Fulbright Austria’s mission is promoting mutual understanding, cooperation, and knowledge transfer between Austria and the United States. We fulfill this mission by sponsoring educational and cultural exchange programs for individuals and institutions, thereby building long-lasting bridges and friendships. Now—after the interviews for the Austrian Fulbright student candidates for the 2022–23 program year and before the interviews for the Austrian Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant candidates—it is a good time to reflect on what is an integral part of the program.
A key quality we are looking for in the candidates for a Fulbright grant is the ability to bring Austria and the US a bit closer together. In other words, we are looking for cultural ambassadors that present their home country in its different facets. It is not only about communicating the rich history of Austria or the US, it is also about being there as an authentic Austrian or US citizen in the host country, dismantling stereotypes with personal interactions and each indvididual’s very unique personality. This requires a unique openness to different cultures and the willingness to face one’s own stereotypes as well. Our program participants may start their journey as cultural ambassadors of their home country, but upon their return from their time abroad, they become cultural ambassadors of Austria and the US. Many of them continue to promote cultural understanding in their profession as experts in their field, in academia, in the arts, in the media, and in their everyday life.
So the candidates we select have high potential and showcase excellent academic abilities and a willingness to contribute to the community abroad and to give back to their home community after their return. They are the ones who help us to fulfill the goal of the program. Without the dedication of our program participants, the Fulbright Program would be just another exchange program—but talking to our alums, one realizes that the program is much more than this. As an Austrian high-school student in our recent panel discussion on the US Teaching Assistantship program said, “The English language has become the way we can openly share our feelings.” In the classroom with the help of Austrian teachers and US teaching assistants, high-school students from different backgrounds who might not share the same mother tongue build together a safe space in the process of learning English. Our Austrian teaching assistants share similar experiences with us upon their return to Austria, and similar magic happens in the US and Austrian Fulbright Student and Scholar Programs.
As everything is starting to open up after lockdowns, traveling—which was so difficult in the past year—is becoming possible again, and so many of us are about to start our summer holidays. Let us not take the new opportunities for granted. Let us follow the wonderful example of our more than 10,000 Fulbright Austria program participants and alums and serve as cultural ambassadors wherever our holidays take us… and as Epictetus once said, “There is no shame in making an honest effort.”