The Influence of International Exchange Programs on Diplomacy

“The Influence of International Exchange Programs on Diplomacy”, virtual event with Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering

January 12, 2021

“The Influence of International Exchange Programs on Diplomacy”, a virtual conversation with Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering was hosted by the Fulbright Association took place on January 12, 2021. The conversation was moderated by Manfred Philipp and featured introductory remarks from Richard T. Arndt.

Ambassador Pickering focused his remarks on the role of exchange programs in influencing and empowering American diplomacy. He began with addressing his own personal experience as a young exchange student in Australia. Ambassador Pickering reflected on his research into the post-World War II Australian foreign policy experience and on the benefits of learning about how non-Americans think about foreign policy and economic issues. This formative experience provided an introduction to the life of diplomacy which he had not anticipated. Ambassador Pickering also reflected on how this experience helped him begin to understand the importance of the bulwark of U.S. diplomacy that scholar Joe Nye would eventually come to refer to as “soft power”. The exchange experience also helped him forge lasting friendships with future statesmen.

The second portion of his remarks focused on how exchange programs can contribute to broader U.S. diplomacy efforts. In particular, Ambassador Pickering emphasized how they can help one figure out how countries relate to and understand each other by providing insights, information, knowledge, and mutual understanding that otherwise would not have been possible.

Ambassador Pickering concluded his opening remarks on the need for the United States to turn the corner on isolationism to engagement and the leading role that exchange programs can play in this regard. He suggested that the new Biden administration has an opportunity to expand existing and open up new exchange programs in both directions, including bringing in countries that currently don’t have any programs, developing local commissions to expand existing programs, and looking for new ways to fund them. In terms of the Fulbright Program, he suggested that Congress should appropriate funds that could eventually become part of a self-funded endowment managed by a public-private investment partnership. These funds could be used on an annual basis to match particularly successful and innovative programs with privately raised fund in order to promote new ways of investing in exchange programs. Although there is a need to be respectful of other needs for government funding at the moment due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ambassador Pickering suggested that pursuing Congress to do more should remain a priority. He also proposed organizing an annual meeting between different exchange programs to exchange lessons and best practices and unique approaches and ideas.

During the Q&A, Ambassador Pickering remarked that the United States should not give up on pursuing exchange programs with China, reflecting on his own experience early in his career dealing with China on scientific exchange. Remarking that the U.S. has always “had good friends in Hong Kong”, he strongly cautioned against cutting of Hong Kong residents from exchange programs and urged the Biden administration to “quickly reopen” the Fulbright program with Hong Kong. He also urged the U.S. to “pursue and strengthen” student exchanges with China, noting that the U.S. should still try to serve as an inspiration to the Chinese for freedom and democracy.

To promote new exchange programs, he suggested that the U.S. create a new specific fund to make money available to help match funding with foreign governments that can jointly finance such programs. In response to a question about how to deal with the lack of diversity in exchange programs, Ambassador Pickering stressed the need to use government funding to partner with local groups that can assist with reaching out to diverse communities to better communicate what exchange program opportunities are available.

-Erik Brattberg, a board member of the National Capital Area Chapter.

The event was co-organized by the Connecticut, the Greater New York, Seven Rivers Region, Minnesota, San Antonio, and National Capital Area Chapters of the Fulbright Association, the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the Belle Zeller Scholarship Fund, the CUNY Academy for the Humanities and Sciences, and the US Alumni Association of the German Academic Exchange Service.

Additional information about this event is available on the Calendar Event Page

Watch a recording of the event below:

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