Every year, Fulbright Austria sends members of its current US cohort to Berlin to attend the Berlin Seminar organized by Fulbright Germany. The seminar focused on courage, diversity, and inclusion and was a chance for attendees to delve into these topics and network with grantees and staff from all over Europe. We asked one of our attendees, Isabel Monaghan, to share her perspective on the Berlin Seminar.
Fulbright Austria Attends 65th Annual Berlin Seminar
Connecting with the Fulbright Idea in Germany
By Isabel Monaghan
In the weeks leading up to the 65th Annual Berlin Seminar, I looked forward to the change of scenery, a welcome respite from my rewarding but sometimes exhausting work in Vienna. Yet upon leaving the conference, I found myself not only refreshed but also reabsorbed in my project and its context within a European framework. This was in large part due to the enthusiasm of the attendees, which never wavered throughout the seminar. Their energy elevated collaborative events and informative talks into productive opportunities for self-reflection and meaningful discourse.
In total, 550 American and European scholars, students, and program officers came together for the conference, which was held 16–20 March in Berlin and coordinated by the German-American Fulbright Commission. Dr. Oliver Schmidt, the executive director of Fulbright Germany, and his team guided us through the programming, which included workshops, panels, talks, and excursions. They were supported by a cast of passionate speakers, the most memorable being Colombian former high commissioner for peace Sergio Jaramillo Caro and former ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich.
Punctuating these events were performances and presentations by current Fulbrighters, among them Fulbright Austria’s very own Theodora Nestrova. For me, these were the highlight of the seminar, as students and scholars from across Europe summarized projects about recovering lost art, artificial intelligence, the unexpected popularity of bluegrass in the Czech Republic, and much more. Additionally there was ample time to meet participants during coffee breaks and meals, and I never tired of hearing people speak about their research and experiences abroad.
The opportunity to see other grantees’ projects and discuss my own offered context to my work as well as to my experience living in Europe. Many of the collaborative panels and workshops prompted us to reexamine our behaviors and daily interactions while also evaluating our environments critically. In these discussions, I found the seminar theme of “courage” proved surprisingly relevant to us as individuals and as intellectuals concerned with global activism and participation. The speakers and panelists emboldened us to confront, negotiate, and celebrate difference actively, beyond the limitations of discourse.
On the last day of the conference, I joined a tour titled the “Refugee Walk,” led by Nafee, a Syrian refugee living in Berlin. Nafee led us around the capital, interweaving the history of the Eastern Bloc with his own experiences in Syria and in Germany. At Checkpoint Charlie he described the uncertainty and violence at checkpoints in Damascus, and at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe he recounted unspeakable acts of brutality seared into his memory. The tour ended at the Brandenburg Gate, with Nafee reiterating the power of goodwill over fear. He manifested the courage that had been underscored over the past few days, both in his decision to come to Germany and his willingness to share his story with strangers.
I was grateful to Nafee for showing us the city that Berlin is, and the city that it has the potential to become. I understood that the decision to hold the conference in Berlin was not random. The city embodies the spirit of conscious transformation fundamental to Fulbright. Attending the seminar, I realized how proud I am to be one of many committed to upholding this tradition of change, and I hope to further it in the future.
Photos courtesy of Isabel Monaghan, Maria Sanchez, and Fulbright Austria