I came to Austria as a Fulbright grantee in the late summer of 2012. As one of a handful or so of full research grantees, I immediately felt the need to excel at my proposed research topic and positively represent both the Fulbright organization and more broadly, a young American from a modest background living abroad for the first time. It is easy to overlook the necessity of a program like the Fulbright whose effects are not always easily quantifiable in numbers, output or economically.
But after my experiences as a grantee there is absolutely no question of the grave importance of the Fulbright program. The reasons for this are innumerable but I will provide some examples from my personal experience.
It was immediately obvious to me that although many people (especially people my age) in Austria speak English, well or perfectly, they have little to no firsthand experience interacting with and engaging with an American abroad.
For that reason many peoples first impressions of the general category of US American is limited to exposure from:
- military personal
- media (in the form of American TV and movies)
- pop culture (primarily musicians)
- mediated representations of American ideals and values vis-a-vis contemporary news media, and
- American tourists.
It is obvious to me that this sample of the American population in no way gives an accurate representation of the diversity of ideas and values that can be found in American society.
How then are we as Americans to bridge this gap between the insufficient sample of representations of American ideals and values abroad? The Fulbright program. It is and has been one of the most culturally and significant vehicles for sending Americans abroad to represent our culture and values in a huge variety of contexts, all of which are practical and relevant for the betterment of a global understanding of America as a whole.
The effectiveness of the Fulbright program as a whole extends far beyond the (very long) list of high achieving individuals from Nobel prize winners, scientists, politicians, cultural producers, teachers etc...
The very notion of decreasing the funding for such an effective and important program is absurd. There is no replacement for the Fulbright program and that ought to be obvious to anyone remotely familiar with it.
There is no other way of improving cultural understanding of Americans living abroad beyond the insufficient representations available (listed above 1 - 5).
Randy Sterling Hunter is a graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in philosophy and studied at the University of Vienna as an US Fulbright Student in 2012–13. He came back as an US Teaching Assistant in 2014–15.