I am particularly delighted to tell my Fulbright story. My first Fulbright (1983) was in Bordeaux, France. It was there that I did research on the regulation of food intake, particularly the action of insulin on feeding. This research had obvious implications for diabetes research. We used mammals that undergo hibernation to study how food intake changes during the seasons. We chose this animal model because mammalian hibernators do not feed for nearly 7 months; instead they rely on their body fat to provide energy throughout the winter. To this day, what turns off their food intake is still unknown, but we do have a better understanding of what hormones and neurons in the brain are involved.
However, it was just the amazing science experience that made my first Fulbright experience great, it really was the interactions I had with normal French people. First, being able to speak some French was a great help; second, I love food and wine. So, it was like I had come to Nirvana! I was immediately accepted by various food groups around town and got to see how French cooking was done, how wines were made, and how to enjoy them!
I got to know a French family very well since the parents worked in my research lab. They took me to their house every weekend and I experienced French culture at it’s best! I helped and learned how to cook French food and we also toured many Chateaux. We talked about food, wines, politics and science all weekend long. Furthermore, living on the weekends with them created a bond that resulted in their daughter coming to the US and helping my wife and I raise our daughter in her first year of life. And our daughter went back to France and was in their daughter’s wedding! We keep in touch with them to this day!
On my second Fulbright (2000), I was fortunate enough to go to Vienna, Austria and work with wonderful people at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology. Again, the scientific research opportunities were wonderful and I developed several great collaborations, but I was also fortunate enough to make friends with many people who also were interested in science, good food, and wine/beer!
I traveled to many of the historical sites around Vienna, which gave me a new impression about European history. I really got a feel for what it must have been like back in the Middle Ages. Furthermore, I was able to exchange cultural ideas about everything from food and wine to research on mammals since we had weekly seminars and we had a lot of informal meetings—at the institute. People would just stop in my office and ask me questions about anything from what was Colorado like, to aspects of my research. In addition, I spent a lot time with students ranging from post-docs to undergraduates, helping them with projects and scientific concepts. In the end, I learned a great deal about European culture and ethics, and they learned a lot about life as a scientist in the U.S. And it wasn’t always about science or politics; good food and wine seemed to be a common denominator that brought us together.
Gregory L. Florant was at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna in 1999–00.