Neerja en España #7: The Fulbright Research Seminar

Originally written November 2019

In late November, the Fulbright research seminar gave me an incredible weekend in Madrid. (Wow, I have a lot of nostalgia for that weekend.) The Spanish Fulbright Commission brought us all to Madrid for a couple of days to talk about our research and hang out, and it was a ton of fun.

My weekend started on a Thursday: two of my college friends visited Spain, so I got to Madrid a day early to hang out. It felt surreal to hear stories that mentioned “flitzes” (a flirty blitz - asking someone out via email), a term that only exists very specifically within the Dartmouth bubble, after so many weeks without even talking to any Americans. We spent a great afternoon and evening walking around the city, going to museums, and getting tapas. Three highlights: getting some delicious sangria at a tapas bar, finally going to the Museo Reina Sofia, and discovering the best chocolate croissant of my life the next morning at my friend Jiachen’s recommendation to try out the famous and very crowded Madrid bakery La Mallorquina. (I definitely made it back to that bakery in future trips to Madrid).

After I parted ways with my friends, it was time for the research seminar! Everyone was arriving at different times, so after checking into the hotel, me and a few other Fulbrighters walked around and discovered an amazing place with great healthy, vegetarian options. Then, after a quick cafe con leche, we made our way to the university where the seminar was held.

The seminar consisted of a mix of remarks from alumni, people at the commission and even someone from the embassy, small group workshops, poster presentations, and individual presentations. It was great to reconnect with everyone, hear about the research they were getting into, and hear about how they were adjusting to living in their various cities in Spain. I loved learning about my fellow grantee’s research projects, spanning disciplines from the implications of fashion in Spanish history to using complex systems to model the behavior of ants.

Compared to orientation, I felt a lot less overwhelmed, and that I actually knew people better this time, so gatherings felt much less like networking events and more like a wonderful chance to hang out and catch up. The moments throughout the seminar where we got to talk and the big dinner most of us went out to didn’t feel like nearly enough. Every conversation felt meaningful, whether it was about marathon training or interdisciplinary research or Spanish politics or adjusting to our host cities. I had assumed that the other grantees would be very accomplished and interesting, and that assumption was proved extremely true as I got to know them, but I also got to see how passionate, caring and kind the other Fulbrighters are.

On the second day of the seminar, I got to present my research. I don’t love public speaking and felt a bit nervous, but this was a really great opportunity. After I presented many friends, even some with non-STEM backgrounds, told me that felt like they had an idea of what I was doing with my research, which was pretty awesome :)

Me during my presentation!

The seminar ended with a Thanksgiving lunch, which was the sweetest ending note possible.

The night after the seminar, I stayed in Madrid and hung out with Fulbright friends. One of my new Fulbright friends who is doing her Master’s in the city graciously hosted me, and I had a lovely time getting to know her better. A bunch of us went out to the famous Teatro Barceló until 6 am (I said I would do it once, and now I never want to again) and it was a fun experience. Not quite as fun, but still an experience, was waking up at 11 am the next morning for the Spanish Civil War tour. A Fulbright grantee who is currently doing his PhD in Spanish history led us around Madrid and showed us places of significance in the Spanish Civil War - so cool and a unique view of a city I’m getting to know and love. Overall, lots of memories were made and much bonding occurred that weekend!

Neerja Thakkar
Neerja Thakkar
EECS PhD Student @ Berkeley
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