I’ve been in Belgium a few days now, but before I begin blogging about my experiences I want to explain how I started on this journey.
I learned about the Fulbright program when I was an undergraduate at The Ohio State University. As a dual degree student in International Studies and German, I could take classes from a host of departments. It was really a 700 level course called “United States National Security and the Cold War” that solidified my future as an Historian and International Political Economist. I successfully convinced Dr. Beyerchen that I belonged in a class that was clearly designed for graduate students. There were 6 of us. I was the only female and the only undergraduate. The reading list was extensive, as were the writing requirements, and I had no background what-so-ever in the topic.
I loved every minute of it.
I still have that syllabus somewhere. It keeps company with a few others that have contributed to how I look at the world. (Some of them will show up in later entries.)
There were many readings that ignited my passion for intertwining history and policy, a few come to mind here:
– Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation, about his time at the State Department and the art of diplomacy that continue to intrigue me. His comments about the birth of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization started my obsession with NATO and nuclear strategy.
– Bruce Jentleson, Pipeline Politics, about US attempts to undermine the USSR’s oil production with embargoes on certain equipment. Jentleson altered me to oil politics and the role that dual-use technology plays in national security and economics. It was, without me realizing it at the time, the first book on Political Economy I had read (not the last!).
– Richard J. Barnet, The Alliance, was a rich narrative of early post-World War Two reconstruction and how the US established itself as a ‘European power’ to create a bulwark against Communism. This was an absolutely enjoyable read (with lengthy sections on Japan as well).
So what does this have to do with the Fulbright? I learned about it in this class and immediately knew I wanted to become a part of it. This was the era where Americans were forced to go beyond their borders in every way possible – economically, culturally, militarily, and socially — because they suddenly had a bigger role to play in global affairs. Now, the US needed to be out there and engaged in the world. This is the context and spirit in which William J. Fulbright conceived of the program. Fulbright sought to promote education and cultural exchange for understanding, which he knew might lead to the possibility of agreement. This is still important, indeed today it is absolutely essential for healthy international relations. The character of America’s relationships may have changed, but they still rest (or should rest) on these principles. Knowing the ‘other side’s’ view only makes you stronger in the long run.
Within the history of this program is the aim to contribute to the world and make it a better place, both when you are abroad and after you return home.
I know it sounds hokey, but most of us want to connect to something; we want to understand and better ourselves and those around us. That class, and the Fulbright, struck a chord in me because I am that kind of person. I try to present events and perspectives as accurately as possible in my work with the aim to suggest solutions and facilitate dialogue among many different and often conflicting groups. I am constantly seeking different ways of doing that. I want that other angle, that other piece that might provide a more complete picture of a problem in the hope that it might make a difference. I’ve been given a rare opportunity to find more pieces as a Fulbright-Schuman Scholar.
William J. Fulbright’s vision involved the exchange of ideas and the hope of understanding. He knew that within those processes there needed to be personal and shared experience. He wanted to create a cadre of American educational and cultural ambassadors, and open the United States to people in other parts of the world who felt the same way.
To me, the Fulbright represents the optimism of exploration. Of finding something new or rediscovering something forgotten. That’s what experience is – discovery.
So let’s go.