Summer in the city: Family experience in Cambridge, Boston

BY BART BOETS. As summer fades away, the time is ripe to share some of my experiences as a postdoctoral researcher abroad in Cambridge, Boston, where I am a visiting Fulbright scholar at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research (MIT, Cambridge) and the Noninvasive Brain Stimulation Lab (Harvard, Boston). My wife and four children joined me for the summer months — we had a really nice time and a wonderful cultural experience around the MIT lab and Harvard hospital. 

Bart Boets is a father of four and a postdoctoral researcher at KU Leuven’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry research group. His work focuses on the neural basis of developmental disorders such as autism and dyslexia. This post first appeared on the Fulbright Belgium blog.

Even though Boston feels very European, I must admit that the people are much more communicative and sociable than in Belgium. Also the fact that our entire luggage was lost on the flight and did not arrive for six days, certainly added to our integration in the neighborhood, as many neighbors offered us encouragement and clothes, sunhats and sandals to survive these first days (it was about 35° C when we arrived in June).

We live in a small street with a shared courtyard, and virtually all of our neighbors are scientists, professors or medical doctors. Although Cambridge/Boston is a world city, it still feels very manageable, like a village. Illustrative for this small-world feeling is the discovery that the neighbor next-door is the neurologist with whom I am currently having a scientific discussion in Science about the causes of dyslexia and another neighbor is the co-author of an autism paper that I recently had to review for a journal.

Boston offers a lot of scientific but also cultural opportunities. So, while I work in the lab, my family members attended about twenty museums and exhibitions (MIT Museum, Science Museum, Museum of Natural History, Children Museum, New England Aquarium, …). They also visited more than 50 (!) different playgrounds and parks, as literally on every corner of the street you encounter them. During summer many of the parks organize free child activities (sport and play and water games) and even picnics and concerts, which offer plenty of opportunities for integration. Likewise, becoming member of the public library system also offers many advantages. Besides the obvious possibility of renting books, films and music, the libraries offer many cultural and educational activities, like theater and Lego construction afternoons …

Some of these activities are rather spectacular. For instance, if I would see an announcement about ‘Animals in the library’ in Belgium, I would expect a moderate afternoon about animal stories. Not here! My children were very excited to touch a living alligator, skunk, python, hedgehog etc. and get a detailed explanation of a biologist, all in the library. Finally, library member ship also offers coupons and considerable reduction for many museums, excursions and exhibitions.


In sum, living and working in this city is not only a professional enrichment, but also an inspiring experience for each of our family members. Next time, I will tell you more about the continuously great weather, whale watching, beavers, squirrels and snakes, and … possibly also about science …