paper aims to explore the importance of international educational exchange programs
as an instrument for cultural diplomacy by focusing on the Fulbright Program
which seeks to promote mutual understanding between people of the United States
and the people of other countries (Fulbright-Hays Act, 1961). The paper briefly
defines cultural diplomacy and the Fulbright Program and thereafter discusses
whether cultural diplomacy generated by participants of the Fulbright Program
can be measured and if so, to what extent. Finally, the paper determines the
implications of the Fulbright Program as a tool for cultural diplomacy.
Culture is a standard of behaviour and a set of
values that large groups share. It is these shared practices that shape our identity
which is often used to not only understand ourselves, but also people from
other cultures. The practice of cultural diplomacy has taken place for
centuries. 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 intention
of fostering mutual understanding1”.
It is a diplomatic practice that can be used to influence others positively
about one’s country, culture and values. Furthermore, cultural diplomacy lays a
foundation of trust among people which can be developed by policy makers in
order to reach political goals2.
In today’s world, it has
become even more crucial to enhance broader mutual understanding between people
and nations. Thus, the leaders of the world are increasingly realising the need
for cultural diplomacy. Such need was also felt in the 1940’s when the widely
recognized exchange program, The Fulbright Program, was established by U.S Senator
J. William Fulbright. The Fulbright Program is an ideal example of cultural
diplomacy where education and the exchange of ideas are used as a vehicle to
promote understanding and peace. Fulbright emphasizes that: “Educational exchange can turn nations into
people, contributing as no other form of communication can to the humanizing of
The program attracts scholars, students and professionals from diverse fields.
Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1.600 U.S
students, 4.000 foreign students, 1.200 U.S scholars, and 900 visiting scholars
receiving awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals.
Approximately 370,000 “Fulbrighters” have participated in the Program since its
inception in 19464.
It is evident that thousands of
people 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 held
great importance and was followed by political expectations that it would serve
American 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 the
Fulbright experience. In educational exchange programmes there is a reliance on
the people as cultural ambassadors, and it is this people-to-people contact
that determines the outcome of the cultural diplomacy taking place. In this
case, how can the goal of promoting understanding between people be ensured?
How can it be known that stereotypical perceptions are challenged and that the
people-to-people contact does not lead into further misunderstanding, if the
Fulbrighter has a bad experience? Can the implications of attempted cultural
diplomacy be measured? There is still much scepticism of its quantifiable
impact. Cynthia P. Schneider states that measuring success in cultural
diplomacy is not an easy process.
Measuring success in cultural
diplomacy – the use of education, creative expression in any form, or
people-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, a
film, a book?
it is hard to measure quality through quantitative measurements there are
surveys 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 British
Council representing young people’s perception of UK in ten different countries
comparing those who had been involved in cultural relations activities with the
UK and those who had not5.
Trust and involvement in cultural activities – perception of people from the UK
across ten countries
As regards to Fulbrighters and their cultural engagement
there has been a research that shows that 95% of Fulbright grantees spend their
time abroad by visiting museums or historical sites, while 94% attended
concerts, played sports and engaged with the locals. In addition, international
teaching experiences lead to an increased cultural awareness and advances
self-discovery and about one’s own culture. Evidence show that the Fulbright
Program has long-lasting implications on its participants. The Fulbright
Difference: 1948-1992 provides a few examples from different Fulbrighters:
Many Fulbrighters report a heightened sense of
awareness of international issues, and a desire to share their experiences with
others. For teachers and lecturers, the potential multiplier effect is
particularly strong, as their career provides an outlet for them to share their
stories and cultural knowledge gains. This was expressed by an American couple
who taught dance in Zimbabwe under Fulbright auspices. “When we returned, we
had been enriched and that enrichment could be passed to our American students”6
“I began to know my own country better7”
“My commitment to
American traditions and institutions has been strengthened by the Fulbright
“As each Fulbright experience required me to
see more in a different culture, I am now disposed to see more in my own culture9”
It is evident from the research and
surveys that the cultural mediator role of the international educational
exchange program is valuable to the Fulbright grantees. For most Fulbrighters
it is an experience that changes them either professionally or personally. On
the other hand, there has been some criticism against the Fulbright Program stating
that it is only the elite that have access to the benefits of the program and
therefore the cultural diplomacy only takes place at this level. The criticism
is valid since it is not everyone that can afford undertaking a Fulbright
application that includes several steps before the application is complete. The
application includes steps; such as an interview, an undergraduate degree and
some foreign language fluency. It is difficult to define who benefits more from
a cultural exchange. Even the Fulbrighters’ generate understanding when they
return to their home country by sharing their experiences with their friends
Our teaching abroad has helped us
achieve an understanding that allows both our hosts and us to express what we
like and do not like about our respective societies and why. Understanding can
never remove the potential for conflict. But it can and should be expected to
identify the bones of contention and to facilitate resolutions that work, at
all levels of human organization10.
conclusion, it is evident that cultural diplomacy tools such as international
educational exchange programmes, such as the Fulbright Program, have been
essential and will continue to play a large role in the future. Being external
to the program, we cannot grasp the generated mutual understanding between the
Fulbrighter and the host country, as it is a people-to-people interaction where
the understanding can also lead to a negative perception of other cultures. The
Fulbright experience differs in the minds of its participants but it does lead
to 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 Fulbright
program targets an elite audience, it is a place to start and perhaps a program
for other social classes can be established as well, as there is no way better
than education to generate understanding of other cultures. Senator J. William
We must try to expand the boundaries of human wisdom, empathy and
perception, and there is no way of doing that except through education.
6 The Fulbright Difference: 1948-1992