Story published in November 2016 | Interviews conducted in July 2015
Rose Cnudde De Buysscher welcomed me at her house in Durham, North Carolina in July 2015. Born and raised in Heurne (Oudenaarde, Flanders), Rose moved to the United States in 1971. She worked for 35 years in the field of Reproductive and Women's Health all over the planet. She is one of the most well-traveled women I have met since the beginning of SignMyCar!
Over the past 45 years, Rose witnessed big cultural changes in both Belgium and the United States. Rose’s story is very fascinating and could barely fit in a novel. Make sure you watch her video interview and listen to the bonus materials to get a real feel for her life.
Rose moved to Madison, Wisconsin in 1971. In 1970, her boyfriend, Eddy, was in his final year of Veterinary School in Gent, Belgium and wanted to pursue a PhD in the United States. For Rose to be able to go with Eddy, they decided to get married. This is how they moved to the United States 45 years ago. You can watch Rose’s interview to learn all about her Belgian-American life:
The first years were challenging for Rose. She couldn’t work so she often spent time thinking of Belgium and felt very homesick. To keep busy and meet new people, Rose volunteered at the Veteran’s Hospital and joined all kinds of clubs and activities she would not have normally done. “It was a good life. We made a lot of friends. We didn’t have much money but we didn’t miss anything. However, I still felt homesick because it wasn’t easy to keep in contact at that time. We needed to save our money to call Belgium - and we could only talk for 10 min every other month because that’s all we could afford! There was also no good beer or food. Import products were a lot more scarce than they are now. So I tried to keep busy as much as I could. Then Eddy’s mother and my father passed away. We couldn’t attend their funerals because we couldn’t afford the plane tickets. Although I did get to spend some time with my father before he died in 1974. The same year my father passed away, I became pregnant, and Tristan was born in 1975”. Taking care of her child helped Rose keep her mind occupied and move forward.
Family Renuion in front of her Heurne / Oudenaarde Family House in 1967. Rose was about 19 and is surrounded by her paternal grandparents and their side of the family. Rose made this red dress herself.
Rose and Eddy on their wedding day in 1971.
Rose and Eddy on their wedding day in 1971. "Everybody smoked back then" Rose laughs.
Rose and Eddy holding Tristan in 1975. Tristan was only 3 months old.
Baby Tristan in 1975.
The De Buysscher Family in Athens, Georgia in 1976.
Six months after Tristan was born, Eddy was offered a great teaching opportunity at the Veterinary College in Athens, Georgia. The university sponsored them for a Green Card. However, Rose stayed at home to take care of Tristan for an extra two years. Then she decided to take a job at the University Library. “I really needed to get out of the house. Eddy earned a good living, so I didn’t start working to make money - even though it was nice to have extra income. I just wanted to work to be out of the house!”. Working again was a big relief for Rose. “I had a lot of fun at the Library! It was a small town so there weren’t that many places where people could work. There were many people just like me - spouses of professors and international students - working at the Library. We were a happy bunch! I also got to practice my computer skills - you know, it was back in the days when computers had just been mainstreamed.” Rose remembers.
Despite all her friends and new job, Rose still felt a bit weary about living in the South. Moving from Wisconsin to Georgia was a real culture shock. The South was a lot more religious and conservative. Issues involving race were also more abundant and complex. In 1981, Eddy was offered a position at the new Veterinary College in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Tristan and Rose in Durham, North Carolina in 2015.
In 1982, Rose applied for a Program Assistant position with the International Fertility Research Program (now called Family Health International). At the time, the non-profit organization focused on maternal and child health and family planning research and services; later it expanded to include HIV/AIDS and STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) research and prevention programs; gender, women’s studies and reproductive services. Over the years, FHI was awarded many United States Government (USG) funding, including grants from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Health Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as private donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. FHI has offices in more than 70 countries.
Family Health International's logo. Rose worked more than 30 years with them.
Rose on her first assignment overseas in 1983. Behind her are her first manager, Nadine and a team of doctors from all over Africa.
Rose with breaded hair in 1985. "It was before breaded hair became popular" Rose jokes.
Eddy and Rose in Antwerpen, Belgium in 1985.
FHI's Team Party in 1990
Rose stayed with FHI until her retirement in 2014. “I never thought I would have such a successful career! They were very good to me...” Rose smiles. Listen to the bonus audio interview below to hear about how Rose was given the opportunity to learn and grow within the organization. The highlights of her career include two overseas assignments, respectively in Kenya (1992 - 1997) and Namibia (2000-2007) which she explains in her video interview.
Rose talks about how FHI gave her an opportunity to learn and grow within the organization.
In 1992, Rose was promoted to Senior Program Coordinator for the FHI Regional office in Nairobi, Kenya. At that time, Tristan was already 17 and was about to start college. It was decided that Eddy would stay in North Carolina until Tristan graduated from High School. Eddy left soon thereafter for a 4-month sabbatical to India. In 1995-96, he took another sabbatical leave to work in Kenya. Tristan visited his parents every year.
“Actually, there was a joke among Tristan’s friends when they came to the house, that Tristan didn’t really have parents; that we were a figment of his imagination! There was a house, two cars in the garage, the usual family stuff, pictures of “parents” etc. … but no parents! They used to say that Tristan was parentless.” Rose laughs. “We were quite a traveling bunch of people.”
FHI Regional Office in Nairobi, Kenya in 1993.
Rose with her coworkers and their kids in Kenya.
Rose and Eddy on a boat trip in Namibia.
Eddy flying over Namibia.
Rose at Fish River Canyon in 1997.
Rose in Madagascar in 2007.
After her first assignment in Africa, Rose returned to North Carolina in 1997. She worked as Senior Clinical Research Manager for three years in the HIVNET division, During that time she was responsible for several research studies that focused on HIV and Hormonal Contraception, STI research, microbicides and also managed a laboratory study that looked at the different HIV clades (different strains of the virus). She assisted in setting up the clinical research sites, including training of local staff, from Thailand to Eastern and Southern Africa. She would regularly go on a six-week mission overseas. Over the next three years, Rose would spent more time abroad than in the United States.
In 2000, she became the Country Director for the FHI/Namibia office, where she managed a USAID-funded Prevention, Care and Treatment Program for HIV/AIDS. You can hear all about that part of her life in Rose’s video interview! In 2001, Rose’s husband retired early and joined her in Windhoek. “At the beginning of our marriage, I was the one who followed him. And then Eddy followed me” Rose smiles.
Rose and Eddy moved back to North Carolina in 2007. Rose became Deputy Director of the PROGRESS project (family planning research) and worked with Family Health International until her “retirement” in 2014. However, she still does freelance work for them, as well as for Jhpiego, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University. It is more accurate to say that Rose is now semi-retired.
Since their return to America, Rose and Eddy bought a small house in the Appalachian mountains in Virginia. It is their sanctuary. Nature has always played a huge part in their lives. Eddy is a big birder and Rose is a big gardener (and divine cook by the way!). Whenever Rose is surrounded by Nature, she can just feel the stress get out of her body. She loves being around animals. They have chickens, guineas and sheep. They also have an adorable Ridgeback Dog, Tara. Tara is Rose’s fourth Ridgeback dog. Rose adores this breed of dog: she has had a Ridgeback friend by her side since Kenya (1993)!
Rose is very passionate and deeply believes in the importance of getting involved and becoming an activist for the causes that are close to her heart. She has been a lifelong supporter of Women’s Rights, social justice, the LGBT community among others. She became a member of the American Civil Liberties Union soon after her arrival in the US. Protecting civil and women’s rights is one of her priorities. She participates in protest marches locally around the Research Triangle Park area (Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh) and occasionally in Washington, DC.
Although she doesn’t really like politicians, being politically involved is very important to her, as you can hear in the bonus video below. “I write to my congressmen, I write to the President, I write to my senators”. Watch the bonus video interview below to discover how Rose actively contributes to the democratic process (Rose became a dual citizen in 2010).
In this BONUS interview, Rose talks about feeling American and the importance of getting politically involved for the causes that are deep in our hearts.
Rose also deeply cares for the environment. She grows some of her own food and recycles and composts almost anything and everything. Rose had solar panels installed at her house in 2014 and also purchased a hybrid car when she came back to the US in 2007 - the latter has numerous bumper stickers about causes she believes in and supports.
Rose's car speaks for itself
A very special thank you to Rose for spending weeks hunting her house for old pictures and digitalizing them. SignMyCar! usually captures its own pictures to tell participants' stories.
If you like this story and want to see more mini-documentaries on Belgians in America, please support SignMyCar! on our GoFundMe page!
(Stories to be published in November 2016)