Alumnus of the Month: Eliane Van Stichel

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Eliane Van Stichel
Belgian Fulbright Grantee, 1963-64
Spanish/English Linguistics, Wichita State University, Kansas

“This led to everything else in my life.”

Eliane Van Stichel’s Fulbright Grant took her to Wichita University in 1963, where she majored in English and Spanish, given her career as an interpreter. Over the course of the year, she obtained a BA. This later inspired her to pursue studies at Middlebury College (3 summers and work at VUB) for an MA. After several years of teaching at the International School of Brussels, she took sabbatical leave and started a PhD with NYU in Madrid. Later she was accepted at the University of New Mexico where after 4 years she received her PhD in Spanish Linguistics. She then took up a position as professor of Spanish Linguistics at San Diego State University for 3 years. She is grateful to Fulbright for inspiring her to continue her studies towards a PhD. During her conversation with Dr. Jane Judge, Dr. Stichel expressed her enthusiasm for the Fulbright program and her experiences many times. She also discussed some of her fondest memories, including those created by the alumni community after she completed her grant. For Dr. Stichel, the Fulbright has never stopped shaping her life.

What made you decide to apply for a Fulbright grant and how did you choose your program?
It was one of my teachers at the interpreter school who had said, “Go to the States, ask for a, go to the Fulbright office, ask for a grant.” And I did, got it, and then realized when I was in the States how prestigious it was.

In those days I went by boat, from Rotterdam, I believe. Six days to New York. It was an inexpensive way to get to the States. I went on the Queen Mary. I did chose Wichita, Kansas, because of the additional Rotary scholarship I had gotten, but also because they had a very good Spanish department. Because I was allowed to chose which place I would want to go to, and, again there were very few foreign students. I didn’t want to go to the States and be member of a big foreign students’ club, like UCLA. That was not the point. I wanted to be a bit more special, and it worked exactly that way.

It was something special, and it still is special, and it has been special ever since.

What has your experience been of the Fulbright alumni community?
When you meet people who have had a Fulbright, you have this thing in common, and especially in those days, having been to America. Because, when we came back, we had a very, very active Fulbright alumni in Belgium. Very active. We were–besides Germany, Germany was the most active because they also had the most people, they had a bigger group–but we had chapters in each of the nine Belgian provinces and Luxembourg. So we had nine activities per year, and with Luxembourg ten activities per year to welcome the American Fulbrighters, so that Americans would see every part of Belgium and Luxembourg. Every chapter would organize a speaker, an activity, a lunch, whatever. Lots of the these Fulbrighters were prestigious people to begin with. So we would have a personal visit of the parliament, for example. We were invited, I remember, to the gin factory in Liège, or something, but again with the owner because he knew the Fulbright guy from Liège, who could get us in. And then we would have lunch with the mayor and be invited to the hôtel de ville. It really was very special, and of course, all these Americans were able to enjoy it, too.

As I said, they always had very, very special events. Things that you could never do on your own, even as a Belgian. We would visit places. Of course, the grantees were always included. I remember one of these international meetings was on the young entrepreneurs of the Fulbright. These were young Fulbrighters who were entrepreneurs and had, they just had started all these new ideas while they were on their Fulbright. I mean, it was amazing. We discovered our own country as Belgians through the monthly activities. Your own country inside! I mean, you go as far as the US but you’ve never been to Leuven properly. Because it’s there, you don’t go there. You know, in the summer we Belgians went to Spain or Italy, but we didn’t visit our own country. And now I’ve learned to do that.

Eliane Van Stichel Kansas 1963

Eliane Van Stichel Graduation 1963

What are some of your favorite memories of your time in the States?
Again, in those days–because now so many people who have a Fulbright have already been in the United States. You know, they’ve been as a tourist. But for us, this was [gasp] I mean… I remember saying, “I’m going to the New World” rather than America [laughter] because it was! But it was fun.

Oh, it was wonderful for several reasons. Very few foreign students, which, again, I loved. They took care of me because there were so few foreigners. So, I gave I don’t know how many speeches. I remember–about Fulbright and what I was doing–I remember being picked up in Kansas by this guy who had said, “Will you come and talk to our Rotary Club chapter?” “But of course!” You know, I had my speech all ready, and he came and picked me up with his private airplane. [Dr. Judge: My goodness!] [whisper] I know! These people were so interested in what you as a foreigner are doing on your Fulbright year in the States. Extremely welcoming.

For the Christmas holidays, I hopped on a Greyhound bus in Wichita, Kansas, and ended up in Mexico City! Loved it. And, again, before I left, the administration had said–somebody from the Fulbright, “Are you gonna be ok? Let us give you the address of some Fulbrighter in Mexico City.” I thought, “Hmm, maybe.” So, I took that, I mean, if you’re young, you know, you’re not aware of danger but anything could have happened, really. So they gave me that address and I did contact them. I went to one of their meetings–oh, he lived in a in a beautiful glass house, I do remember that–yes, and went to one of the meetings. Stayed in a little hotel, but, again, it was through Fulbright having given me this that I was able to…. and then I just spent some time in Mexico.

What is Fulbright’s role in today’s world, particularly with the rise of online and distance learning programs? What would you say to someone who came to you asking about advice and information about Fulbright?
I’d bring them to your office! [laughter] Absolutely. I mean, it a unique experience. I mean it is. It is invaluable. It cannot be replaced by anything else. A year away, a year of discovery, a year of meeting things that are everlasting that lead to so many other outlets, so many other possibilities. Yes, I mean, if I hadn’t had it, I would not have continued my studies, probably, and this led to teaching at San Diego State. I mean it’s amazing. It’s that motivation to do, to go ahead, to get launched, and to move. Absolutely.

It led to lasting impressions which will be treasured forever and friendships will be treasured forever. Still now I’m in touch with people I met then.