I am in orientation and strategic planning sessions in Washington, DC over the next few days for the Fulbright Ambassador Program — a yearly meeting for the current cohorts of Fulbright Ambassadors. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet with previous, current and newly appointed Fulbright Ambassadors and learn about the deep impact of Fulbright programs — here in the US and across the world.
We started this morning with introductions — there are US Fulbright Scholars from across the country here and everyone has amazing stories to tell. Stories about how transformative and singular the Fulbright experience is and how the power and legacy of the Fulbright experience continues beyond the semester or year abroad. Ambassadors here used these words and phrases to describe their experiences – idealism, transformative, viral, intimate, passion, give, learn, build, inspire, mentor, unmatched, serendipity, acculturation, community, writing, gift, giving and getting back much more in return, adventure, perspective, creativity, networking and friendship.
Reflecting back on my personal experience and story is an endless wonder. A year spent living in Ireland — learning about the culture and the people, and acculturating deeply into my Limerick and Dunqiun communities and the Irish arts community — was a rare and transformative experience. I met so many wonderful people — students, faculty and administrators in many Irish universities, community music-makers, working Irish artists and musicians, people working in social justice arenas and politics, and the amazing staff in the Irish Fulbright Commission in Dublin. And, during my sabbatical in spring 2011 in Dunquin, Co. Kerry, my Fulbright experience from 2006-2007 was beautifully deepened and enriched as I extended my Irish-based work, vision and networks.
I met Martin Kearney in Dunquin during my sabbatical year in Ireland, and spent my sabbatical semester five years later focused on his life and the history and culture of the Blasket Islands — past and present — in Dunquin, Co. Kerry, Ireland and the transmission of that culture in Springfield, MA communities. The Fulbright Scholars program allowed me the time and space to really focus — to read, study, learn, write, think, live and be a part of a community in another place and culture. Those experiences moved me to want to do more. This will be engaging and passionate lifelong work for me — and for my colleagues in the Fulbright program as US Scholars and as Fulbright Ambassadors.
Take a look at The Fulbright Experience, a film about the Fulbright Scholar Program — the nation’s flagship program for international scholastic exchange.
What a wonderful thing — I am a Fulbrighter. My story and experiences, and the stories and experiences of all of my Fulbright colleagues in this room today and beyond, continue to inform and transform my concept of the world and my identity and work as a cultural ambassador.
One Fulbrighter here at the meeting today was a Marine in Vietnam and then joined the Peace Corps and worked in social justice issues and international diplomacy before landing in his current position as an International Education Administrator. Another is a practicing attorney who worked in South America on dispute resolution issues. Another taught Israeli Studies at the largest Muslim university in the world. We are artists, diplomats, scientists, technologists, writers, thinkers, lawyers — teachers, learners, mentors, leaders, explorers, connectors and scholars. We are people who believe in the power of travel and study to provide opportunities for deep acculturation and learning about another culture on their terms — in order to break down barriers and build bridges between countries, communities, people and ideas.
Michelle gave the opening remarks this morning and shared this information:
- There have been over 310,000 Fulbright alums from programs in 50 countries
- Congress is on of our stakeholders
- This is a US State Department-sponsored public diplomacy program
- We are cultural and educational ambassadors
- Many people are eligible, at all levels and across all disciplines
- Diversity is encouraged – geographic, ethnic, and institutional
She discussed how to demonstrate Fulbright’s impact – helping others understand why it’s an important program and its incredible impact. She highlighted the program’s cost effectiveness, while also pointing out budget austerity measures and she discussed the institutional impact of Fulbright and its value – and why it’s important for administration to offer support (sabbatical, etc.) for Fulbrighters. She discussed the importance of educating students and colleagues about the program, creating international environment, and both sending and receiving Fulbright scholars. Michelle said that Fulbright is looking to social media to showcase and advocate for the program, and to gather fans and followers to enhance and further discussions. This scholar demographic is growing quickly – many are engaging in online discussions.
It is an amazing program and I feel so fortunate to have had a Fulbright and to be a Fulbright Ambassador. I will always be a Fulbright Ambassador — after my active appointment ends, I will become an Ambassador Emeritus and continue to do outreach and advocacy for this wonderful program and its people — here and across the world.
Take a look at the Fulbright Ambassador program.
Take a look at the programs that Fulbright offers.
If you have questions about the program or would like to schedule a Fulbright Ambassador presentation, please contact the Council for International Exchange of Scholars.
Andy Riess, an amazing and deeply committed global citizen, closed our work today with a discussion about numerous advocacy initiatives in the Fulbright Program and the power of Ambassadors sharing their work and stories in the world.
Take a look at internationally renowned glass artist, Dale Chihully, speaking about the impact of the Fulbright program.