When we concluded our 42nd Annual Conference in 2019, we were unaware that it was the last time our community would gather in person for the next two years. At that time, the idea of a virtual conference seemed unthinkable. However, when the world shut down in March 2020, it soon became not only plausible, but imperative to move to the digital world in order to keep our community safe. Therefore, we decided to hold our 43rd and first virtual conference in October of 2020.
One year later, we found ourselves faced with the same dilemma: should we hold a virtual conference? After all, 2021 celebrates a significant milestone: the 75th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program. Although we hoped to celebrate in person, the Fulbright community reacted with enthusiasm and support when we announced that the 44th Annual Conference would be held virtually. In fact, the digital nature of the conference allowed us to celebrate the 75th with presenters and attendees from all corners of the globe. This year’s theme, “Fulbright at 75: Celebrating a Legacy of Global Friendships,” paid homage to this worldwide network and highlighted the role of relationships in the Fulbright Program’s history.
After an exciting session about “Fulbrighters Reaching Out Across the World,” the Opening Plenary took a deep dive into the Fulbright Program’s Past, Present, and Future. Cynthia Baldwin, FA’s Vice Chair and plenary moderator, opened the program by noting that we are “celebrating not only the past, but where we are going.” Lonnie Johnson, who previously served as the Executive Director of the Austrian Fulbright Commission, provided historical context for the Fulbright Program. Tehri Mölsä, CEO of the Fulbright Finland Foundation in Helsinki, shared several observations about the present-day program. Lastly, Jay Wang, Director of the Center on Public Diplomacy and Associate Professor at USC, looked to the future of Fulbright, addressing the impact of issues such as digitalization on the experiences of Fulbrighters.
The conference sessions and posters allowed the Fulbright community to showcase the incredible work they are doing throughout the world, in addition to addressing current global issues. Several themes were explored over the three days, including: “Climate Change,” “Global Citizenship,” “Health, Housing and Social Value,” “Immigration, Culture Wars, and Human Rights,” “Education, Covid-19, and Mental Health,” “Storytelling,” “African Americans and Innovative Fulbrights on Five Continents,” and “International Networks, International Health, and Cultures.” See our program for more details on individual sessions.
One new aspect of this year’s conference was the Virtual Art Exhibition. The exhibition presented work made by past Fulbright recipients with some pieces for sale. An Artist Panel on Day 3 of the conference gave attendees an opportunity to hear from some of the featured artists about their inspirations, backgrounds, and techniques.
The Selma Jean Cohen Dance Lecture Award session, an annual conference favorite, featured the 2021 award recipient Dana Tai Soon Burgess, a “leading American choreographer and cultural figure.” Conference attendees learned about Michio Itō, an early twentieth-century modern dancer whose legacy inspired Burgess to create spaces for Asian-American dancers in a field that often neglects them. A member of Burgess’ dance company performed a rendition of one of Ito’s seminal pieces.
As always, the 44th Annual Conference would not have been possible without our donors and sponsors. Sponsors included: Rice University, Penn Arts and Sciences – Cinema and Media Studies, The University of Alabama, National Peace Corps Association, Auburn University, and the Bureau of Educational Affairs and Cultural Affairs. Additionally, many young professionals were able to attend the conference through the 2021 scholarship, funded by Manfred Philipp.
We are grateful to each and every person who made this year’s virtual conference a success. Next year, we plan to reunite in person for our 45th Annual Conference and look forward to another year of celebrating the Fulbright community.
-Christine Oswald, Assistant Director for Chapters and Institutions