranging some school visits, which will likely happen sometime next semester. And finally, I’ve really enjoyed the getting to know some of the Danes in my neighborhood of Trøjborg, such as Helle, who is a neighbor in my apartment building and a nurse at the University hospital, and Mohammed, who works the morning shift at the grocery store where I shop, and Sanne, who works at the local DanskeBank branch and who has helped me with several banking-related matters, and Birgit, my primary-care physican. Even the small conversations and interactions we’ve had have been really enjoyable and have given me greater insight into Danish culture, perceptions of the U.S., and why Trøjborg is so much better than its rival neighborhood, Frederiksbjerg .
Finally, I’d like to say thank you to everyone at the Danish-American Fulbright Commission for all of your support and hard work you put in behind the scenes to make everything work so well for us. I’d especially like to say thank you for the generous grant amount we receive. It wasn’t until I started to spend money on food, rent, etc., that I realized just how generous the grant is. It has enabled me to avoid constantly stressing about budgeting by allowing me to buy enough healthy food for myself, pay my rent, and still have money to go out with friends, explore the city and other nearby places of interest in Denmark, and truly get to know Århus, its people and its surroundings without worrying about money all the time. So thank you for providing us the means to learn and experience as much as we can while we’re here!
Well, I should probably wrap things up here, since I’ve already exceeded the three-page limit, but in short, I’ve really had a great time so far, and I’ve tried my best to live up to the Fulbright program’s expectations that I be a cultural ambassador through my academics as well as in my day-to-day interactions. It’s an honor to be able to represent the program and my country and a role that I truly embrace. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience so far, and I welcome any feedback you may have for me.
Med Venlig Hilsen,
As I finish up the third month of my Fulbright experience, I am very pleased overall with the inroads I have made in learning about Denmark and in progressing toward my research goals. These goals have required some adjustment from the original plan I had in mind. Since moving to Denmark, I have gotten more familiar with the political debate on my research topic, inspiring me to explore other aspects of it. Not only has my settling-in phase involved various unforeseen challenges, it also has afforded me the opportunity to develop my knowledge of Danish culture and to reflect on alternative approaches to investigating unemployment policy here.
In this report, I will describe my experiences so far by relating them to the core values of the Fulbright program. They will be grouped for convenience under the subheadings of scholarly inquiry, cultural exchange, and community involvement. While I have tried to devote attention to all of these areas, my specific commitments are still firming up. What will follow in this report are overviews of my progress in the different areas of the Fulbright’s mission, along with a few lines for each subheading on challenges already met and revised goals for the next seven months. The report will conclude with thoughts on the continued relevance of the Fulbright program, and how I aim to represent it well through my research and other affiliations.
With Roskilde University (RUC) as my base, I have researched the system of dagpenge, or unemployment benefits, in earnest. Before arriving in Denmark, I had a much less clear idea of how I would contribute to such an intensely followed and highly contested issue. The faculty member who agreed to supervise my research, Bent Greve, is an authority on Denmark’s welfare state. I am thrilled that he will help to guide and further specify my research, but his current work relates to happiness rather than the labor market. Still, he has been instrumental in pointing me to resources like the Jobindsats.dk website kept by the Danish authorities. To supplement my research, I decided to enroll in two master’s-level classes. These are Public Economics and Global Labor, both of which have contributed to my understanding of the “flexicurity” model at the heart of my research. Just last week I participated in an intensive seminar on Ph.D. research design, which took up every weekday and assigned hundreds of pages of theoretical reading. In advance I was required to submit a formal proposal. This worked as an incentive to speed up my literature review and identify a unique approach. Although I did not emerge from the seminar as a Marxist or poststructuralist, views often associated with RUC, I do appreciate the exposure to other styles of conducting research. My empirical strategy consists of looking at whether the shortening of the maximal allowance period for dagpenge, from four to two years, has caused the average duration of unemployment spells to fall accordingly (or at all). Being so quantitative, this research has seen me thoroughly reviewing econometrics over the last few weeks in order to perform the appropriate statistical regressions. When I get far enough with this particular line of inquiry, I will tack on a “mixed-methods” component that the seminar leaders encouraged of me. This would likely amount to interviewing dagpenge recipients and analyzing their narratives. Whether and how I might broaden my approach is still unclear to me.
Challenges: Getting registered at RUC; formulating my research question; maybe accessing data
Goals: Executing the statistics-based research I set out for myself; hopefully performing well on oral exams for the classes I have been auditing; ultimately getting a journal article accepted
Informing myself about dagpenge rules and the surrounding debate would be extremely difficult if I could not understand articles and studies in their original language. Therefore I have made it a priority to learn enough Danish that I can read it smoothly. I started about halfway into the summer, when I first struggled to find recent and relevant materials on my research subject. Ever since then, I have created a habit out of deciphering newspaper articles—especially those on welfare provision—and turning unknown words and phrases into flashcards. I also enrolled in free language classes at a Sprogcenter. My rising comfort in Danish will be indispensable when I go ahead with approaching some long-time dagpenge beneficiaries, in the interest of fleshing out my statistical findings. Another goal stated in my initial proposal is to publish some freelance articles on the Danish welfare system, particularly how businesses regard it. Originally I counted on “stringing” for the lone Wall Street Journal reporter based in Copenhagen. He left his position roughly coincident with my arrival, though, and so did the regional bureau chief. It appears as if both positions are sitting empty, which means I have held off on getting in touch. Still, with my training in journalism, this represents a possible outlet for covering the welfare state in practice and in a way that American readers could digest. I have worked it out with Nate, also here due to his interest in welfare, that we will attempt to research, write, and pitch these articles as a team. Our first topic will be maternity leave in Denmark, focusing on why companies firms may view it positively and why some like Novo Nordisk even surpass what they are required to provide.
Challenges: Achieving reading fluency in Danish; narrowing down ideas for feature articles
Goal: Breaking down Danish welfare for the American public with a series of co-written pieces
My other affiliation has been with INudgeYou, a research team loosely based out of RUC that runs behavioral experiments on behalf of government ministries and private firms alike. The professor in charge, Pelle Guldborg Hansen, has taken me on as a volunteer researcher. Thus far my duties have been limited to helping the other junior researchers with their English prose, their statistical modeling, and with one experiment itself. For the latter, I spent my Culture Night in Denmark’s food ministry, where a group of us researchers manipulated buffet options and kept careful count of how many people chose a more nutritious option. In addition to that experiment, I am in the process of working with the professor to draft earlier results and also to reinvigorate the team’s blog. This Friday we are meeting to discuss the blog in detail, and next semester I will be assigned to an experiment run in cooperation with an A-kasse unemployment insurance fund. This came as an excellent surprise because of its relation to my research. In the months ahead, once I have solidified a schedule for my INudgeYou obligations, I will volunteer somewhere as an English tutor. I might do this volunteering at Trekroner, same as a previous Fulbrighter whose contact information I got from Christine, or near where I live downtown.
Challenges: Balancing my research obligations with a part-time commitment at INudgeYou
Goals: Taking weekly control of the INudgeYou blog; engaging in regular volunteering work
On a final note, I should comment on how my experience has borne out the importance of the Fulbright program even in today’s globalized world. I was a little skeptical that my presence in Denmark would hold any interest for natives I interact with in my everyday life. Their level of English is usually phenomenal, and many have spent extensive time in the United States. What I have come across, however, is widespread curiosity about American norms. This has given way to numerous conversations with classmates and others, where I tackle misconceptions and have my own eyes opened to certain of my assumptions about the system I grew up in. At a meeting of International Socialists that a classmate invited me to, for example, I was quizzed about the forces behind the high degree of inequality in the United States. No matter how much gets noted and shared across borders, there is no substitute for direct discussion. The Fulbright has already confirmed this for me, as I find Danes wondering about everything from the practice of leaving babies outside to the taboo of wearing “blackface.” And I find myself having to think as well.
Fulbright experience — in progress
My time in Denmark has been everything I’d hoped for; and better yet, many of the less flattering characterizations of Danes and Danish culture have been contrary to my experience. Everyone I’ve met has been friendly, outgoing, helpful, and sincerely interested in what I’m doing in Denmark. This started with Keld Andersen, the man from whom we rented a bike for my wife for our first couple of weeks in Denmark. He was incredibly outgoing and curious about us. I’ve had several subsequent conversations with Keld over coffee. On that same initial bike trip we met a couple from Copenhagen who invited us to join them on a tour of their city when we came for the Fulbright orientation. Poul and Kirsten are now our friends; we have plans to meet up with them again when Judy comes to Denmark for the spring semester, and they’ve agreed to visit us in Chicago.
I’m currently renting a room with a family in Odense, and that has been very illuminating. While the younger children don’t have much experience with English, and tend to be curtly polite, the couple and their older daughter–all of whom have spent considerable time in the US, as well as extensive travel widely in Europe–have been very welcoming. They invited me to join them for a weekend at their summer house in Faaborg, and subsequently to a party they hosted where I met many of their extended family and friends. These introductions led to several invitations to people’s homes for Danish traditional food and stimulating conversation. One of these individuals, Stefan, is studying English education, and I’ve agreed to speak to his class in December about American literature and culture.
My life on campus has been equally gratifying. My colleagues are very inclusive and have invited my input on professional matters of curriculum, study abroad exchange, and scholarly perspective. And we have had a number of convivial social meetings as well. I spent the weekend in Copenhagen at the home of a history colleague and his wife. We’re now talking about their visit to Chicago, as well as the prospect for a house exchange in an upcoming summer. The intellectual life of the university beyond the department has been impressively active. I’ve attended about a half dozen interesting lectures from visiting faculty–Thursday and Friday of this week are reserved for a conference on memory and images of war. This activity has been extremely fulfilling, and a refreshing change from the administration-faculty clashes that have taken up too much energy in American universities in recent years.
Teaching has been about what I was led to expect. Students are generally engaged, though I am surprised at the number of students who simply don’t attend class. I have no idea who they are, and cannot imagine how they will perform on the final exam. My role has extended beyond the classroom. I was invited to talk about my background in American Studies at a “Meet the Faculty” event. And the students in the Danish American Studies Association invited me to speak at a forum on the US midterm elections.
One of the very satisfying aspects of being a Fulbrighter are the invitations to speak at other universities in Europe. In October I spoke on my current research on Mark Twain and property in American culture at the University of Bonn, and on Richard Wright’s Native Son and Jim Crow practices in Chicago at Radboud University in Nijmegen, Holland. Next week I’ll be speaking about race in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn at the University of Nottingham, UK. Talks at the American studies programs in Heidelberg and Fribourg, Switzerland are on the calendar for the spring. These opportunities to address different audiences and to exchange ideas with colleagues in other countries has been a tremendous opportunity, the benefits of which will continue to unfold in upcoming years.
Am I on schedule? To a degree, I suppose I am, though my work on my book has been somewhat less than I’d hoped for. I don’t think the Fulbright experience is responsible for that, however,. My optimism usually outruns my actual productivity.
Problems encountered? None really, though arranging housing from afar was not easy. I lived in four different short-term settings before arranging the house where I’m currently staying. Fortunately, a colleague at SDU will be away in the US for spring term, so I’ll be subletting his apartment for the spring term. We’re looking forward to having a place of our own, and visits by several US friends are on the calendar. While train transportation is quite good overall, when one arrives with personal belongings for a year’s stay, as well as a bicycle, getting from the airport to a distant destination poses logistical difficulties.
In sum, my Fulbright experience has been all that I could ask for. I’ve had a number of US colleagues inquire about my time, and about how to apply, and I’ve encouraged all to consider a Fulbright. And if they can come to Denmark, then all the better.
Reflections on Danish Energy Policy
For the past three months, I have had the pleasure of doing research as a Fulbright-Schuman Scholar in Denmark. The Fulbright-Schuman Program is a joint program funded by the U.S. State Department and the Directorate-General for Education and Culture of the European Commission. It supports research related to U.S.-EU relations, EU policy, and EU organizations. As part of their research, U.S. scholars in the Fulbright-Schuman Program conduct comparative research in at least two EU Member States. I am doing my research in Denmark and Spain.
My research focuses on renewable electricity development and policies in the EU and United States. I hope to gain an understanding of how the EU might design its renewable energy policies and advance its renewable energy goals by considering the experiences of Denmark and Spain in working to promote renewable energy development. I will also apply the lessons from Denmark and Spain to develop recommendations for U.S. renewable policy design.
I have already learned a great deal from my time in Denmark. Denmark has promoted renewable energy development since the 1970s, but it has gotten much more ambitious in recent years. In fact, the current Energy Agreement (passed in 2012) aims to have the country obtain all of its electricity and heat from renewable sources by 2035 and to obtain all of its energy from fossils fuels by 2050. To reach these goals, Denmark is engaged in a great deal of planning and infrastructure development. For example, Denmark’s Energy Agency has prepared various “scenario analyses” that attempt to evaluate the mix of energy resources Denmark could use to reach its 100% renewable goals, the costs associated with pursuing each of the scenarios, and the potential societal costs associated with different scenarios. (For example, if Denmark were to rely heavily on biomass to meet its goals, this would probably make Denmark increasing reliant on imports of biomass from other countries.) Based on these analyses, Danish policy makers will soon choose a pathway for moving forward. Through this planning process, it is likely that Denmark will be able to have a smooth transition to its renewable energy goals. Indeed, one obvious lesson Denmark can teach is how a carefully planned and strategic transition process can help a country meet its energy targets while maintaining an affordable and reliable electricity system.
Denmark also provides a good illustration of how a country without many different renewable energy sources can nonetheless successfully transition away from fossil fuels. Denmark has a lot of wind potential. Although Denmark has some biomass and some solar resources, its transition to renewables has depended and will continue to depend on wind. Conventional wisdom would suggest that a country could not increase its reliance on wind power without expecting serious problems with reliabilty and transmission grid management. Yet, Denmark has demonstrated how cooperative grid management with Norway and Sweden—both of which have ample hydroelectric resources that can provide backup power for Denmark’s wind power—can ensure reliability. Denmark also recently announced plans to install new heat pumps in its district heating plants. These heat pumps will use electricity from wind turbines to bring warm water into homes and businesses. In essence, these heat pumps will help store or convert wind power—which is sometimes more abundant than necessary—into another valuable energy source. This solution illustrates how countries can, with the right planning, transition to reliable energy systems powered by renewable sources.
From talking with experts in the Danish energy sector, I have also gained new insights into U.S. energy policy development. In contrast to Danish energy policy, U.S. energy policy is notoriously volatile and focused on the short-term. Although some states in the United States engage in long-term and forward-looking planning, many states are very resistant to change. Even when change is inevitable, many in the United States resist it. This makes energy planning more time-consuming, difficult, and expensive than it probably should be. This is not to say that Danish energy policy is free of conflicts or dispute; it just seems as though the debates focus much more on how Denmark should achieve its goals, rather than on the goals themselves. And because Danish political leaders and members of the energy industry seem to have a general agreement regarding the end goals, policy changes are much less disruptive to the renewable energy sector. In contrast, many U.S. policies are not linked to express end goals. As a result, if the policies change or expire, the whole industry can crash. As the U.S. renewable energy industry grows, it will need a more reliable and consistent political system. Denmark illustrates how such a political system might form and the benefits that result when policy debates do not threaten the collapse of entire industries.
In addition to this research experience, I have also had a wonderful time living in Copenhagen and experiencing Danish culture. I bought a bicycle the second day I was in Denmark, and biking on Denmark’s extensive bicycling network has become one of my favorite daily activities. I’m a bit sad that my time in Denmark is quickly coming to an end, but I’m sure I’ll be back to continue learning about Denmark’s exciting energy transition and to spend more time in this lovely country.