In times where the worldwide struggle against COVID-19 requires physical distancing to protect vulnerable groups and stop the spread of the virus, new ways of communication help us to stay connected with you. Over the past months, we have created virtual meeting points and transformed our processes from in-person events to digital events, including the online start of the 70th-anniversary campaign, teleconferences, online selection interviews, virtual fairs, and live streaming. We will continue to ensure that all of you have the opportunity to participate in our activities and to find even more positive applications for tools and methods to further enhance our activities and outreach.
It is also noteworthy that this year—despite all the challenges surrounding the worldwide COVID-19 crisis—we have almost doubled the number of applications for the Austrian Fulbright Student Program. This highlights the growing interest of young minds in the program and its mission to promote mutual understanding between the US and Austria. Based on the interviews and the reviews, we have selected a group of bright minds from diverse backgrounds for the 2021–22 program year. All of them are eager to study in the US at top universities and start their preparations for the next steps of their Fulbright Journey.
As troubling as COVID-19 has been, it is not the only difficulty facing the world today: the need for mutual understanding has become increasingly more apparent in the last few months as the global community has also been confronted with social unrest and racial injustice. As society endeavors to make progress in this regard, the values of empathy, hope, cross-cultural communication, and mutual understanding must be at the forefront of our thoughts.
Looking at the history of our program and the achievements of our alums, it is evident that the knowledge and friendships they made during their journeys have helped them to encourage collaboration and promote individual liberty after returning to their home country. As we prepare to send new cohorts of students, scholars, and teaching assistants abroad, we should not forget the lessons learned from the first generations of Fulbrighters to understand how we can take a stand for the values of the Fulbright Program in the future to ensure its participants are as diverse as the countries whence they come.
In times when the guidance of those who came before us is highly relevant, we are filled with sadness and sorrow by the death of a community member who was part of the inaugural cohort of Austrian Fulbrighters. The passing of Wolfgang Wolte is a deep loss for all of us. Through his work at the United Nations in New York, his service as the first ambassador of Austria to the European Community in Brussels, and the insights he shares in his interview with the Audiovisuelles Archiv, a piece of contemporary history will forever be immortalized in his legacy—and through that legacy, his wonderful personality and engagement in the Fulbright community will always be remembered.
70 years after the signing of the bilateral agreement between the Republic of Austria and the United States of America that established a Fulbright commission in Vienna, it is our responsibility to stand up for the core values of the program. Overall, international relations are human relations—and today, bright minds are needed more than ever.
Hermann Agis, PhD