In ‘The Price of Empire’, the collection of essays written by J William Fulbright, the former US Senator reflected on the significance of the cultural exchange programmes that bear his name. Senator Fulbright explained that these exchanges were not merely “one of those nice but marginal activities in which we engage in international affairs, but rather, from the standpoint of future world peace and order, probably the most important and potentially rewarding of our foreign-policy activities.”
Now, more than ever, Senator Fulbright’s words are especially compelling. They remind us how critical it is for all nations to come together and communicate what we know, what we’re passionate about, and, most importantly, to listen to others and learn from them as we pursue mutual understanding.
Journey of Seven Decades
In February 1950, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and US Ambassador Loy W Henderson signed the initial agreement that established the Fulbright programme in India. For seven decades, the Fulbright programme has supported academic and cultural exchanges for approximately 20,000 citizens of India and the United States. This year, we are proud to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Fulbright programme in India.
Since its creation, the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF), the administering body of the Fulbright exchange programme, has seen extraordinary growth. In 2008, the old United States Educational Foundation in India became USIEF. This was more than a simple name change. The new name signalled the commitment from the government of India to join the US as equal partners in the funding and governance of the Fulbright programme and to reflect the true bi-national nature of the programme.
Under the new agreement, the size of the programme tripled and new exchange programmes were developed. Today, India boasts the largest Fulbright scholar programme in the world and one of the largest student research programmes worldwide.
The USIEF now features talented and dedicated teams working at offices in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Chennai. From these posts, we coordinate efforts with the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and the US Embassy to implement the Fulbright exchange programmes.
With all we do, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks. Anniversaries such as this give us a great opportunity to take a moment to give thanks, reflect, and recharge.
The 70th anniversary finds USIEF reflecting on the memorable stories of the past. We were reminded, for example, that for the first Fulbright participants, international travel meant a long voyage by sea and a big step away from their comfort zones. One example of how the times have changed can be found in early versions of our scholars’ handbook. In this book provided to help young scholars acclimate to life in a new country, we encouraged fellows to bring their own typewriters with them to document their experiences, about their academic growth and life in a foreign community.
Technological advances have changed the way we travel and how we stay in touch. It’s obvious that things have changed rather dramatically in 70 years. What remains unaltered, however, is the spirit of adventure, the goodwill, and the desire to learn and share knowledge that propelled every Indian or American scholar who has been a recipient of this prestigious award.
I am grateful to the USIEF staff whose effort and intelligence contribute to making the Fulbright programme successful. The support of Fulbright alumni, our cheerleaders and validators, is also essential to our success. Their dedication and enthusiasm to share their knowledge and experience is contagious and helps the Fulbright programme grow.
Depth and Meaning
Each year, I am amazed by the talent and humanity of the students and scholars from India who travel to the US and their counterparts who from the US to India. Both groups do not limit themselves to perform only in their areas of expertise, but continually surprise us with their ability to infuse more depth and meaning to their presence abroad. Their lives are enriched by the Fulbright experience. Just as importantly, so are the lives of everyone who comes in contact with these extraordinary individuals.
Today, we celebrate 70 years of the Fulbright programmes in India. This celebration renews our commitment to fulfil Senator Fulbright’s goal of bringing “a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs,” as well as increasing “the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.”
USIEF is now accepting applications from Indian citizens for 2021-22. These fellowships are awarded to students, academics, teachers, policymakers, administrators and professionals in a variety of disciplines across the arts, humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields. I urge you to consider whether you or someone you know would be a good candidate to represent your country as a cultural ambassador in the United States and experience this opportunity first hand. For more details, visit www.usief.org.in, or visit one of USIEF offices in New Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, or Mumbai.
(The author is Executive Director, US-India Educational Foundation)