Fulbright Program Receives First Funding Increase in 12 Years

Fulbright Program Receives First Funding Increase in 12 Years

By Melanie Horton-Dirschberger, former Fulbright Association board member and Chair of Advocacy Advisory Committee 

Left to right: John Bader, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Melanie Horton

Last May, we reported that the Fulbright Program may finally get a spending increase, thanks in part to the Fulbright Association’s advocacy efforts.  The House Appropriations Committee had endorsed a $10 million increase to the fiscal year 2022 funding level of $275 million, thanks to the strong leadership of Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY). The Senate Appropriations Committee followed their lead and went further, proposing a $15 million increase. We are grateful for the support of former Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) who has always been a strong champion of the Fulbright Program, right through his last year in the Senate. 

After several nail-biting months waiting for news, through the passage of continuing resolutions to fund the government at then-current levels while lawmakers worked toward a compromise, Congress passed the fiscal year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, signed by President Biden into law on December 29. The bill includes a $12.5 million increase for the Fulbright Program – bringing our fiscal year 2023 funding to $287.5 million – our first increase in 12 years! This achievement is the result of years of hard work and dedication of Fulbright Association staff, board members, commission directors, and volunteers, and gives us all a reason to celebrate. It is also just a starting point; after a dozen years of flat funding, we have a long way to go before we’re where we need to be.

As I reflect on six years as a board member for the Fulbright Association, the last two also spent as Chair of the Advocacy Committee, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned along the way that I hope can inspire other members of the Fulbright community to become advocates. 

If you’re new to advocacy, it can seem a bit daunting at first. What could our Congressional representatives possibly learn from us? The truth is, a lot! Members of Congress cannot be experts in each and every federally funded program, and meetings with passionate advocates are helpful to them for many reasons. First, we share important historical context and key stats they may be unaware of, helping them to become better versed in the details. Second, by sharing our Fulbright stories, we bring a human element to the program and demonstrate just why it’s so important to our country’s national security and to achieving international understanding. When building a budget lawmakers are tasked with weighing many competing priorities, so information and context provided by program experts (us!) is helpful to their decision-making process. 

After going virtual for the last few years, the Fulbright Association is bringing back its in-person day of advocacy on Capitol Hill to continue our fight for increased funding. The event is scheduled for Thursday, April 20, the day after the Fulbright Prize ceremony, and is open to all members of the Association. If you can’t make it to D.C., there are other opportunities. Advocating at the local level in your Congressperson’s home office is equally important and effective. The Association will be coordinating with chapters to organize these meetings throughout February and March, so make sure you’re a member of your local chapter and reach out to chapter leadership for additional information and to let them know you’d like to be involved. 

If you’ve ever thought about advocacy, this is your chance to share your story and make your voice heard. Remember – you are the expert, and we need your support! No prior experience is necessary, and volunteers will participate in a training session in preparation for their meetings with their advocacy teams. 

Being an advocate for something we’re passionate about is exciting, but it’s also hard work and can be frustrating. Each year, hundreds of organizations compete for limited federal funding, and not all of them will get what they’re asking for. That’s why we continually review and refine our messaging and strategy. If we’re not rewarded with an increase, it doesn’t mean we give up; it means we regroup, pivot, and try again. This past year, the Association met with Fulbright champions in both the House and Senate to better understand the challenges as well as seek advice on what we should focus on and emphasize in our advocacy to best make our case for increased funding. We engaged Members of Congress not only in meetings but also by inviting them to our events so they could experience firsthand the impact of the Fulbright Program. 

We all know what makes the Fulbright Program great. For over 75 years, the Fulbright Program has advanced mutual understanding between the U.S. and 160 countries around the world, and those of us who have served as grantees can think back to numerous examples of how we worked to help achieve just that. At this time of international conflict, our world needs more opportunities for international exchange.  Let’s take a moment to celebrate this long-awaited and much-deserved win. And then get right back to work to make the Fulbright Program stronger than ever. There has never been a more exciting and crucial time to be involved. 

The Fulbright Community Honors the Life of Mark Bookman, Vice President of the Fulbrighters with Disabilities Chapter

The Fulbright Community Honors the Life of Mark Bookman, Vice President of the Fulbrighters with Disabilities Chapter

We are saddened to share that Mark Bookman, PhD, passed away unexpectedly on December 16, 2022. Mark completed a Fulbright U.S. Fellowship to Japan and this past year, became the Vice President of the Fulbrighters with Disabilities Chapter at the Fulbright Association.

Please take a moment to read his website, where he shares his work as a “historian of disability policy and connected social movements in Japanese and transnational contexts.”

https://bookmanresearch.com/

On December 30th, the Fulbrighters with Disabilities Chapter gathered virtually to honor Mark’s life and contributions to the disability community (flyer shared above). The chapter “will be honoring Mark’s mission for the chapter going forward into the New Year with [their] new advocacy position, future events, and more.” In a post honoring Mark, Itto Outini, founder of the chapter, shared that even though he died young, he managed to contribute a great deal of scholarship to the world before he died.”

We remember Mark for his contributions to the Fulbright community, the disability community, and for touching the lives of many.

Mark’s Obituary: https://www.asianstudies.org/mark-ross-bookman-phd-1991-2022/

Small Loans, Big Dreams: A Fulbright Story

By Alex Counts (Bangladesh, 1988-9)

 

The following is an excerpt from the 2022 edition of my book about Grameen Bank and the microfinance revolution: Small Loans, Big Dreams: Grameen Bank and the Microfinance Revolution in Bangladesh, America and Beyond (Rivertowns Books). Founded in 1976 by Professor Muhammad Yunus, a Fulbright Scholar from Bangladesh in 1965 who would later receive 2006  Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, Grameen Bank would go on to help millions of Bangladeshis-particularly rural women-to rise out of extreme poverty or at least make their conditions more tolerable.  After I graduated from Cornell in 1988, I began my own Fulbright fellowship in Bangladesh, working with Grameen for ten months and seeing firsthand the impact of the microcredit movement.  I returned for 5 more years, and later went on to establish the US-based Grameen Foundation, one of the many organizations carrying on Yunus’s vision across the world.  The focus of the book was augmenting an in-depth profile of Yunus with detailed descriptions of the journeys of two groups of women borrowers; one was in Bangladesh and the other was in Chicago, where an early effort to adapt Grameen to the U.S. was underway at the time. This updated edition covers the major developments in microfinance and with Grameen Bank since the previous edition in 2008, including the breakthrough in applying Grameen’s methodology to addressing urban poverty in the United States represented by Grameen America.  It has been well-received by reviewers, earning the designation of “editor’s pick” by Publishers Weekly BookLife.—Alex Counts  

 

It began as one stubborn man’s desperate attempt to make sense of his life in a country racked by famine. In 1974, Bangladeshis were dying by the thousands for lack of even the meager nourishment to which they had grown accustomed. The skies blackened with vultures in search of another corpse to devour.

Three years removed from the glorious war of liberation, the country’s dreams of freedom had been cruelly broken, transformed into a nightmare of hunger, wanton violence, and despair. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger famously called Bangladesh “the world’s basket case.”

For one Bangladeshi, a soft-spoken economist named Muhammad Yunus, this was intolerable. He had to do something, even if it could only begin as a small gesture. Exactly what, he didn’t have the faintest idea. Still, there was one thing he understood: The economic theories he had mastered at American universities while earning his Ph.D. would be of little use. Professor Muhammad Yunus would have to mix with the poor and see what he could think up after immersing himself in their reality. He hardly had grand illusions about what one man could do, working alone. But he had to act.

That is how it began.

Bangladesh’s Poverty and the Birth of the Grameen Bank

By 1983, despite nearly 10 years of an “assault on poverty” declared in the wake of the 1974 famine, real wages were 2.3 percent lower than in the last year of Pakistani rule, and a day’s work in the fields bought a laborer three kilograms of rice instead of the four it had fetched in 1970. At the same time, the nation had three million new mouths to feed every 12 months. By the mid-1980s, per capita consumption reached an all-time low of 1,943 calories and 48.9 grams of protein. (According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the minimum daily requirement to sustain sedentary life is 2,150 calories and 65 grams of protein.)

During the 1980s, the plight of women in rural Bangladesh became increasingly severe. Even in good times, women prepare the feasts but are only permitted to eat the leftovers after the men are finished, to wash their husband’s new clothes while wearing tattered saris, and to hope, often in vain, that the money their guardians earn is being saved or productively invested rather than being frittered away. In bad times, women go the hungriest, work the hardest, and have to stand by helplessly while their children cry out for food. All year round, in good times and bad, women suffer many other humiliations. They cannot travel outside their immediate home after puberty without becoming the subject of lurid rumors. They are the victims of frequent beatings and verbal abuse by husbands and in-laws, and against all reason are blamed for floods, droughts, and disappointing harvests.

Life for a Bangladeshi woman is, more than anything else, one of isolation. In certain parts of the country, it is common to find women who have not strayed from an area smaller than a few hundred square yards for decades at a time; who have never held currency in their hand or seen a market; who have no friends; who have never played any meaningful role in the politics of their family, their village, or their country.

With an annual per capita income of around $200 in the early 1990s, and a population of roughly 115 million people packed into 68,000 villages in a country the size of the state of Wisconsin, the fundamental problems in the political and economic management of Bangladesh are manifest. Blame can be liberally spread among the government, the private sector, and the foreign aid agencies. But to understand the depth of the sorrow this nation has suffered, one need not open a single history book or read a fancy economic printout. One need only stand in a village for a few hours and look around at all the frail women with sunken, toothless faces hunching over earthen stoves or carrying water on one hip and a child in their arms as they walk barefoot down muddy village paths strewn with animal and human feces.

Yunus became intrigued when he saw many of the women in the poorest families making mora (finely woven bamboo stools). Because they lacked money, the women were forced to deal with paikars (middlemen) who sold them raw materials on credit and bought the stools for a pittance. The women’s effective daily wage was 8 anna, or half a taka ($0.02). Yunus had several of his students find out how many people in the village were working under this type of arrangement. It turned out that there were 42 people who worked for roughly 2 pennies a day because they collectively lacked capital amounting to 856 taka ($27). Some needed only 10 or 20 taka, and the greatest amount any one person needed was 65 taka.

Yunus was flabbergasted. Years later, he would say that he “felt ashamed to be part of a society which could not make $27 available to 42 hard working, skilled human beings so that they could make a decent living.” This lack of investment capital, he came to believe, was one of the root causes of the poverty that blighted rural Bangladesh.  He set out to find a way to address the hardship that came from the inability of his country’s poor to access the tiny amounts of money needed to improve their lives.  His efforts ended up spawning a global movement that would ultimately reach the shores of the United States.

The Secret the Grameen’s Success: Forming Solidarity Groups

Rukia Begum, a member of the seventh group-in-formation of Grameen center number two, stuck her head out of her tiny, rotting thatch hut, squinted, and looked at the sun. From its position in the sky, she figured it was time to leave for her group recognition test, an oral exam given to prospective Grameen Bank members after their training period. Fixing her sari, she contemplated the nausea she felt and the volume of material she and the other members of her group had memorized. For a moment, she thought she was going to vomit.

The oral exam that she was gearing up for requires all prospective members to demonstrate that they understand the rules of the bank, making it difficult for an unscrupulous bank employee to take advantage of them. It also makes it easier for them to recruit new members once they begin borrowing, should they want to do so. The idea is that this is their bank and they must assume their roles as clients and owners with eyes wide open, understanding each and every rule.

An integral part of the training is learning Grameen’s social constitution known as the Sixteen Decisions, which was drawn up by a meeting of center chiefs in 1984. Requiring new borrowers to memorize it was part of the bank’s attempt to respond to the social dimensions of poverty; it was a series of principles and goals to ease the workings of the bank and help borrowers focus on getting themselves out of poverty. They included limiting the size of one’s family, educating children, not accepting or giving dowry (since doing so devalues girls and women), planting vegetable gardens and fruit-bearing trees, and building sanitary latrines. Other decisions were more philosophical; for instance, members pledged to help one another and not let anyone do injustice to them. Borrowers were required to memorize these commitments as part of their group training.  Furthermore, the staff was urged to motivate members to implement them, and a special programs division that received funding from UNICEF for many years organized workshops and delivered supplies (such as iodized salt and packets of vegetable seeds) in hopes of speeding their realization.

When a new group becomes eligible for loans, two women, normally the poorest in the group, submit loan proposals, which will in most cases receive formal approval by the bank in a few days. The first line of defense against bad business decisions is not the bank or its employees, but rather the other women in the group. If the first two borrowers to receive loans have any difficulty repaying, the remaining three will have their proposals delayed, reduced in amount, or, in extreme cases, denied altogether. Each member therefore has strong incentives to scrutinize her fellow borrowers’ loan proposals and to apply a delicate combination of pressure and support to ensure that the money is invested properly and that their income-generating activity succeeds. In practice, this means that poor families that would normally have no contact, or perhaps have an antagonistic relationship born of religious or caste differences or a generations-old feud, are almost forced to help one another. A group member might tip off a fellow borrower to the fact that she is about to buy a cow that is suffering from a disease likely to kill it—even if the seller is a relative of the one giving the tip. Another might help steer business, including her own, to a woman in her group. The impersonal forces of supply and demand are thus softened by a network of friends who want you to succeed for a combination of financial incentives and human empathy.

For a woman to get into such a network, husbands and village elders may need to be defied, and rules and regulations will need to be memorized, trust built up, and finally, the group recognition test passed. For women isolated from their society by illiteracy, poverty, and custom, these are considerable obstacles. A weeding-out process inevitably occurs. Sometimes, when dropouts occur, village elders complain about Grameen’s policy of not forming men’s centers. But by the mid-1990s, Grameen’s senior management had concluded that women repaid their loans—and attended meetings—more regularly than men did; furthermore, there was growing evidence to suggest that lending to a family’s husband helped the husband, whereas lending to the wife helped the entire family. As a result, the percentage of women borrowers in Grameen had been steadily increasing, from less than 50 percent in the early 1980s to more than 90 percent a decade later.

Like millions of other Bangladeshi women, Rukia was ultimately accepted as a member of Grameen, even though her group failed its first recognition test.  The road to self-advancement that Grameen offers is frequently a bumpy one.  In many cases, it is not until the next generation that poverty is eliminated entirely, usually the result a borrower’s investment of her additional income into the education of her children.  In doing the research for this book, I bore witness to this often slow but inexorable process in rural Bangladesh and also in urban Chicago.

Overcoming Opponents and Skeptics in Rural Bangladesh

For the last several decades in Bangladesh, every weekday (except national holidays) witnesses a unique ritual: thousands of Grameen Bank employees set off by foot, bicycle, or boat to take part in meetings attended by hundreds of thousands of poor women living in tiny hamlets scattered across Bangladesh. By noon, the bank workers travel a combined distance exceeding several times the circumference of the globe and collect, count, and deposit millions of taka in small bills—all without turning on a single car, motorcycle, or computer.

The women and men they meet with in cramped bamboo houses are taking part in one of the world’s most daring experiments in rural development; they are both the borrowers and the owners of Grameen Bank. Loans they receive are invested in more than 500 income-generating enterprises as diverse as cow-fattening, rice-husking, trading, tailoring, light manufacturing, and handloom weaving.

One of the enduring mysteries of Grameen and the wider microfinance movement is why unarmed loan officers who, for many years, carried significant amounts of cash every day on predictable routes were so rarely mugged. After spending many months living in rural Bangladesh and talking with people who were steeped in the local culture, I have come up with a hypothesis as to why the staff were almost always unmolested.

While there is often initial opposition to microfinance groups like Grameen when they enter a community, owing to the fact that they exclude the well-off, prioritize women clients, and run afoul of various cultural norms and vested interests, most critics develop some grudging admiration for them over time. People see that the staff members deliver affordable and reliable financial services to clients (and increasingly, attractive savings products to the public), are almost always incorruptible, provide both loans and jobs without favoritism, nepotism, or bribes, and perform their jobs conscientiously year-in and year-out.

I believe people’s respect for these qualities is the main reason why Grameen Bank loan officers were so rarely attacked, even during the eras when they handled large amounts of cash. I also have come to sense that their manner of doing business is gradually raising societal expectations of how all institutions, private and public, should behave.

Grameen Comes to America to Battle A Different Kind of Poverty

Starting in 1976, the Ford Foundation’s office in Bangladesh supported Yunus’s work with small grants, first to Chittagong University’s Rural Economics Program and later to the Grameen Bank Project in Tangail. After Grameen became an independent bank in 1983, Yunus approached Ford with a request for funding to expand in the Dhaka, Patuakhali, Chittagong, and Rangpur districts. He worked out how much money he would need on his calculator, wrote a proposal in longhand, and presented it to Ford program officer Steve Biggs, who wanted to have some people with experience in banking take a look at Grameen before he approved the grant.

Pleased with how Yunus used the foundation’s grants, officials there invited Yunus to Chicago in 1985, and a series of meetings was arranged with the staff of local banks and nonprofit organizations. People were skeptical about the idea of the Grameen model working in inner-city Chicago, but Yunus won over several of his critics. One University of Chicago scholar, for example, had some disillusioning experiences working in India and was convinced Houghton had been bamboozled by Yunus. He felt certain that no program of any size on the Indian subcontinent could be free from corruption. But when he met Yunus in person, the sociologist became a convert.

Much of their discussion centered on Yunus’s description of Grameen Bank’s target group—“the poorest of the poor.” In the United States, he was told, the poorest people need social services, not investment capital. But Yunus held firm, saying that his program was designed to work with the poorest and that he had little interest in working with people if they didn’t share his commitment. He recounted similar arguments that Bengali academics had confronted him with when he was getting started in Jobra, and reiterated his philosophy that every human being had the capacity to use credit to get out of poverty. Recalling those conversations, Houghton said, “While for most of us it was a leap of faith to believe what Yunus was saying, we wanted to believe it was true.” So they kept listening.

At one meeting, Yunus asked a participant what he thought a poor person would need to start or expand a small business in the United States. He was shocked by the answer—$50,000. Yunus went on to say that if there weren’t people who were willing to take loans under $5,000, and capable of making a go of it with that amount, then there were no poor people in Chicago that a Grameen-style program could help.

On his second Ford-sponsored trip to the United States in February 1986, Yunus met Bill and Hillary Clinton in a restaurant in Washington, and both expressed enthusiasm about starting a Grameen spin-off in Arkansas, where Bill Clinton was governor at the time. Hillary Clinton, Yunus remembers, was especially gung ho. “She wanted to start right away!” he recalls. Yunus had just returned from his first visit to Arkansas, where he had been driven through rural areas to meet with “the poor” so he could judge the feasibility of adapting the Grameen approach there. Based on his observations, he told the Clintons that he thought the program had a good chance of success in Arkansas.

That trip, however, had got off on the wrong foot. His hosts—senior officials of the state government, South Shore Bank, and the Rockefeller Foundation—thought Yunus appeared less and less interested in meeting with the local people at each successive stop. Yunus would later complain that he didn’t think that any of the small business owners he was supposed to meet were poor. Didn’t they understand that Grameen was for truly poor people? Yunus remembers thinking that his time was being wasted. On the second day, Yunus persuaded the man from the foundation to bring him to meet some unemployed people and welfare recipients. It was at this point that Yunus began showing interest in the discussions.

Years later, Yunus recalled:

I asked the welfare recipients and unemployed people, “Suppose that your bank lends you money to do something—what kind of thing would you decide to do?” Almost everybody said that a bank would not give them money, so why bother to talk about it. I said, “Suppose they would lend you money.” I got more blank stares. “Look, I run a bank in Bangladesh that lends money to the poor people there. I just had a meeting with Governor Clinton and he asked me to bring my bank to your community. I am thinking of starting a bank right here. Now I am trying to find out if somebody is interested in borrowing money from me. Because if there is no business, why should I come here?” I mentioned that my bank does not need any collateral, nothing.

A woman who had listened very carefully said, “Oh, I would like to borrow some money from your bank!” I said, “Okay, now we are in business. How much money would you like?”

She said, “I would like three hundred seventy-five dollars.” I was surprised, because normally, people don’t say “Three hundred seventy-five dollars”; they make it a round figure, so I asked her what she wants to do with this sum. She said that she was a beautician, and that her business was limited because she did not have all the right supplies. If she could get a box of supplies costing three hundred seventy-five dollars, she was sure she could pay me back with the extra income. She also said she did not want to take a penny more than what the box actually costs.

Another woman, unemployed after the textile factory she’d been working at closed and moved its business to Taiwan, needed a few hundred dollars for a sewing machine. Still another woman wanted $600 to buy a pushcart from which to sell her hot tamales, which she informed the Bangladeshi professor were “famous” in her neighborhood. These interviews tickled Yunus, and he regretted that the trip was nearing its end.

These early explorations into how Grameen’s model could be applied in the United States led to excitement and experimentation during the late 1980s and 1990s, but the initial results were disappointing.  Finally, in 2008 Yunus sent in a small team of Bangladeshis to knock on doors in Queens, a borough of New York City, to see what could be done.  Fifteen years later, Grameen America was on the cusp of lending its three billionth dollar in amounts averaging around $2,000, with a 99% repayment rate and growing evidence from independent researchers that its women clients were benefitting significantly.

In this way, the benefits of the Fulbright scholarship offered to Yunus came full circle, as they so often do.

 

Fulbright Alumni Inspire DC 5th Graders to Keep Studying Mandarin

Fulbright Alumni Inspire DC 5th Graders to Keep Studying Mandarin

“What’s your favorite Chinese food?” Leland Lazarus (Panama 2013-2014) asked. 

“We love to eat DUMPLINGS!” the students yelled.

“I’m from a big city in Washington state. Which city is that?” Mycal Ford (Taiwan 2012-2013) asked.

“SEATTLE!” the students responded in unison.

Such conversations are quite normal in a 5th grade class. But what made this different was that it was all in Mandarin!

On Tuesday, November 29th, Leland, Mycal, and Obi Eneh gave a presentation in fluent Mandarin to over 30 5th grade students at Washington Yu Ying elementary school. 

It was part of the Fulbright Association’s Fulbright in the Classroom (FIC) initiative, where alumni across the nation encourage students from diverse backgrounds to consider studying abroad, learning languages, and applying for Fulbright later on in their academic journey. 

FA was honored to host a FIC at Yu Ying, a top-tier school in Washington, DC, that provides Chinese language immersion in a structured inquiry-based environment. Yu Ying’s mission is to “inspire and prepare young people to create a better world by challenging them to reach their full potential in a nurturing Chinese/English educational environment.” It is also ranked as one of the most diverse schools in the United States.

“We strive to give them real world experiences, and as a Chinese immersion school, we value experiences where they can practice using their Mandarin skills,” said Sarah Perkins, Project Development and Grants Coordinator at Yu Ying. “We were fortunate to have Leland, Mycal and Obi, three professionals, who, like them, are not native speakers, but who are successfully using the language in their lives.”

Leland shared how he loved watching Chinese movies when he was little, but that he didn’t have the chance to start learning Mandarin until he got to college. He talked about working and living in China, and his time serving as a U.S. diplomat in that country. Mycal told stories about being a teacher in both mainland China and Taiwan, and taught the 5th graders how to pronounce his hometown of Seattle in Mandarin (西雅图 xīyǎtú). Obi, who attended virtually, kept the students in rapt attention as he described his own experience living in Harbin in northeast China. 

Each speaker represented at least one of three organizations: Fulbright, the Black China Caucus and the National Association for Black Engagement in Asia

“We were so incredibly impressed by these students,” Leland said. “To see so many diverse students being able to communicate in Mandarin makes me extremely confident about the future of our country. I hope that, when the students see Obi, Mycal, and myself speaking to them in Mandarin, it’ll motivate them to keep studying throughout their entire academic and professional journey.”

“Learning Mandarin Chinese and studying abroad in China has had a huge impact on my life,” Obi said. “So it was an honor and a privilege for me to share my experience with young Chinese language learners. I felt energized by their enthusiasm and curiosity.”

“The excitement the students displayed towards language learning was inspiring!” Mycal said. My hope is that moments and opportunities like these further normalize the study of foreign languages for the students.”

 

“A Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step”: Four Fulbrighters Visit DC International School

“A Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step”: Four Fulbrighters Visit DC International School

“When people hear Fulbright, doors open for you.” That’s what Wen-kuni Ceant, Fulbright alumna to Senegal (2017-2018), told 19 bright students from DC International School (DCI). Wen-kuni, along with fellow Fulbright alumni Ashley Morefield (Côte d’Ivoire 2018-2019), Mycal Ford (Taiwan 2012-2013), and Leland Lazarus (Panama 2013-2014), shared their Fulbright stories with these 9th and 10th graders. 

It was part of the Fulbright Association’s Fulbright in the Classroom (FIC) initiative, where alumni across the nation encourage students from diverse backgrounds to consider studying abroad, learning languages, and applying for Fulbright later on in their academic journey.  

DCI was the perfect host, given its mission to create global citizens through advanced language learning, student agency, and the International Baccalaureate curriculum. DCI is the only IB-for-all, advanced language public school in Washington, DC, and serves a diverse student body of middle and high school students. The goal is that, by the time the students graduate, they will be fluent in Mandarin, Spanish, or French.

“Because international mindedness is the cornerstone of our academic programming, Fulbright in the Classroom was an amazing opportunity for DCI students to learn about the benefits of studying abroad, learning languages and traveling internationally,” said Ezra Miller, DCI’s IB Diploma Program Coordinator. “Many of our students want to pursue careers in global politics and international relations, but prior to the Fulbright in the Classroom event, they were unaware of the many awards and fellowships available through the Fulbright Program. We are so grateful to the Fulbright alumni who visited our school and shared their stories with the DCI community!”

Wen-kuni shared her own journey, coming from Miami, graduating from Howard and Drexel universities, before applying for her Fulbright to Senegal, where she researched that country’s public health infrastructure. She remembered how a specific faculty member provided constant mentorship for her throughout the long application process. “Make sure you seek out mentors who will pour into you and really help you succeed,” she advised. Wen-kuni is also the Co-Founder of Politicking, an organization that encourages young people to get out the vote. “Voting is one of the greatest things you can do as a citizen of this country,” she stressed.

Mycal Ford shared stories of cross-cultural misunderstandings during his time living in Asia. “When I first traveled to Japan, my host family served me tea, but I thought it was too hot and not sweet enough, so I asked for ice cubes and sugar”, he explained. At that time, my sense of cultural awareness was quite limited. When he lived in China, many of his Chinese friends just assumed that he was good at basketball, just because he’s Black. “For me, it was always an opportunity to change local people’s idea about what an American can look like,” he added. Mycal, who leads an organization called the Black China Caucus, also encouraged students to consider other exchange programs, including the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), Critical Language Scholarship, and the Boren Fellowship.

Ashley Morefield discussed her academic journey from Dickinson College, spending a year studying in France, and traveling all across Europe, all covered by her university. “Make sure that you do a study abroad program that is covered by your student aid,” she advised. Ashley did her Fulbright in Côte’d’Ivoire teaching English, and she is now a graduate student at Georgetown University and a Thomas R. Pickering Fellow, which means she will become a U.S. Foreign Service Officer upon graduation. Ashley is also one of the chairs of the executive leadership of Fulbright Noir, an Affinity group established to support Black Fulbrighters.

Leland Lazarus began his presentation to the rapt audience with a Chinese proverb: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. He went on to share each step in his own journey: teaching English in Panama on his Fulbright, receiving the Pickering Fellowship and serving as a U.S. diplomat in China and the Caribbean, working in the Department of Defense, and now leading a team as an Associate Director at Florida International University. Along the way he visited remote areas in China, encouraged young people in both China and the Caribbean to study in the U.S., and met stars like Jackie Chan and Rihanna. “You hear all of our backgrounds and stories of traveling around the world,” he said, “but remember that we all started just like each of you. It all begins with a single step; with what you’re all doing right now at DCI, you’ve already made that first step.”

Reflections on the Fulbright Reunion – 45th Annual Conference

Reflections on the Fulbright Reunion – 45th Annual Conference

The Fulbright Association’s 45th Annual Conference drew more than 300 attendees for a dynamic event celebrating the international community. It was the first opportunity to gather in-person for the annual conference since October 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world. The conference took place October 6-9 at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda in Bethesda, Maryland.

Our programming for the 45th Annual Conference has been made possible by the support and partnership of our sponsors listed to the right.

There were more than 100 presentations and break-out sessions on topics that focused on Global Cultural Diplomacy, Diversity & Transparency, Art & Culture, Resilience, and so much more! Thirty General Sessions were offered on Friday and Saturday of the conference. These interactive presentations allowed the Fulbright community to showcase the incredible work they are doing throughout the world.

Download the Digital Conference Program

 

Opening Keynote – Ambassador Oksana Markarova of Ukraine

We welcomed Ambassador Oksana Markarova of Ukraine to give an extraordinary, thoughtful, and inspiring keynote address. The ambassador reflected on the extreme challenges facing her country and its supporters worldwide in countering Russian violence, lawlessness, and alleged war crimes. She gave us hope that Ukrainian resolve and resilience will remain steadfast until this war ends—and well beyond.

The ambassador was introduced by Association board member Réka Szemerkényi, a former ambassador from Hungary, who moderated a high-level discussion that include Markarova, as well as scholar and commentator Debra Cagan, and Arturas Vasbys, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Lithuanian Embassy. The panel took wide-ranging questions from our conference attendees, covering such topics as mental health, human rights, the role of China, military strategy, and more. The evening was a highlight of the Conference.

Watch the full Opening Keynote and Panel Discussion.

The Welcome Reception on Thursday night and the Fulbright Party on Friday night provided the fun and excitement attendees were longing for. Music, hors d’oeuvres, photo stations, were available, along with numerous opportunities to network and reconnect.

 

Selma Jeanne Cohen Dance Lecture – Dr. Janaki Nair

Every year the conference attendees get to look inside the world of dance. Dr. Nair gave an inspiring lecture on her unique position as one of the rare female Kathakali artists who is trained to perform male characters. Dr. Nair brought this traditional Indian dance to life through videos, lecture, and a live performance. One of the outstanding disciples of Shri Nelliyodu Vasudevan Nampoothiri, Dr. Nair has followed a rigid training regime in Kathakali for fifteen years. She was aptly awarded with India government’s talent scholarship for her flair and passion in Kathakali and has performed widely in India and UK. In her research, she continues to explore the concept of embodying and aligning psychophysical practices, concepts and methodologies. Watch the full lecture.

 

Virtual Art Exhibit

The Fulbright community is full of talented visual artist in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography. Throughout the conference attendees were able to experience a beautifully curated art exhibit through the conference app and online. The images were displayed Friday evening during the #FulbrightParty. View the Virtual Exhibit Online.

 

General Sessions

With 30 general sessions, attendees had their choice of many concurrent presentations. The styles of sessions varied and Fulbrighters engaged in workshops, conversations, and research presentations. Panels offered time for detailed Q&A and networking with the speakers.

 

Roundtables

Over 30 Fulbrighters and friends presented roundtables at the Conference, leading vibrant conversations around topics in their areas of expertise. As these sessions literally took place at round tables, they gave participants the opportunity to participate in intimate and provocative conversations with co-attendees. Roundtable participants leaned in, listened well, and contributed to Fulbright alumni growth as a community of learners.

 

Posters

We continued our wonderful tradition of hosting a poster fair on Saturday. These presentations were both highly informative and wonderfully interactive. As you walked down the colorful aisles of beautiful posters, an investigation of educational institutions in the Philippines stood side by side with research on artificial intelligence and a new era of biotechnology. Over the course of two hours, Fulbrighters exchanged ideas, shared research, and asked provocative questions of one another. These conversations persisted throughout the rest of the conference, and will certainly continue to enhance our understanding of the world and current research as we return to our local communities.

Something that is always especially important about our poster sessions is that it gives young Fulbright alums the opportunity to present and advance their research through conversation and open them to networking and future collaboration. These presentations covered every continent and so many interests, there was certainly something for everyone, not only to learn but also to engage and relate.

 

Fulbright Talks

This 10-minute format was a success in 2019, so we brought it back for the Reunion themed conference. The presentations featured a total of 10 speakers over two days. The topics ranged from art, fashion, architecture, music, service projects, and so many more. The engaging format was used to tell stories of experiences both professionally and personally.

 

FA Programs Plenary

On Saturday afternoon, the Association added a new feature to our conferences, sharing the many programming opportunities for members. Staff members John Bader, Claire Jagla, Fiona Breslin, and Christine Oswald were joined by former board president Mary Ellen Schmider to discuss advocacy, Fulbright in the Classroom, the 1946 Society and fundraising, a pilot mentor program, chapter activities, and the Travel Program. This was followed by a Programs Fair, where attendees could ask questions and sign up to participate in these programs.

 

Chapter Awards Dinner

The Fulbright Association Chapters, led by dedicated alumni who serve the Fulbright community, played a special part in this year’s conference. On Saturday evening, seven chapters and leaders were honored with awards for the hard work in various categories. Each winner spoke about what Fulbright means to them and shared unique details about their chapter’s activities. On Sunday morning, over thirty chapter leaders gathered for the Chapter Leader Workshop, led by FA’s Christine Oswald. The workshop gave chapters space to share best practices, review policies, and foster connections between groups across the country.

Fulbrighters always have the ability to inspire and connect cultures through research, art, and presentation. This conference displayed an amazing variety of Fulbrighters who are expanding horizons in every field of study.

 

Wellbeing was an important factor of the conference. Yoga sessions were offered Friday and Saturday morning, providing a gentle and invigorating start to the day. Conference breaks with healthy options were also offered twice a day, fueling our attendees in between sessions.

 

We look forward to the 46th Annual Conference which will be in Denver, CO in October 19-22, 2023.

 

How the Fulbright Gave Me Access to the World

How the Fulbright Gave Me Access to the World

In more ways than I can count, the Fulbright made me who I am today.

Before becoming a Fulbright scholar, I spent six years homeless in my country of origin, Morocco. Since becoming a Fulbright scholar, I’ve been recruited to work for the UN and courted by industry-leading companies, including my current employer, AudioEye.

Before becoming a Fulbright scholar, my blindness reduced me to, at best, a charity case, and at worst a contemptible burden. Since becoming a Fulbright scholar, my work ethic, education, fluency in seven languages and many modes of Braille, and years of experience and passion for journalism, debate, and storytelling have all taken on new significance.

Before becoming a Fulbright scholar, I was accustomed to being slurred as an orphan, a bastard, and worse because my family had abandoned me. Since becoming a Fulbright scholar, my story of resilience, survival, and unlikely thriving has taken on a power of its own.

The Fulbright recognized my worth before any other organization, invested in my dream of pursuing an MA in journalism, and connected me with influential, talented people the world over. Most important of all, they never required that I compromise on any essential element of who I am. Instead, they’ve enabled me to become the Itto I’ve always aspired to be.

Recently, thanks in large part to the Fulbright, I’ve joined another organization that treats me in much the same way. AudioEye is a well-respected digital accessibility company whose mission is to eradicate every barrier to digital access for people with disabilities like myself—and they recruited me. As their new Accessibility Outreach Manager, I’ve enjoyed respect from my colleagues, a flexible work schedule, and trust that I’ll fulfill my duties if given the time and tools I need. Since I work from home, I don’t rely on others to get me to and from the office or waste my time and energy navigating fickle transportation services. I just wake up every morning, have my coffee, and get straight to work without delay.

Since October is Disability Employment Awareness Month, I’ll pause here to point out that these are more than privileges for me and many other people with disabilities. For those of us with blindness and chronic pain—or, for that matter, dyslexia, depression, para- or quadriplegia, anxiety, Deafness, ADHD, chronic illness, or any other disability you can name—remote work, flexible schedules, and faith in our commitment and abilities can mean the difference between success and failure, retention and dismissal, opportunity and dependency. In the absence of family and community support, the stakes are even higher: life and death.

That’s why I’m using my platform to urge more companies to not just hire people with disabilities, but also take the necessary steps to empower us to succeed, embracing remote work and flexible scheduling, promoting positive workplace cultures, and readily providing accommodations. This will benefit employers, too, unlocking the full range of employees’ insights and expertise in service of the company’s mission.

At the same time, I hope the Fulbright will continue to invest in students and scholars with disabilities and expand its outreach efforts to vulnerable communities whose members, no matter

how talented, may never have imagined that such opportunities lie within their reach. Making its commitment to students and scholars with disabilities more explicit and vocal will help the Fulbright pave the way for others like myself.

Like all gifts, those that these organizations have granted me—trust, flexibility, respect, and connections—come with responsibilities. I now find myself in a position to give back to the communities that have empowered me while chipping away at the barriers to access that prevent so many passionate, creative, hardworking, and talented people from advancing on their journeys. I do not take this opportunity lightly. Neither should you.

If you’re reading this, you likely have connections with the Fulbright and hence enjoy a higher-than-average degree of influence within your community. This means you’re well positioned to make these changes happen, too. I ask for your collaboration in service of my life’s work, and AudioEye’s mission, of removing barriers, expanding opportunities, dismantling stigma, and making the world a more accessible place for all.

Itto Outini

Fulbright Alumna | Accessibility Outreach Manager at AudioEye | Founder & Representative of Fulbrighters with Disabilities | MA in Journalism & Strategic Media from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

1946 Society Member Spotlight: Leland Lazarus

1946 Society Member Spotlight: Leland Lazarus

Leland Lazarus is a Fulbright to Panama alum, current member of the Fulbright Association Board of Directors, and a current 1946 Society member.

To learn more about the 1946 Society, please visit the 1946 Society webpage. 

Q: Leland, can you share some background information about yourself?
A: I’m originally from New York, although my parents are both from Panama. Growing up, my mom spoke a little bit of Spanish in the household, but I didn’t really have a strong understanding or affinity to the country of my heritage. So, I always yearned to go back, spend time there, and meet family members – but I never had the opportunity to do so in my youth. Then college rolled around, and I was able to finally go to Panama for a few summers to teach English in a rural area and to do some research. After college, I got a Fulbright Award to spend the full year in Panama and to teach English at the University of Panama. That was an amazing experience, because I finally got to spend a large amount of time in the country of my heritage. I got to meet some family members who were still there, and I was finally able to really connect with that side of my culture.

Q: Could you tell me more about your Fulbright to Panama in 2013? What was that experience like?
A: The first thing that stood out to me was that Latin America and the Caribbean are just as diverse as the United States. Being an Afro-Latino or Afro-Panamanian, there are so many people of Afro origin, of Chinese origin, etc. I think that a lot of Americans feel that the U.S. is the only truly diverse country in the world, which is not true. So, it was great to be in a country where the people walking around looked like me. Another thing that I’ll never forget is my students. I was teaching them English, but they were also teaching me parts of Panamanian culture that I didn’t know about: local slang, specific regional cuisines, things like that. On weekends, I would hang out with some of the students. They would host me to hang out with their families. Today, I still keep in touch with some of them. In fact, I still talk to one of them almost every Sunday.

2013 Fulbright to Panama


Q: You expressed that during your time in Panama, you bore witness to a system where disadvantaged college students were not afforded the chance to develop their English skills. Can you describe how the Fulbright Program educates international students about their opportunities?
A: While I was in Panama, I found that if you were of a lower socioeconomic status, you didn’t really have the opportunities to learn English. In a country where the Panama Canal is such an important waterway for international trade, English is really a necessity. In such a service-oriented economy, that means a student who does not have a good command of English is unfortunately at a gross disadvantage. I think that, for me and the other Fulbright English Teaching Assistants, having the opportunity to, in our own small way, reduce that gaps between the socioeconomic classes was an amazing opportunity. That’s happening every year for hundreds of students all around the world right, as Fulbrighters go abroad and teach English or do a research project in developing countries all around the world.

Q: Following your time in Panama, you joined the Fulbright Association, and, separately, you established the Dream Scholarship. Can you tell me about how the scholarship came about?
A: Once I had identified this gap between the socioeconomic classes, I would even see it within classes. Students of the same year might both be English majors, but one student had a much better control of the language — even close to an American accent — and the other could not even speak a word. It made me think: “How could it be that these two students were from the same class?” It made no sense. Additionally, many students just didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad. I understood from my own language-learning experiences with Spanish and Mandarin that the only way to really improve a foreign language is to go to a country where that language is spoken and really immerse yourself one hundred percent in that culture. What I wanted to do was to create a scholarship or non-profit to allow students from these lower socioeconomic and marginalized areas to have the opportunity to study abroad in the United States.

Leland with his Fulbright mentor, Herma Williams, at the 2021 Fulbright Prize Ceremony (March 2022)

Q: I was also hoping we could also touch on the 1946 Society, which was initially established as a collective of Fulbright Association supports in 2015, and is now a full community of almost a hundred members. What is it about the 1946 Society, and the Fulbright Association in general, that keeps members fiscally and emotionally invested in its further development year after year?
A: I think over the years, meeting more Fulbright alumni, you hear the same story that Fulbright helped change their lives. I mean, it absolutely changed mine. It put me on the path to a career in international affairs. It was through my Fulbright experience that I ended up learning about the State Department and a career in diplomacy. Being a citizen diplomat encouraged me to then apply for the Foreign Service, which led to my current position at the Department of Defense. This is the story not just for me, but for so many Fulbright alumni. They also agree that fostering mutual cultural understanding is critical, especially nowadays when in so many countries around the world, and even in some areas in the United States, we see the rapid spread of populism and nationalism. I think organizations like the Fulbright Association are so important to keep those connections between the U.S. and countries around the world.

Q: I understand you’re closely involved with the Fulbright in the Classroom. Could you share your experiences with the program and why it is so important?
A: Fulbright in the Classroom is one of our flagship volunteer programs, where Fulbright alumni around the country are able to go to local high schools and middle schools and even colleges to share their Fulbright story in front of student audiences. The goal of course is to encourage more students to consider applying for the Fulbright once they attend college or are about to graduate from college. For me, one of my main goals is to increase diversity and inclusion in the ranks of our Fulbright alumni network, and I will never forget that when I was doing my Fulbright, I was the only person of color. There needs to be more Fulbright scholars who look like America because by doing so they are sharing the richness of our U.S. diversity. [Fulbright grantees are] breaking down barriers and stereotypes that other people and other countries around the world might unfortunately have about people of other backgrounds. So, that’s why I do Fulbright in the Classroom. I’ve done maybe five or six presentations so far for high schools in D.C. and in New York. A couple weeks ago, I did one for high school and middle school students in Cleveland, with the idea that hopefully these young people may be seeing themselves in me. They could say, hey, if this Afro-Latino guy from New York can live in Latin America and live in China and speak these languages, then I can do it too.

Leland sharing his story, virtual Fulbright in the Classroom session.

2022 Fulbright Prize to Drs. Kizzmekia Corbett and Anthony Fauci

2022 Fulbright Prize to Drs. Kizzmekia Corbett and Anthony Fauci

For Immediate Release  

September 21, 2022 

Drs. Kizzmekia Corbett and Anthony Fauci to be jointly awarded the 2022 Fulbright Prize 

Public health leaders to be honored for their success in combatting the COVID pandemic 

Award ceremony to take place in Washington, DC on April 19, 2023 

Washington, DC – The Fulbright Association will award the 2022 J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding jointly to Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett and Dr. Anthony Fauci , whose leadership and scientific discoveries have been critical to the abatement of the COVID-19 pandemic, saving millions of lives worldwide and helping to restore a fuller and safer life for billions. Their success has allowed the peoples of the world to reconnect, and they have reminded us all that strong public health is critical to international exchange, cooperation, and travel. 

“The Association is awarding the Prize to these Laureates for their respective contributions and accomplishments in public health globally, but we are also recognizing the importance of teamwork and collaboration to success,” says Association board chair, the Honorable Cynthia Baldwin. “That is why we are so happy to present this Prize jointly to Drs. Fauci and Corbett.” 

“This Prize, by extension, honors all researchers, scientists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals who have contributed to the global fight against the coronavirus,” adds Association executive director, Dr. John Bader. “Fulbrighters worldwide are grateful to these heroes for their courage, sacrifice, hard work, and commitment to science.” 

The award ceremony to take place in Washington, DC on April 19, 2023. For more information about the event, sponsorship, and Fulbright Prize, visit www.fulbright.org/prize.

About Dr. Anthony Fauci 

Dr. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, where he oversees an extensive research portfolio focused on infectious and immune-mediated diseases. As the long-time chief of the NIAID Laboratory of Immunoregulation, Dr. Fauci has made many seminal contributions in basic and clinical research and is one of the world’s most-cited biomedical scientists. He was one of the principal architects of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program that has saved millions of lives throughout the developing world. 

About Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett 

Dr. Corbett was a senior fellow and scientific lead at NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center. A leading COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA-1273, was co-designed by Dr. Corbett’s NIH team from viral sequence and rapidly deployed to industry partner, Moderna, Inc., for Phase 1 clinical trial, which unprecedentedly began only 66 days from viral sequence release. mRNA-1273 is a now used around the world to prevent COVID-19 disease. Alongside mRNA-1273, Dr. Corbett boasts a patent portfolio which also includes universal coronavirus and influenza vaccine concepts and novel therapeutic antibodies. She is now an assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health 

About the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding 

The Fulbright Prize honors one of the world’s most prestigious international exchange programs, as well as the vision of its sponsor, the late Senator J. William Fulbright. Awarded by the Fulbright Association since 1993, the Prize recognizes outstanding contributions to promoting peace and a better life through greater understanding and cooperation among peoples, cultures, and nations. The Prize has a distinguished history of laureates, among them Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Bill Clinton, Vaclav Havel, Corazon Aquino, Mary Robinson, Doctors without Borders, Bill and Melinda Gates, Angela Merkel, and most recently Bono. More on the Prize, with a complete list of laureates, at fulbright.org/prize 

About the Fulbright Program 

The Fulbright Program celebrated its 75th Anniversary last year, marking its creation in 1946 through Congressional legislation proposed by Senator J. William Fulbright. The Program embodies the visionary concept of promoting mutual understanding between countries through academic and bicultural exchange. The Program provides exchanges between the United States and more than 160 countries worldwide, funded by the U.S. Government with bipartisan support and contributions from 49 foreign countries whose permanent commissions execute the Fulbright Program on a binational level. Annually, about 8,000 grantees, American and foreign, participate in the Fulbright exchange as students, scholars, researchers, English and other language teachers, and professional specialists. Since its inception, the Program has sponsored over 400,000 grantees. Read more at eca.state.gov/fulbright 

About the Fulbright Association 

The Fulbright Association is the alumni organization of the Fulbright Program in the United States, representing over 140,000 American grantees. Founded in 1977, it is an independent non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, with 56 chapters in 39 states. Its mission is to continue and extend the Fulbright tradition of education, advocacy, and service through local, national, and international programs. Read more at fulbright.org 

Press Contact 

Seth Nelson 

seth@frontwoodstrategies.com  

 

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Chapter Spotlight: Dr. Jim Fatzinger, President, Kentucky Chapter of the Fulbright Association

Chapter Spotlight: Dr. Jim Fatzinger, President, Kentucky Chapter of the Fulbright Association

 

Stephen Gardner, Interviewer

Dr. Jim Fatzinger, Director of Fulbright Kentucky Chapter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, Dr. Fatzinger. We’re happy to highlight  the Kentucky Chapter. Before we touch on that, could you tell me a little bit about your background?                                   Sure, Stephen. I’m proud to represent the Fulbright Association’s Kentucky Chapter. I’m currently a faculty member and in my second term as the chapter president of the Kentucky Chapter. Working with a fantastic board and group of officers, I started as vice- president and worked my way up. I love education and was a member of the Fulbright specialist roster. I have two doctorate degrees, one from Vanderbilt University and the other from the University of Florida. I completed post-master’s work at Oxford and my postgraduate work at Harvard University, as well as a higher education leadership development program. I really relate to the Fulbright mission. Service is so important, just as education is important, and building relationships across borders is imperative, so it is a pleasure to lead the members of the Kentucky Chapter.

You described the Kentucky Chapter as a fairly new chapter, established in the summer of 2019. Could you describe your experience taking the helm of such a new chapter?

It’s really been fun. I have to give credit to our founding members: Ann Riedling, Fred Ruppel, and Wanda Dodson, who, really sowed the seeds of a solid foundation for the chapter. When I took over, we had the opportunity to consider the Fulbright vision in developing a foundational mission and the strategic priorities for the chapter. We set out to align our projects with (1) the Fulbright mission, (2) our strategic priorities, and (3) getting our feet underneath us. The annual picnic was the was the first official project of our chapter, and that’s still the project that’s best attended. Now, post-COVID, we are continuing to welcome new members, while also recognizing that Fulbrighters are really busy people. Fulbrighters are always on the move and they’re making an impact around the globe, so we have a membership approach that recognizes that members are always on the move. Sometimes we’re online, sometimes we meet face-to-face, but we meet our membership where they’re at.

The Fulbright Association, Kentucky Chapter Annual Picnic


As the chapter continues to meet that mission and expand, what kind of culture are you looking to build for Fulbrighters in Kentucky?

So happy you asked! We want to focus on the Fulbright mission, and we want to build a culture that is in alignment with relationships, networks, and opportunities — similar to what the 400,000 alumni of the Fulbright Program have experienced [through the Program]. We want members to be able to share their best and most treasured memories from during their Fulbright experience and come together to learn from others as those relationships continue to develop right here in Kentucky. Some of that will be through service, some of that will be through advocacy, and some of it will be in raising awareness and nurture future Fulbrighters to have the experiences we’ve had both locally and abroad.

Locally, your chapter launched the Kentucky Summer of Service Challenge in during the summer of 2022. Can you tell me more about this project?

Absolutely! We want to recognize that Fulbrighters are involved [in their communities] every day. A Fulbrighter isn’t a Fulbrighter for the week, the semester, or the year that they’re pursuing an opportunity. They had habits that they formed before they went on their Fulbright experience, and then they’ve had things that they continue to do based off the networks that they’ve built through their experiences.

We want to recognize the impact that Fulbrighters have — not only locally but around the globe. Through our service projects, one member is involved with a world library association providing books for young students. Another member has a family in Sierra Leone whom she helped by installing toiletry systems and certain types of systems that helped with irrigation; that was her service. We also have service here in Kentucky. It might be helping with the Eastern Kentucky floods, or it might be participating with other service organizations that we partner with on a monthly or weekly basis. We want to recognize through the Kentucky Summer of Service Challenge that Fulbrighters are not just serving when they’re on their Fulbright, but they’re making an impact for years afterwards, in the state of Kentucky, in the United States, and even while abroad. 

Kentucky Chapter members can post a picture of what they’re doing in service on our Fulbright Association Chapter Page, so that we can continue to share in this fellowship. We’d also like to invite all members of Fulbright chapters from around the United States to join us and post those pictures so that the service continues. While the Summer of Service concludes in late September, our service doesn’t. Our service and our fellowship will continue. Perhaps this will become an annual project, and perhaps a bordering state will pick up the Summer of Service Challenge, or maybe another Fulbright Association chapter will pick up a “Fall of Service.” 

Dr. Fatzinger, is there anything else you would like to say about the Kentucky Chapter?

We want to say thank you: thank you to every member who serves in this project, thank you to every Fulbrighter who is serving around the United States domestically.

Thanks to all those Fulbrighters who built relationships, are still leading domestically, and are continuing to serve even in the midst of some of these challenging times that we’ve had. Who would have thought that we would have had a pandemic on our watch? Who would have thought we would have had so much technological influence that eliminated borders and brought people closer together?

I encourage all members of the Fulbright Association’s 55 chapters, the 400,000 Fulbright Program alumni, those still hoping to become Fulbrighters, and friends of Fulbright to participate in service.

Thank you to the members of the Kentucky Chapter for participating in this Summer of Service Challenge.

 

– Stephen Gardner, Public Engagement Summer Intern

45th Annual Conference Preview – Interview with Alicia Montague, Director for National Events

45th Annual Conference Preview – Interview with Alicia Montague, Director for National Events

Stephen Gardner, Interviewer

Alicia Montague, Director for National Events

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alicia, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s great to finally meet you. Can you tell me more about yourself, and how you got involved with the Fulbright Association? 

My first real job was at the University of Maryland University College, which is now called the University of Maryland Global Campus. Afterwards, I went to Johns Hopkins University and then I ended up at the University of Maryland Career Center. There, I organized events – 90% of my job involved events in that role. Afterward, I decided to go into events, larger events. I got a job at NASPA, the largest association for student affairs professionals, and I was there for about five years before [I joined the team at] the Fulbright Association, and here I am. I’ve been here for almost a year. I chose [to work at the] Fulbright Association because I wanted to move back into a smaller office and apply what I learned to the Fulbright Association. It’s a prestigious name, Fulbright, and it is involved with higher education, which is my passion.

As the Director for National Events, can you reflect on a time when the Fulbright Association, or the program itself left a lasting impact on your cultural understanding?

Working here, I have developed a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Fulbrighter and how Fulbrighters give back. It’s not just a program for the rich; the Association is trying to make it more accessible and get the word out that this program exists for everyone regardless of background. In learning that, I saw how important the Program is. Also, when I first started, I got to sit in on the 2021 Annual Conference, and I got to meet people that had Fulbright experiences. The passion that they had was ridiculous. They were truly passionate about the work they did, the countries they went to, the people they met, the foods they ate — and they were always willing and excited to share that experiences. So, I think that opened my eyes more to the passion that people who experience the Fulbright Program have.

The upcoming 45th Annual Conference is the first in-person conference since the start of COVID-19. What are you hoping to accomplish with this year’s conference?

I want it to be a fun conference. It’s been a little over two years since Fulbright Association members have come together in person, and I want this to be a reunion at which they come together, have fun, and network. There will be a lot of educational sessions and professional development, but we’re trying to do a lot of fun things as well. There will be a party on Friday night during which there will be time for people to meet each other and talk to each other outside of that learning environment. I really wanted the conference to embody coming together again and making connections — hopefully, [attendees will] leave with more knowledge and more connections. I’ve noticed that people do want to be together again, and we’re taking the proper precautions…so they can have fun but in a safe way.

Can we expect any social distancing, or will guests be required to wear masks for entry?

Attendees are welcome to wear masks if they choose; however, everyone in attendance will be required to be vaccinated. We will have enough room for people to social distance as well. Recommended guidelines may change by October…so we will continues to follow those closely.

You have already touched on the theme of this year’s conference being a reunion. Are there any other highlights of this year’s conference that you are particularly excited about?

I mentioned the Fulbright party on Friday — that will be a new one! Also, the Fulbright Talks! The theme for this year’s Fulbright Talks is Resilience. It’s sort of like a like a TedTalk, just 10 minutes: say a few words about what it is that you’ve been through and how you overcame it.

I am also really excited about the keynote! Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova will deliver the keynote. Ambassador Markarova will speak on the war in Ukraine, then join a panel of distinguished scholars and diplomats, moderated by Association board member and Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi.

We’ll have a mobile app this year, which is new for a Fulbright Conference, and we’ll be able to send out push notifications if anything changes. If sessions get cancelled, people will know as soon as the app updates. I’m looking forward to implementing that this year.

Overall, I’m just excited that it’s my first Conference at the Fulbright Association.

Will Fulbrighters be able to communicate with each other via the app, much like social media?

Attendees will be able to see who else is in attendance and connect with each other. If we [as attendees] are near each other, we can shake our phones at the same time, and we will automatically connect that way. We can also chat with each other. There is a Facebook-like wall where people can post pictures, and the app can also be used as a schedule.

We will also have the program book, but as soon as the program is printed, it is already out of date. The app automatically updates, and it will still have the schedule.

Attendees will be able to add certain sessions and events to their own schedule, so they can create a personalized set schedule based on what they personally want to attend. The app will also have daily welcome videos, so now it’s just spreading the word and getting the attendees to download the app.

I’m sure they’ll know to download it now! Is there anything else Fulbrighters should know or anticipate ahead of attending the conference?

Expect lots of opportunities to network, to have a good time, and to reconnect!

Lastly, I’m curious to know, are there any plans in store for next year’s annual conference, or the conferences to follow?

Moving forward, we plan to regularly hold the Conference in a different location, rotating on a three-year cycle. Next year, we plan to have a conference in the U.S. but in a different state. The year after that, we plan to have an international conference, and then we’ll be back in D.C. again. It’s a purposeful rotation because we want to start meeting our Fulbrighters where they are. We have the Fulbright Prize which will always take place in D.C. For the Conference, we want to go to where our members are and also host an international experience, so we hope that future Conferences will reflect this idea. We don’t have the dates or locations nailed down yet, but the hope is that we’ll know where we are going by the time the 2022 Annual Conference begins, so folks will know we will be in 2023.

Thank you again for joining me today, Alicia! 

Of course. I hope to see you at the conference in October!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

– Stephen Gardner, Public Engagement Summer Intern

FORWARD: Fulbrighters with Disabilities Breaks New Ground, Leaves No One Behind

FORWARD: Fulbrighters with Disabilities Breaks New Ground, Leaves No One Behind

The seed that would grow into Fulbrighters with Disabilities (FWD), the first global, virtual, disability-centered chapter of the Fulbright Association, was planted in March 2020.

“We’d all gone abroad expecting to immerse ourselves in our host cultures,” said Itto Outini, then a Fulbright scholar studying journalism and strategic media at the University of Arkansas, “and then COVID came along and trapped us all indoors.”

Though Arkansas never implemented a full lockdown, Itto had recently undergone a major surgery. Now immunocompromised, she had no choice but to quarantine herself in her host family’s home, where she whiled away the early months of the pandemic reading, researching, and engaging in hours-long discussions with friends.

“Lots of people were lonely, or even just bored,” she recalled. “A Fulbrighter would post something on social media, and since we were all there, we all started liking and sharing each other’s posts, and then we started realizing that we were all having similar experiences as international scholars in the time of COVID and thinking about what kinds of resources might make things easier.”

At the same time, virtual conversations were emerging around the shared experiences of people with disabilities. Itto, who’s totally blind, had a stake in these discussions, too.

Online, she observed, most advocates seemed to agree that the virus itself, as well as masking, stigma, social distancing, and lockdowns, presented new, potentially deadly obstacles to people with disabilities. On the other hand, many noted, by mainstreaming virtual school and online work, COVID-19 had finally delivered accommodations that people with disabilities had been calling for, for years, creating opportunities for individuals and populations historically left behind.

A few months into the pandemic, Itto found herself uniquely positioned to initiate a conversation with David Smith, Shaz Akram, John Bader, and Christine Oswald of the Fulbright Association about how to better serve a certain intersectional constituency, Fulbright scholars with disabilities, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the following months, these talks continued to evolve until, on April 5th, 2021, Itto formally founded Fulbrighters with Disabilities, the first of its kind.

“Whether you’re a current or prospective Fulbright scholar, a student or scholar with a disability, an advocate, an ally, or a friend,” said Itto, who served as FWD’s president for a year before stepping into the role of chapter representative, “you’re welcome to join.”

Anyone who’d like to join the chapter, request access to existing services, or suggest or offer new ones may send an introductory email to fwd@fulbright.org detailing how they’d like to be involved. FWD strives to welcome the widest possible range of insights, expertise, and skills, for

only a diverse and innovative membership will be equipped to tackle the unforeseen and unforeseeable challenges that come with breaking new and long-neglected ground.

“We’re figuring everything out as we go,” said Itto. “For example, even the name—it took us forever to agree on what to call the chapter, and we still missed something. If you’re using a screenreader, as I do, and you come across the abbreviation ‘FWD’ in lowercase, it might read it as the word ‘forward.’ That can be confusing since it’s in our email address.”

Yet if this glitch is inconvenient, it’s also serendipitous. “As scholars with disabilities, we’re all working to support each other,” Itto went on, “so that we can finally move forward together. We’re trying to make the Fulbright’s mission of peace through education accessible to all: to take everyone forward and leave no one behind.”

By Mekiya Walters

Communications Specialist with Fulbrighters with Disabilities | MFA in Fiction from the University of Arkansas

Advocacy Yields $15 million more for Fulbright

Advocacy Yields $15 million more for Fulbright

The regime change in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine remind us that our world may always be rocked by violence, and that we must each do what we can to build a lasting peace based on understanding. For our part, Fulbright alumni work continuously to ensure that the Fulbright Program remains an effective instrument of diplomacy and education. That is why the Association puts advocacy to Congress as a centerpiece of our programming, and why we always need your help to speak out.

This year, for the first time in a dozen years, the Fulbright Program may finally get a spending increase thanks, in part, to these advocacy efforts. First, the House Appropriations Committee endorsed a $10 million increase, thanks to the strong leadership of Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY)—all of whom attended the Fulbright Prize event for Bono on March 31. After that event, Rep. DeLauro met with Board member and Advocacy Chair Melanie Horton and Executive Director John Bader, promising to do what she could for Fulbright—and she delivered!

The Senate Appropriations Committee followed their lead, but proposed $15 million more than the current $275 million of spending, for a total of $290 million. Also attending the Prize event was the Committee’s chair, Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT). Senator Leahy has always been a great champion of the Fulbright Program, and this year—sadly, his last in the Senate—he gathered support to boost funding.

The Fulbright Prize event hosted nearly 20 members of Congress from both chambers and both parties—including Minority whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). This perfectly reflects our longstanding commitment to building bipartisan friendships in support of the Fulbright Program. The Prize also reminds everyone—members of Congress, the diplomatic corps in Washington which had nearly 30 countries represented, and leaders of higher education—of the positive impact of Fulbright and the principle of peace through understanding.

Meeting with Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) – May 5th, 2022

But one event, however successful, is not enough. We must stand together nationwide and reach out to as many members of Congress as possible. That is why we followed the Prize with our annual Advocacy Month, once again conducted virtually. We organized more than 50 meetings with over a hundred Fulbrighters from across the country, all to explain why the Program works so well and why it requires a significant boost in spending. We were so pleased that several principals joined these calls, including Fulbright alumnus (to Greece), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Senator Mike Braun (R-IN).

We are not done yet, of course.  The added monies included in the Appropriations bills may not become law, so we are continuing efforts to build support for those bills. Board member Bruce Fowler and Advocacy Committee member Sudha Haley met recently with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to deliver that message. Thanks, Bruce and Sudha!

Next year, we hope you will join us in advocating for a stronger Fulbright Program. We will be planning visits to local and state offices in February so that you can participate in-person while staying close to home. An in-person Advocacy Day will immediately follow the Fulbright Prize event next spring, if you can join us in Washington.  Keep an eye out for announcements and visit our advocacy website, www.fulbright.org/advocacy.  We look forward to hearing your voice raised for Fulbright!

2022 Selma Jeanne Cohen Dance Lecture Awardee: Janaki Nair

2022 Selma Jeanne Cohen Dance Lecture Awardee: Janaki Nair

Dr Janaki Nair is one of the rare female Kathakali artists who is trained to perform male characters. One of the outstanding disciples of Shri Nelliyodu Vasudevan Nampoothiri, Dr Nair has followed a rigid training regime in Kathakali for fifteen years. She was aptly awarded with India government’s talent scholarship for her flair and passion in Kathakali and has performed widely in India and UK. In her research, she continues to explore the concept of embodying and aligning psychophysical practices, concepts and methodologies.

Dr Nair is also a visual anthropologist who, through her research, explored possibilities of making ethnographic films to create cultural and artistic memories. She is a post-graduate (M.A) in Media and her interests lie in the concept of ‘representation’ and ‘documentation’ using media as a main tool. Her second master’s degree (MFA) is in dance, and she intertwined both of these academic qualifications to tread new avenues in her career.

In 2020, she completed her PhD from Northumbria University with specialised supervision from University of Oxford, UK. She is currently a Research Project Leader at the OCHS, University of Oxford and is a distinguished researcher, who presented research papers at many international conferences (University of Oxford, Aarhus University, Cyprus University, University of Paris, Hyderabad University etc.) She was also engaged with University of Lincoln as a Post-doctoral Research Associate, where she researched about sustainable education methodology in post-conflict settings.

She won Kerala State Best Actress Award, 2015 for her acting skills. Dr Nair also has directed documentaries and acted in various films and television soaps. Being a researcher, performer, actress, film maker and Indologist, through her works, she aims to collaborate with international organisations and artists to mobilise and sustain the presence of traditional Indian arts and culture.

She was elected as a Fellow of Royal Society of Arts, London and has also received Charles Wallace India Trust scholarship for making one of her documentary films. She is the founder and artistic director of Natyatmika Institute of Indian Arts and Culture (NIIAC) and has won many accolades for her dedicated works to foster Indian arts and culture. Whilst her expertise is deeply rooted in Indian dance and cultural practices her engagement with the investigatory potential offers a unique perspective on the creative potential of traditional art within contemporary academic contexts. Clearly her interdisciplinary and cross- cultural range of practices opens many possibilities to showcase, preserve and disseminate traditional practices and pedagogy.

Fulbrighters with Disabilities Launch

Fulbrighters with Disabilities Launch

Fulbrighters with Disabilities (FWD), launched in April 2021, is a global, virtual chapter of the Fulbright Association dedicated to supporting students and scholars with disabilities around the world. As the first of its kind, FWD will pioneer new ways of engaging with stakeholders and advocating for students and scholars with disabilities on our own terms across physical, national, and cultural borders.

FWD’s guiding mission is to address four distinct barriers facing Fulbright scholars with disabilities so they can contribute as equals to advancing peace through education. These four barriers are as follows:

  • Difficulty navigating unfamiliar, disabling environments in host countries and institutions;
  • Difficulty identifying and accessing resources nominally allocated for persons with disabilities;
  • Difficulty leveraging unfamiliar laws and policies to secure reasonable accommodations such as accessible housing, transportation, digital content, etc.;
  • Difficulty securing employment and accessing professional opportunities due to stigma, discrimination, and lack of resources.

To this end, FWD now offers a limited range of tangible services, including the following:

  • Proofreading/providing feedback on applications for grants, fellowships, and scholarships (Fulbright, Rhodes, Chevening, etc.) for applicants with disabilities;
  • Connecting Fulbright scholars with disabilities (and family members who’re traveling with them) with resources and accommodations in their host countries and institutions;
  • Hosting educational sessions about the UN CRPD, laws governing disability rights and accessibility in various host countries, and strategies for securing reasonable accommodations under the appropriate laws;
  • Providing professional consultations to recent university graduates with disabilities who’re seeking employment.

As the chapter’s membership, budget, and capacity grows, more services will be made available. Examples might include, but need not be limited to, the following:

  • Establishing strategic partnerships with local Fulbright Commissions and providing virtual orientation sessions to incoming Fulbright scholars with disabilities in every country where the Fulbright operates;
  • Creating accessible online test-prep courses for the TOEFL, GMAT, and GRE;
  • Hiring English-language instructors to support students and scholars with disabilities who’ve had limited access to immersive English-language instruction;
  • Establishing a fund to provide reasonable accommodations (laptops with accessible software, wheelchairs, sign language interpretation, etc.) to students and scholars with disabilities where those accommodations can’t be secured through other means;
  • Providing consultations to Fulbright advisors to help them better support students and scholars with disabilities;
  • Building informal networks of individuals with disabilities who can support new Fulbright scholars with disabilities, share insights drawn from their personal experiences, and help them secure reasonable accommodations in every country where the Fulbright operates.

In addition to these services, FWD has also begun to organize and host events. On June 25, 2022, the chapter hosted its first webinar. The current board members introduced themselves and their roles, invited constituents to participate in developing the chapter’s charter, and proposed the convention of panels to carry out the chapter’s work.

In July, founder, former present, and current chapter representative Itto Outini received the Fulbright in the Classroom Grant to host three virtual sessions targeting current and aspiring students and scholars with disabilities. In these sessions, Itto will discuss the challenges she overcame as a Fulbright scholar with a disability, encourage other students and scholars with disabilities to apply for Fulbright grants, and offer guidance to those who are facing similar challenges. These sessions will take place at different times on different days of the week in August, October, and December of 2022 to better accommodate participants in different time zones. If you’re interested in attending a session, please follow the link to sign up via Google form.

FWD’s members continue to discuss events that the chapter may organize this year and next. To know more about upcoming events, or if you’re interested in joining the chapter, requesting our services, or offering new ones, please send an introductory email to fwd@fulbright.org detailing how you’d like to be involved with the chapter.

By Mekiya Walters

Communications Specialist with Fulbrighters with Disabilities | MFA in Fiction from the University of Arkansas

Insight Trip to Slovenia: May 2022

Insight Trip to Slovenia: May 2022

“Why would you ever want to go to Slovenia? I don’t even know where it is, let alone WHY you would want to go there.” I would tell everyone – Slovenia’s tagline is “the only country with LOVE in its name” but that did not seem to satisfy their curiosity, but in my opinion, visiting off the beaten path is what makes Fulbright Association tours so great.

For many, Slovenia would not be on their short list of countries to visit, but that is a mistake. The country is lovely, the people are friendly, and the food is excellent – all desirable attributes in my mind. After all, that is what makes a Fulbright Association trip so unique – the ability to interact with a county and its people at a much deeper level than your average tour.

The Fulbright program started in the wake of World War II – Americans set to better assist and understand the world by living and working abroad while also bringing both students and career professionals to the United States to better understand us. The Fulbright Association is made up of former recipients of Fulbright grants as well as many Friends of Fulbright. As members, we share the vision of increasing understanding and developing friendships across our countries.

Yugoslavia (of which Slovenia was a part) was crafted after WWI from a group of diverse nationalities, many of which hated each other. As a saying of that time notes, “seven neighbors, six republics, five nations, four languages, three religions, two scripts, and one goal: to live in brotherhood and unity”. If you are familiar with the Balkans, you know that the area has been the center of unrest for much of the 20th century. In fact, World War I broke out first in the Balkans before engulfing the rest of the world. Much hatred and unrest ran deep in the area.

Tito was able to hold Yugoslavia together by the sheer power of his personality. When Tito died, Yugoslavia fell apart. Today, the area is composed of seven distinct countries, and Slovenia is one. Slovenia is a lovely country in Europe with about 2 million people. It is roughly the size of New Jersey and the capital city, Ljubljana, has a population of about 300,000 people. This makes the capital city very walkable.

The Fulbright Association offers two types of trips: Insight and Service. This was an Insight trip – meaning we were to do a deep dive into the country, its history, its people, its culture, and so on. Many of us love to travel but touring through a country without truly interacting with the locals is not my idea of traveling. For eight of us, this trip gave us the opportunity to see a country that most Americans know little about. Thus, a trip with the Fulbright Association is not a regular touring trip – it is a deeper interaction with the people, the culture, and the history of the area.

We started our trip with a Zoom call with the Slovenian Ambassador to the United States and proceeded to visit, while in the country, historical museums, national parks, and other important sites. As an economist, I appreciated that we even learned about some of the larger industries in Slovenia – winemaking, salt extraction from the sea, and bees/honey (who knew Slovenia had more bees per capita than any other country on earth). There is a type of bee, Carniolan bees, that were native to Slovenia and are now found around the world. We came home with a much deeper understanding of the region and an appreciation for its issues. Visiting a WWI museum and especially exploring the western part of the country (where the war front ravaged through for 29 months) brought forth the horrors of that war and how it devasted the country. We saw a lovely church built by Russian prisoners of war from WWI in honor of 300 or so of their countrymen who died building a road over one of the taller mountains in the area.

I think all of us came away from Slovenia with a better understanding of the country, a love for its beauty, and an appreciation for Slovenia’s dedication to “green living” and recycling.

Kathy Parkison, Fulbright Association Representative

Fulbright University Sojourns in Indonesia and Myanmar: Future Teachers, Medical Doctors, and Women University Executives

Shwedagon Pagoda

For decades, I longed to have a Fulbright in Indonesia, since it is both the world’s largest Muslim country and third hugest democratic nation. Fortunately, I was awarded a Fall 2013 fellowship at the University of Lampung, situated in Bandar-Lampung (the capitol of the province) located at the southern tip of Sumatra Island, just below the equator. My original portfolio was situated in the University’s Faculty of Teacher Training and Education that had approximately 7500 undergraduate and graduate students. Eager students, faculty, and rector were keen to learn about different educational levels in the United States and other Western and Asian countries. The photo below portrays students in an outdoor interactive lecture.

My role extended to co-teaching physicians, in the Faculty of Medicine, who desired to enhance their skills in English and scientific research methodology in order to engage in international conferences and forums. Learning about the latest research and techniques in medicine and sharing their knowledge of medical practices, somewhat unique to tropical climates, were the overarching desires of medical faculty who assumed the roles of students. Notice the photo, composed of the then woman dean and immediate former dean of medicine, along with two women faculty, man, and the Fulbright university coordinator.

On a sociocultural level, I had the opportunity for immersion in a Muslim nation where I was awakened by Muslim pre-dawn call to prayer and calmed by it at the end of daylight. Further, I attended Friday noon-day prayers with my graduate assistant (with an English degree), whose curiosity arose because I desired to attend Friday noon-day prayers with her – although I am not Muslim. It was mid-day serenity.

University of Lampung Students

Although the sociocultural and religious milieu are quite different in Myanmar (largely a Buddhist nation), where I had a Fall 2017 Fulbright, considerable time was spent with two women graduate assistants at Myeik University. Both students were in STEM fields of botany and urban geography. It was quite striking that well-over half the Myeik University undergraduate and master’s students were women. Even more surprising were the major executive positions of Rector, Pro-Rector, and Deans were occupied by women – primarily in STEM fields. (The photo below portrays then university Rector, former Rector, Dean, and Graduate Assistants). Unbelievably, despite Myeik contemporary de jure and de facto military government, Western and Northern countries may learn some lessons that help place women in solid faculty and leadership positions. Throughout my time in Myeik and brief periods in Yangon (the capitol and largest city), I was constantly intrigued by Buddhism that permeates social institutions and daily life. One male professor calmly voiced to me that people who suffered in this life, were dealing with their past-life bad karmas. To me, this was quite surprising because he was located at one of the country’s major universities and held a PhD in humanities. Likely, the Myanmar Fulbright was one of my most unique life’s personal and professional experiences – including a Sunday afternoon excursion (with my graduate assistant) at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Why? Western nations do not evince overwhelming Buddhism; rather Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths are the dominant norms. Photos are shown below of the Shwedagon, the world’s oldest stupa.

I continue to remain in touch with talented professionals from Indonesia and Myanmar largely via Facebook, LinkedIn, and emails. Of particular note, women executives from both nations participated in our Ford Foundation multi-year Institute (at the University of California) that addresses women university leadership in Conflict, Post-Conflict, and Transitional Societies.

Beverly Lindsay, PhD, EdD has been awarded Fulbrights to Indonesia, Mozambique, Myanmar, South Korea, and Zimbabwe

Q&A with Iconic Drag Performer BeBe Zahara Benet on Cross-Culturalism, BEING BEBE, His Fulbrighter Father, and Being a Role Model

Q&A with Iconic Drag Performer BeBe Zahara Benet on Cross-Culturalism, BEING BEBE, His Fulbrighter Father, and Being a Role Model

In celebration of LGBTQI+ Pride Month and Good Docs’ educational release & academic screening tour of the award-winning new film BEING BEBE, Fulbright Association is hosting the Fulbright Forum event – BEING BEBE: Cross-Cultural Exchange & the Advancement of LGBTQI+ Human Rights.

Held on June 13th at 12pm EDT, Fulbright Association welcomes iconic drag performer BeBe Zahara Benet, filmmakers, and activists including Rainbow Railroad’s Executive Director Kimahli Powell to discuss the film’s themes – challenging stereotypes, empowering diverse gender expression, celebrating creativity, family acceptance, faith, love, and LGBTQI+ human rights.

Though fans know BeBe as the iconic first winner of the worldwide phenomenon RuPauls Drag Race, the film opens audiences’ eyes to not only BeBe’s personal struggles, but also the challenges that LGBTQI+ and gender non-conforming individuals in BeBe’s home country of Cameroon (as millions elsewhere) still face today.

BEING BEBE Fulbright ties run deep – from BeBe’s father Dr. Collins Ngwa (an esteemed Professor of International Relations in Yaounde who appears throughout the film), to Producer Jonathan Goodman Levitt and Advisory Board Member Natasha Johnson, both Fulbrighters to the U.K. Fulbright GNY also hosted a reception with BeBe after the film’s NYC premiere to continue the conversation about cultural diversity & Black Queer Excellence that the film embodies.

The following Q&A offers a taste of what BeBe brings to BEING BEBE and will share at the upcoming Fulbright Forum:

As an immigrant to the United States from Cameroon, how do you feel both cultures have influenced your art, music, and persona as BeBe Zahara Benet?

I feel lucky to say that America is my chosen home, and while it comes with its own hardships or difficulties, it’s still a place that has accepted me. I had to come here to birth this BeBe Zahara Benet. I’m able to live here and develop my craft and live my craft and inspire people and be who I want to be. There’s just such a level of freedom being here. When I came here at first, it was like, okay, do I have to act like an American? Do I have to dress a certain way? Do I need to sing a certain way? Do I have to perform a certain way?

But I realized that it’s the opposite because people do embrace where I come from. They do embrace the fact that I am, you know, showcasing culture and bringing it into their lives. They love that about me. Culture plays a huge part in my artistry. That’s what makes BeBe BEBE. There’s something amazing that I feel like I’m gifting other people from where I come from – whether it’s through dance, music, food, fashion, whatever.

You know, we wish it could be different in terms of certain things, but we don’t hate where we come from. I think we come to this country because there is some level of freedom to be able to live and to be able to develop and be who we are. If Cameroon had even half of the opportunities that America gives us here, then most people who are even coming here would not be coming here.

It’s that part though – the wish that the celebration of my art form could be in Cameroon, you know, where my people can actually be part of this kind of celebration and artistry. There’s just that little sadness in that, you know, I’m not able to really be BeBe in Cameroon.

In the new documentary, you look back at footage spanning the highs and lows of your 15+ years of your career – what was that experience like for you?

It’s very wild to me. Like how time flies so fast, but it feels like yesterday. I mean – I was a little skinny back then – now I’m a grown woman!  And what I love is now that I look back, many years later – with everything that’s going on now and with the conversations that are happening now – I think that it’s almost like divine timing. People need to see and hear these stories now, because it’s not always the tra-la-la and fra-la-la of it all. People need to see that, with perseverance and with struggle, there’s always that light at the end of the tunnel, you know?

And it doesn’t mean that it always ends up being perfect, but you just have to hang on to it and trust what that is. And I’m hoping that my story is what tells people that you [should] never give up. And I know it’s a pageant answer sometimes, cuz everybody says, “Oh, never give up” – but guess what? You can look at this movie and say, “Yes, never give up!” Do you know what I mean? Because you get to follow the journey of what that is. It’s not just a statement.

BeBe, your father Dr. Collins Ngwa was a Fulbright scholar – can you tell us a little bit about him?

Yes, my dad was an international scholar – a professor, and like a mentor to many people who went on to become diplomats, ambassadors, ministers. He traveled abroad a lot as a student and an educator and had SO many degrees (laughs). He was the pillar of our family. He was full of light. Full of love. Full of joy, you know. He always cracked jokes and loved to gather people together. He was a man that always was about unifying people. And I think I get a lot of that from him. Like we can all be different, but we can all come together and coexist together because of what our differences are – and that’s what makes this world beautiful, because we are all that different.

He was the kind of father who has no judgment on who you are, and accepts every layer of who you are. Even the times when Dad did not really know what drag was – the idea of just allowing me to be me, and just being supportive of the path in terms of my career and my artistry.  And my dad always was that kind of a man who was so grounded and not going to compromise his integrity, but believed that with hard work and perseverance, you will be successful and create your own thing and create your own opportunities. He lives on, you know. He lives on in us, his work lives on.

Granted, he traveled a lot, he was very educated, he’d lived here in the US, but he still was a man of culture and tradition in a place where difference was not always tolerated. So just being so accepting, even when he didn’t understand, even when it was still a journey for him – it was something special, and I think something that his studies around the world probably helped open his mind to. I think that I am able to be who I am because my family accepted me to be who I am.

As the very first winner of the international reality TV sensation RuPauls Drag Race, what has it been like to be a role model to so many LGBTQI+ and gender non-conforming individuals in Cameroon and around the world?

I don’t know if I set out to be a role model. I know I set out to live my truth. I set out knowing that there was something that I had to bring into the world, whatever that is. And I always keep saying that our platforms are a privilege. But I also know it comes with a lot of responsibility, you know, and that’s why we have to be very careful.

People need to see more things that are positive, because you have people from Cameroon and Africa and all around the world, who are not able to live the way we are living – who look to us to seek some peace or to try to be inspired or try to say, you know, if BeBe can do it, then I can do it. You know? And when you get all these messages where people tell you how you have moved them and helped them, when it comes to suicide, or just personal stories where it took them watching me do A, B, C, D, E, F, G for them to change their mind about something about their life. And to me, it’s not a responsibility that I asked for, but it comes with it. So I’m just humbled, you know?

 

– Marshall Kudi Ngwa (aka BeBe Zahara Benet), as told to BEING BEBE Director/Producer Emily Branham. Some of BeBe’s answers have been edited for length.

Learn more about BEING BEBE, and how to bring the film to your school or library:  https://gooddocs.net/products/being-bebe

 

Launch of the Fulbright Chronicles

Launch of the Fulbright Chronicles

Working with a fabulous global editorial team and a great group of contributors, we are very pleased to announce the launch of the Fulbright Chronicles.

This independent, on-line, peer-reviewed journal by and for Fulbright alumni explores how the Fulbright experience shapes our lives, shifts the arc of our career trajectories, develops novel approaches to collaboration, engenders innovative means of creative expression, and establishes new pathways of knowledge.

Highlights of the inaugural issue include a commentary by former Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar on “Why the Fulbright Program Really Matters” and an essay by Pultizer-prize winning author Jane Smiley on how being a Fulbrighter in Iceland shifted her career aspirations. There is also an article by MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellow Derek Peterson describing the ways in which his Fulbright experience in the early 1990s shaped his scholarly vocation on the politics of African identity.

The Chronicles grew out of our Fulbright experiences in Thailand and a shared sense that the long-term impact of these experiences was an untold story.  Introduced to each other in 2007 by then Executive Director of the Thai Fulbright Program, Pornthip Kanjaniyot, in 2014 we were asked to co-edit the English version of a Thai-English volume marking the 60th anniversary of the the Thai Fulbright Program.  In recent years, we discussed that there was an opportunity to explore more broadly how Fulbrighters “see the world” and what they do with those insights.

We are so grateful to the Chronicles editorial team and initial contributors who helped launch us all on this remarkable journey.  We cordially invite you to join us.  You can learn more about our global editorial team and their Fulbright experiences or how to contribute an article or commentary at:  www.fulbright-chronicles.com.

 

Kevin F F Quigley
Co-Editors
Fulbright Thailand and Laos 2007
Fulbright Thailand 2022
Bruce B Svare
Co-Editors
Fulbright Thailand, 2006, 2014
Fulbright ASEAN Awardee, 2022

 

THANK YOU – National Volunteer Week

THANK YOU – National Volunteer Week

At the heart of the Fulbright Alumni network are our 55 local chapters across the United States. Behind every chapter event is a dedicated group of volunteer board leaders that create content, plan gatherings, and work to further the Fulbright mission. Their dedication allows US Fulbrighters to turn their Fulbright experience into a lifelong journey back in their home country.

We are grateful to the volunteers who charter chapters, join their local Board of Directors, organize events, and represent Fulbright in their communities. Without you, the Fulbright community would not be the global network that it is today.  On behalf of the Fulbright Association and all of its members – thank you.