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Transforming Communities Through Knowledge

Fulbrighters are recognized for their achievements in academia, government, and in other important fields, and they also bring to life one of the Fulbright Program’s most consequential objectives: to shape a more positive vision for communities through sharing knowledge. 

Their commitment is tangible. Every year both Foreign and U.S. Fulbrighters donate their time and expertise to serve their host communities, impacting hundreds of thousands of people around the world. In 2019 alone, Fulbrighters reported volunteering almost 160,000 hours. 

An examination of Fulbright program outcomes and alumni efforts illustrates ways in which Fulbrighters have transformed and had a lasting impact on global communities. Through an array of programs, empowered Fulbrighters weave new ideas into the social fabric of their host communities, and the world.

Transforming Arctic Communities

The Fulbright Arctic Initiative assembles a network of scholars, professionals, and applied researchers from the eight Arctic Council member countries to work towards creating a secure and sustainable Arctic. These Fulbrighters innovate, collaborate, and create solutions through a unique focus on interdisciplinary, cross-cultural group work. Working in tandem with peoples of the Arctic is critical to achieving the Initiative’s goals, and each cohort of scholars works to learn from and identify solutions with the very communities experiencing the real impact of a changing Arctic for mutual benefit. These groups include Canadian and Russian communities, the Sámi, Greenlandic Inuit, and other Indigenous communities across the region. For Dr. Elizabeth Rink, Associate Professor in Health and Human Development at Montana State University, and current Co-Lead Scholar of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative, building connections and learning local approaches to the environment, conservation, and cultural practices “is something you can’t manufacture in a classroom.”

After collaborating with scientists, community leaders, public servants, and other key stakeholders, each cohort produces an action-based policy brief. The first Fulbright Arctic cohort’s policy brief spurred the Canadian government to fund an Arctic Council community energy planning toolkit, leading to a nearly $10 million “Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Grant” that included five countries, 17 communities, and industry and utility partners. Dr. Gregory Poelzer, Professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan, who was a participant in the first cohort and who now serves as the Co-Lead Scholar for the third cohort sums it up neatly: “None of this would have been possible without the Fulbright Arctic Initiative.”

Transforming Academic Communities

On university and college campuses across the United States, the Fulbright Outreach Lecturing Fund (OLF) and Scholar-in-Residence (S-I-R) Programs build mutually beneficial international relationships. The Outreach Lecturing Fund, which allows institutions to host Fulbright Visiting Scholars from other institutions for short-term speaking engagements, enriches both institutions and scholars through academically engaging and culturally relevant lectures. The Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Program assists U.S. higher education institutions that may serve minority audiences in the internationalization of curriculum and campus by non-U.S. scholars. Each U.S. host institution gains from the Fulbrighters’ academic and cultural knowledge, while the Scholar gains nuanced insight into the diversity and vibrancy of the U.S. higher education system. 

Through the Fulbright OLF Program, students and faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), rural institutions, community colleges, and others learn from visiting scholars. Lyonel Sanon, a 2019 Scholar-in-Residence from Haiti placed at Xavier University of Louisiana, connected with students and colleagues on campus—as well as the broader New Orleans community—by teaching about Haitian history and culture. During his tenure, Sanon was interviewed by several local radio programs, participated in local parades and other traditions, and formed lifelong friendships with community members. 

Cross-pollination on campus even leads to long-term international partnerships. Professor Jairo Viales, a 2018 Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence from Costa Rica who taught at Harper Community College in Illinois, shared his knowledge of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) via the Outreach Lecturing Fund at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Professor Viales’ teaching and lectures, aimed at providing community college students with global perspectives across curricula and exposing them to individuals from various cultures, ultimately inspired a Memorandum of Understanding between UAB and the Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica (UNCR), forging rich academic collaborations for the future.

Transforming Local Communities

Young professionals use English language instruction and volunteerism to support global communities through the Fulbright Student Program. Fulbright U.S. Student English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) not only build students’ English skills but nurture their curiosity about the people and culture of the United States. Outside the classroom, ETAs participate in extracurricular activities and programs, and some have even raised funds to support local organizations. David Hamburger, a 2016 ETA to India, raised $10,000 to help his 167-year-old school build its first library, paint murals, and make crucial infrastructure improvements. Gerti Wilson, a 2018 U.S. Student to Kenya, used her knowledge of global law as an intern with Lawyers Without Borders (LWB) in Nairobi, where she assisted with trial advocacy, efforts to reduce wildlife tracking, and counter-terrorism training for new Kenyan prosecutors. Cliff Long, a 2017 ETA to South Korea, taught North Korean refugees English and supported other ETAs through the Korean Adolescent Mentoring Program (KAMP).

Gerti Wilson (right), a 2018 U.S. Student to Kenya, with Judge Hannah Okwengu, an appellate judge and chair of the Kenyan Women Judges Association.
Gerti Wilson (right), a 2018 U.S. Student to Kenya, with Judge Hannah Okwengu, an appellate judge and chair of the Kenyan Women Judges Association. While on her Fulbright, Wilson volunteered her knowledge in global law while interning with Lawyers Without Borders.
 Cliff Long (right), a 2017 ETA to South Korea, taught English to North Korean refugees, and supported other ETAs through the Korean Adolescent Mentoring Program (KAMP).
 Cliff Long (right), a 2017 ETA to South Korea, taught English to North Korean refugees, and supported other ETAs through the Korean Adolescent Mentoring Program (KAMP).

Through the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, graduate students and Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs) at U.S. higher education institutions provide vital services on campuses and in surrounding communities. Serving as enthusiastic cultural ambassadors for their home countries, they share their culture and knowledge by organizing cultural clubs, creating foreign language exchanges, taking part in events such as International Education Week, and getting involved in other campus activities. Countless Fulbrighters have participated in ongoing service projects; volunteering at community centers, hospitals, and educational centers; serving those in need at food pantries and community kitchens; and providing translation and interpreting services for community based organizations. In every host community, Fulbrighters are bringing people closer together—one connection at a time.

Transforming the Future

Upon returning to their home countries, Fulbrighters continue to connect and create through alumni organizations, including participant-organized and led affinity groups.  Some affinity organizations, such as Fulbridge, Fulbright Access, Fulbright HBCU, Fulbright Families, Fulbright LatinX, Fulbright Lotus, Fulbright Noir, and Fulbright Salam, strive to create inclusive, forward-looking communities to share knowledge and experiences, helping to ‘pay it forward’ to the next generation of Fulbright participants. Fulbright’s vibrant alumni community also connects through the Fulbrighter Network, an exclusive network for Fulbright alumni, to create interest groups, collaborate on research, and provide mentoring and advice to their fellow Fulbrighters. Encompassing a wide range of passions, goals, and disciplines, these organizations extend Fulbright’s impact. 
Individual Fulbrighters have made a positive impact on the future in communities across the globe.  For Jonathan Rabb, a 2012 U.S. Fulbrighter to Germany, building community meant creating an innovative online platform for Black college and university culture: the Forbes-recognized Watch the Yard. Giffin Daughtridge, a 2011 Fulbright U.S. Student to Colombia in Medicine Sciences, and one of the 2018 Forbes “30 Under 30” in Health Care, transformed his Fulbright research into a startup – UrSure – that focuses on noninvasive, rapid tests to measure and improve how efficiently patients take their HIV medication.

 During his Fulbright, Giffin Daughtridge (right) started a Hepatitis B vaccination program for people employed in the sex work trade, in partnership with the Bogotá Secretary of Health and a local nonprofit, Fundación Fénix.
During his Fulbright, Giffin Daughtridge (right) started a Hepatitis B vaccination program for people employed in the sex work trade, in partnership with the Bogotá Secretary of Health and a local nonprofit, Fundación Fénix.

After 75 years of transforming communities through hundreds of thousands of hours of service and cultural exchange, Fulbrighters continue to connect, spread knowledge, and work towards a brighter future for all.