"The three years as a Fulbright Grantee have been the most incredible years of my lifetime, and have impacted my outlook on life forever. Without the Fulbright Commission and my MPA studies in the US, I would not be where I currently stand. This is especially true, since Kiwanis International is headquartered in Indianapolis, and I would have probably never been in contact with them, if it wasn't for Indiana University and my studies there.”
These were the words I spoke to HE. Mr. William Eacho III, then Ambassador of the United States of America to Austria, when I encountered him during the 50 year celebrations of Kiwanis International in Europe, in March 2013 in Vienna. My words to him started a great discussion that evening, of what it means to be a Fulbrighter and how it changes one’s perspective.
I regard myself being a kind of cultural ambassador of my home country exchanging mutual values and goals.
If someone told me five years ago that I would be working in a multi million dollar campaign, responsible for all of Europe, for raising more than 20 Million US dollars and working with a team of more than 1,300 volunteers, and on top of that having the wonderful opportunity to save millions of lives, I would have probably asked them if they were crazy. Even though it has always been my dream to do something meaningful in life, something with a purpose that can also be measured and achieved. And it wasn’t until I went to the United States and studied Public Affairs with my Fulbright Scholarship that I figured out what that meant - a job and career in the nonprofit sector, working to make a difference every day.
I have found true passion in my work, working as Kiwanis International Campaign Director for Europe, with the worldwide service campaign (The Eliminate Project) to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus by the year 2015 and raise 110 million US dollars, together with UNICEF. In my role as Campaign Director Europe, I am working with nine different districts in Europe, from Italy, to Iceland and the Faroes Islands, and many countries in between. I have learnt what it means to manage volunteers, inspire people, and motivate them to raise funds, and eliminate a deadly disease from the face of the earth through our campaign. I have visited the islands of West Papua, some of the most remote places on earth, and seen there, what true happiness means: smiles on children’s faces because they can go to school, have something to eat, and may be able one day to make a difference themselves.
But being a nonprofit leader is not the only thing Fulbright has taught me. Fulbright also gave me the perspective that I am not only a citizen of my own home country, Austria. I have learnt that I am a citizen of the world. I have learnt that I have the power to change things, to make a difference, if I really want to. We all have that power. We just need to do it.
I have also led a study-abroad program in Germany “SPEA Abroad in Berlin”, at the Hertie School of Governance, and created a unique study-abroad program for my former university in Kenya, together with three other colleagues. The ACCT (Advancing Community, Collaboration and Training International) Program was launched in 2013 and offers the possibility for students to go abroad to make a difference and perform service work and experience what it is like to work in the nonprofit sector out of their own comfort zone.
All of this would have not been imaginable without the possibilities the Fulbright experience has provided me. As a kid, I had a poster on my door that read: Don’t dream your life, but live your dreams!”
And I can say that the Fulbright experience has helped me to achieve exactly that – and so much more.
Ruth Gabler (formerly Pollack) is a graduate of IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems and was an 2009–10 Austrian Fulbright Student at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she received a Masters of public affairs in 2011.