Hello everyone! I have been spending my year as a Fulbright grantee in the beautiful city of Maastricht in Netherlands. It has been an incredible year so far! I am using my Fulbright year to pursue a master's degree in European Studies on Society, Science, and Technology. Ever since beginning my studies in engineering, I have had questions about how the engineering work that I am doing fits into the broader societal picture and this program has been a fantastic way to explore these questions from many perspectives.
I have had courses in social science, history, innovation studies, evolutionary/institutional economics, and politics, but all with a focus in probing deeper into the concept of science and technology development. My class demographics have only made the experience richer. We have 18 students with 13 different nationalities, and disciplinary backgrounds including economics, journalism, astrophysics, political science, psychology, and many others. This has made for some incredible discussions both inside the classroom and while hanging out after class. We've all grown to know each other pretty well, though a lot of the class is now sadly away doing research abroad.
I completed my classes in mid-March and I have been working entirely on research focusing on energy transitions since then. I am doing research on small-scale heat to electricity devices and their potential for societal acceptance, a project that was started by a passion that I developed for these technologies while working with them at my job prior to my Fulbright year. I am also working on a research project looking at the rebound effect, which describes the fact that monetary savings from energy efficiency increases are often spent on things which negate or at least reduce the energy savings. I am researching how this effect plays out in Dutch cities which are working toward concrete, city-wide energy reduction goals.
This part of my research was entirely inspired by my time living in the Netherlands; Maastricht is a well-designed, walkable city that really feels like a community, and because of its design I naturally use much less energy for day-to-day life. Living in this context made me fascinated with how city design and layout affects both energy usage and quality of life, and how cities can grow and change over time.
Outside of my studies, I have had plenty of time to explore. In my free time, I have been playing violin in the university orchestra, rock climbing with the university climbing club (one of the highlights of this Fall was a weekend in France at the place where bouldering-style climbing was invented), and spending time at some amazing organizations throughout the city that focus on community-building and bringing people together.
I've also been focusing on sustainability through my extracurricular activities. Maastricht University has a student-run organization called the Green Office, which receives funding and support through the university. I've been volunteering with them to work on student-run education initiatives and to give technical recommendations on energy improvements that could be made throughout the university. I'm planning for this to take up a bigger percentage of my time over the next few months, as the Green Office seems to be really making a difference.
In addition, I've been doing a lot of exploring of the Netherlands and Europe recently by combining travel with conferences or lectures, either related to my research or to Fulbright. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend incredible EU Fulbright conferences in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. You can read about the fascinating seminar in Belgium and Luxembourg here (http://www.fulbright.be/2015/2015-eu-and-nato-seminar/), where we visited NATO, the European Commission, the US Mission to the EU, the College of Europe, the European Court of Justice, and the residence of the Ambassador to Luxembourg. I learned an incredible amount about EU politics through all of these visits!
Meeting so many other Fulbrighters who are deeply involved with such a large variety of research topics was really inspiring, and is a fantastic way to learn about other perspectives for looking at the world. During the conference in Germany, I even hung out with Ilana Walder-Biesanz '13 who is also doing a Fulbright this year!
Olin Reunion with Ilana in Berlin!
The Fulbright year is fantastic and if you are interested, I would highly recommend going for it. The combination of experiencing a new culture and many new fields while also having the freedom to learn and explore is unlike anything I have experienced in my life before now. It has certainly had immeasurable impact on both my professional and personal development.
Stereotypical Netherlands Tulip Picture - from a 40km bike ride through the tulip fields this past weekend!