It is strange, indeed, to be an American abroad during this particular political moment. I am a citizen concerned with the direction of the country under the new president, but at times I feel far-removed. Each morning, The New York Times seems to bring further reasons to be discouraged, yet it is impossible for me to join protests in the way that my stateside friends can. When Fulbright researchers, scholars, and English Teaching Assistants in Belgium and Luxembourg gathered in early February at a mid-year meeting, the president’s travel ban was still fresh. “What can we do from here?” a Fulbright researcher wondered aloud. I felt, at that moment, that he spoke for many of us in the room.
Attending the EU-US Seminar for Young Leaders, however, reminded me of one possible, and powerful, answer to his question: observe where we are, ask questions, and take notes. A Fulbright researcher in Hungary, for example, shared observations of a government actively and vocally opposed to the presence of refugees. He recounted watching state-funded news reports televised during football matches which presented images of refugees as violent, dangerous criminals. A Fulbright student in Denmark spoke of his experiences taking the Danish citizenship test, perhaps one of the metrics of how a country defines itself and its citizens. This particular test includes questions about pop culture and films from the 1960s. The student failed it, as did some of his Danish friends when they took it. Who else is excluded from this particular definition of Danish identity?
At a seminar concerning questions of economic, educational, and cultural integration of refugees, it was ever clear that the questions I ask of my own country—What does it mean to be American, for example, and how does the presence of refugees fit into the many definitions of American identity?—are being played out throughout Europe. Perhaps I am not so far-removed, after all.
Luxembourg, where I live and teach, is in the midst of navigating its own negotiations of national identity. Within the months after I arrived here in September 2016, two petitions were submitted to parliament by private citizens: the first, a call to make Luxembourgish the first official language over German and French, was answered by a second petition to ensure that Luxembourg remains a multilingual country where all three languages have official status. This is a country of 575,000 in which nearly half of its residents are not Luxembourgish citizens.
Every day from Monday to Friday, about 175,000 “frontaliers” cross borders from Belgium, Germany, and France in order to work here.
It is inaccurate to suggest that there is one definition of what it means to be Luxembourgish; most people whom I have met, though, are proud of Luxembourg’s cosmopolitism and believe that Luxembourg needs its non-citizen residents and workers. In this view, it is possible for multiple identities to exist here, and therefore refugees are welcome, too.
At the EU-US Seminar, I spoke of encountering this approach at an arts center in Luxembourg City. Receiving state-supported funding as an integration project, it offers opportunities for both refugees and longtime residents of Luxembourg to create art together. I teach piano lessons there, and it is one of the ways that I will best remember Luxembourg: a place where I hear Arabic, English, French, Luxembourgish, German, or Farsi, all at the same time.
– Carly Peruccio
U.S. Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Luxembourg