Thispaper aims to explore the importance of international educational exchange programsas an instrument for cultural diplomacy by focusing on the Fulbright Programwhich seeks to promote mutual understanding between people of the United Statesand the people of other countries (Fulbright-Hays Act, 1961). The paper brieflydefines cultural diplomacy and the Fulbright Program and thereafter discusseswhether cultural diplomacy generated by participants of the Fulbright Programcan be measured and if so, to what extent.
Finally, the paper determines theimplications of the Fulbright Program as a tool for cultural diplomacy. Culture is a standard of behaviour and a set ofvalues that large groups share. It is these shared practices that shape our identitywhich is often used to not only understand ourselves, but also people fromother cultures. The practice of cultural diplomacy has taken place forcenturies. The term was defined by political scientist Milton Cummings as “the exchange of ideas, information, values,systems, traditions, beliefs and other aspects of culture, with the intentionof fostering mutual understanding1”.
It is a diplomatic practice that can be used to influence others positivelyabout one’s country, culture and values. Furthermore, cultural diplomacy lays afoundation of trust among people which can be developed by policy makers inorder to reach political goals2. In today’s world, it hasbecome even more crucial to enhance broader mutual understanding between peopleand nations. Thus, the leaders of the world are increasingly realising the needfor cultural diplomacy.
Such need was also felt in the 1940’s when the widelyrecognized exchange program, The Fulbright Program, was established by U.S SenatorJ. William Fulbright. The Fulbright Program is an ideal example of culturaldiplomacy where education and the exchange of ideas are used as a vehicle topromote understanding and peace. Fulbright emphasizes that: “Educational exchange can turn nations intopeople, contributing as no other form of communication can to the humanizing ofinternational relations3”.The program attracts scholars, students and professionals from diverse fields.
TheFulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1.600 U.Sstudents, 4.
000 foreign students, 1.200 U.S scholars, and 900 visiting scholarsreceiving awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals.Approximately 370,000 “Fulbrighters” have participated in the Program since itsinception in 19464.It is evident that thousands ofpeople annually benefit from this educational exchange programmes.Historically, it was the war surplus material that was used to fund the programme.In the context of Cold War, the establishment of the Fulbright Program heldgreat importance and was followed by political expectations that it would serveAmerican interests, deconstruct stereotypes and foster an understanding of the”American way of living”. However,as every student or professional is different so is the outcome of theFulbright experience.
In educational exchange programmes there is a reliance onthe people as cultural ambassadors, and it is this people-to-people contactthat determines the outcome of the cultural diplomacy taking place. In thiscase, how can the goal of promoting understanding between people be ensured?How can it be known that stereotypical perceptions are challenged and that thepeople-to-people contact does not lead into further misunderstanding, if theFulbrighter has a bad experience? Can the implications of attempted culturaldiplomacy be measured? There is still much scepticism of its quantifiableimpact. Cynthia P. Schneider states that measuring success in culturaldiplomacy is not an easy process.
Measuring success in culturaldiplomacy – the use of education, creative expression in any form, orpeople-to-people exchange to increase understanding across regions, cultures,or peoples – is challenging. How does one quantify changes in attitude,abandoning stereotypes, or feeling empathy as a result of a performance, afilm, a book?Althoughit is hard to measure quality through quantitative measurements there aresurveys that show that there is a link between cultural engagement and trust.An example is shown in figure 1 which is a survey, conducted by the BritishCouncil representing young people’s perception of UK in ten different countriescomparing those who had been involved in cultural relations activities with theUK and those who had not5. Figure 1:Trust and involvement in cultural activities – perception of people from the UKacross ten countriesAs regards to Fulbrighters and their cultural engagementthere has been a research that shows that 95% of Fulbright grantees spend theirtime abroad by visiting museums or historical sites, while 94% attendedconcerts, played sports and engaged with the locals. In addition, internationalteaching experiences lead to an increased cultural awareness and advancesself-discovery and about one’s own culture. Evidence show that the FulbrightProgram has long-lasting implications on its participants. The FulbrightDifference: 1948-1992 provides a few examples from different Fulbrighters: Many Fulbrighters report a heightened sense ofawareness of international issues, and a desire to share their experiences withothers. For teachers and lecturers, the potential multiplier effect isparticularly strong, as their career provides an outlet for them to share theirstories and cultural knowledge gains.
This was expressed by an American couplewho taught dance in Zimbabwe under Fulbright auspices. “When we returned, wehad been enriched and that enrichment could be passed to our American students”6″I began to know my own country better7″”My commitment toAmerican traditions and institutions has been strengthened by the Fulbrightexperience8″”As each Fulbright experience required me tosee more in a different culture, I am now disposed to see more in my own culture9″It is evident from the research andsurveys that the cultural mediator role of the international educationalexchange program is valuable to the Fulbright grantees. For most Fulbrightersit is an experience that changes them either professionally or personally. Onthe other hand, there has been some criticism against the Fulbright Program statingthat it is only the elite that have access to the benefits of the program andtherefore the cultural diplomacy only takes place at this level. The criticismis valid since it is not everyone that can afford undertaking a Fulbrightapplication that includes several steps before the application is complete.
Theapplication includes steps; such as an interview, an undergraduate degree andsome foreign language fluency. It is difficult to define who benefits more froma cultural exchange. Even the Fulbrighters’ generate understanding when theyreturn to their home country by sharing their experiences with their friendsand family.Our teaching abroad has helped usachieve an understanding that allows both our hosts and us to express what welike and do not like about our respective societies and why. Understanding cannever remove the potential for conflict. But it can and should be expected toidentify the bones of contention and to facilitate resolutions that work, atall levels of human organization10.
ConclusionInconclusion, it is evident that cultural diplomacy tools such as internationaleducational exchange programmes, such as the Fulbright Program, have beenessential and will continue to play a large role in the future. Being externalto the program, we cannot grasp the generated mutual understanding between theFulbrighter and the host country, as it is a people-to-people interaction wherethe understanding can also lead to a negative perception of other cultures. TheFulbright experience differs in the minds of its participants but it does leadto a cultural awareness and provokes questions about your own and the culture,as well as the culture that you are being exposed to. Although the Fulbrightprogram targets an elite audience, it is a place to start and perhaps a programfor other social classes can be established as well, as there is no way betterthan education to generate understanding of other cultures. Senator J.
Williamemphasizes it: We must try to expand the boundaries of human wisdom, empathy andperception, and there is no way of doing that except through education. 1 http://www.culturaldiplomacy.org/academy 2 www.state.gov3 https://eca.state.gov/fulbright4 www.cies.org5www.britishcouncil.org/organisation/publications/trust-pays6 The Fulbright Difference: 1948-1992 7 Ibid8 Ibid9 Ibid10 Ibid