As President of the Association of Friends and Sponsors of the German-American Fulbright Program e.V (VFF) and three-time Fulbrighter myself, I am committed to the future stability of the institution that changed my life and that of many others. In fact, in this position I work to increase financial and human resources that are essential to maintain and grow the programs that Fulbright offers, especially as government budgets are cut.
Simultaneously, the attention that is finally being paid to underrepresented groups in Fulbright means that more and different kinds of people should be applying than ever before. Unfortunately, this inclusivity, as necessary and desirable as it is, may burden the system whose very task it is to create a more diverse environment. Aside from the sheer numbers, in my opinion it is ethically and morally responsible to make it possible for all people to be Fulbrighters, no matter what gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, or disability.
While one would hope that the Fulbright experience – living and learning in another culture – would inspire “intercultural” awareness, more needs to be done to bring a “social conscience” into the mix. Fortunately, the self-reflexivity and self-awareness that comes with experiencing oneself as a “foreigner” provides a strong basis for triggering this kind of personal evolution.
But this is not always the case, and therefore, as someone dedicated to these goals, I found that encouraging beneficiaries to “give back” to such programs, such as Fulbright, or for that matter to other similar institutions from which one has benefitted academically, professionally or personally, is the right thing to do. Those on both sides of the equation – so to speak, the “givers” and the “receivers,” benefit substantially. A little can go a long way.
It is important to remember that the Fulbright experience only begins with the time abroad and continues long after, (some might say it even starts during the application and orientation process), hopefully for one’s entire lifetime. As a member of what we like to call the “one Fulbright Community” (the German-American Fulbright Commission, the German Fulbright Alumni Association e.V and the VFF), a “Fulbright family” of sorts, the experience can become a part of one’s own lifecycle extending and enriching in perpetuity. “Giving back” can actually be the essential structure of connecting and belonging to this one Fulbright Community. In short, being a Fulbrighter becomes the gift that keeps on giving!
For these reasons, I am now more than ever encouraging people to find an appropriate moment – often far after their actual stay abroad and later in their lifecycle – to give back to the institutions that have been instrumental in their lives. The most obvious way is financial, i.e. making a contribution of whatever amount that can be used to support other students, particularly in those groups who have been denied, hindered, or even not been aware of these possibilities. I think here of the VFF and Alumni Association that support short term programs in the United States for Germans with so-called “migration background” to meet other minorities for academic and personal exchange.
But money is not the only way. Contributing time and effort is another helping hand, such as is obvious with the German Fulbright Alumni Association that sponsors this publication. One should spread the word at workplaces, colleges, universities, schools and other institutions that promote learning of every kind. Encouraging friends, family or colleagues to apply is also an important way to be involved. Of course, the notion of “giving back” is imbedded more naturally in a voluntaristic culture like the United States. But it is a significant gesture also to educate German friends and colleagues that this practice contributes to a stronger and better civic community. Moreover, it helps foster a more interconnected and interdependent society that experiences the benefit of working together at multiple levels to enhance chances for others, particularly those less privileged.
I hope that these few thoughts on this topic, presented in this publication in particular, might stimulate a different kind of thinking about how one Fulbrighter can make a difference.
Find out more about the “Verein der Freunde und Förderer des deutsch-amerikanischen Fulbright Programms e.V.” and become a member at: https://www.fulbright-vff.de/
Prof. Dr Jeff Peck
Aside from his current position mentioned above, was co-author of, “Moving from Individual Experience to Institutional Change. European Fulbright Diversity Initiative (EFDI). A Task Force Report,” 2019.