(Above, L-R) Claire Reade, Richard C. Bush, Douglas H. Paul, Yuri Yao-Tsung Chih
On June 27, 2017, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., hosted an expert panel and discussion to celebrate Fulbright Taiwan’s 60th anniversary of educational exchange. Since its inception, Fulbright Taiwan has financed over 3000 U.S. and Taiwan grantees, and in 2017, 144 new recipients will pursue projects abroad. The panel opened discussion on the ever-pressing relevance of people-to-people exchanges, the history and value of U.S.-Taiwan relations, and avenues for future development.
Keynote speaker William Vocke, who currently serves as Executive Director of Fulbright Taiwan, opened the event by recounting his own experiences as a Fulbrighter and expressed how international education fundamentally changes individuals, namely their agendas and perspectives. These influences, Vocke explained, are hallmarks of “soft power,” not necessarily the “hard” forces of economics, politics, and military prowess, but inextricable from them. As an example, he cited the five members of the Taiwanese cabinet who had been former Fulbright grantees. Tasked with reforming Taiwan’s economic system, the cabinet worked closely with the Federal Reserve to exchange concepts and to craft new policy.
Adam Meier, East Asia and Pacific Fulbright Branch Chief of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, added that former presidents Ma Ying-jeou and Chen Schui-bian both came to the United States on exchange programs. Richard C. Bush, Chair in Taiwan Studies at the Brookings Institute, further highlighted Senator Fulbright’s initial vision for the scholarship alongside its enduring strategic importance. “In the shadow of World War II,” Bush explained, the Fulbright program “was the embodiment of soft power before anyone had thought of that term. I think the same can be said of all people-to-people exchanges.”
In his speech, Meier continued Vocke’s discussion by sharing his experiences and insights on the depth and scope of U.S.-Taiwan exchanges. He described how, over the past sixty years, the U.S. and Taiwan have cultivated deep and enduring connections “at every level of society.” Not only do the U.S. and Taiwan share robust trade and investments, but they also collaborate extensively in scientific, technological, and cultural pursuits through AIT-TECRO agreements. However, Meier claimed that “educational exchange is the most important foundation of US-Taiwan relations.” Through personal and professional experience, he has found that “taking part in any exchange, whether it is through the Fulbright program, International Visitors Leadership Program, Peace Corps, teaching in a Taiwan classroom through the ETA program, or coming to the U.S. on an exchange, gives you a chance to make a personal impact, or more importantly, builds the connections between the U.S. and Taiwan, or wherever you go.”
Both Richard Bush and Claire Reade, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, expressed similar sentiments. Bush emphasized how exchange creates human capital, through personal and cultural enrichment, that deeply aids sustained U.S.-Asian relations. Claire Reade, in turn, recounted how studying in Taiwan transformed her life and made her more aware of global affairs. “After I came back, I was very attentive to what was happening in the Asia-Pacific,” she said.
Since its inception, the U.S.-Taiwan Fulbright exchange has continued to create tremendous opportunity and impact. Nevertheless, Richard Bush underscored two challenges that face U.S.-Taiwanese relations: Taiwan’s transition from an authoritative to democratic system and China’s perhaps broader appeal to foreign students and scholars. “One very good exception,” he noted, “is the Fulbright Taiwan program’s outstanding recruitment of American college students to study in Taiwan.” The U.S., similarly, remains a first choice for Taiwanese students aspiring to study abroad. Looking forward, Meier bade governments, organizations, and individuals to better examine the value of educational exchanges. He concluded, “taking the lead to go overseas to teach English in Asia, straight out of college, made a bigger impact on me and my life and my career than anything else I have done.”