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By Dr John Bader, Executive Director of The Fulbright Association
We take too much for granted. That becomes more obvious, of course, when something we love is taken away. For those of us whose lives have been enriched and our careers given meaning by international exchange, the COVID pandemic has stolen the joys of travel. But this is a good time for reflection, as it has been for many issues and concerns, so I invite you to consider how you will embrace international opportunities when this pandemic ends.
Reconnecting to your international colleagues in person, reigniting personal relationships, should be a priority. Endless Zoom calls have become tiresome, and they give the false impression that we are connecting. As public relations professionals, you know that’s not true. As humans, as animals, we need contact, we need touch. We need to share a meal, a joke and sometimes an inebriated song to feel part of a community. CIPR has done its best to keep you networked, but it cannot help you pass a salad bowl or a bag of potato chips (what you call “crisps”–why do you do that anyway?) to an old friend.
Building global friendships and working partnerships, to advance educational and diplomatic goals, is the mission of programs like the Fulbright Scholarships. The Fulbright Program, initiated by Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946, is funded primarily by the U.S. Federal government at 272m USD per year, supplemented by another 100m contributed by partner governments like the United Kingdom. 400,000 Americans and participants from 163 other countries have been Fulbrighters since then.
Note that the Fulbright is an exchange program. And it is open to working professionals at any point in their careers. So I urge you to explore this resource as a way to expand your international network and better understand the United States (if you’re not American) or another culture (if you are). It is also worth knowing that many other governments, such as Germany and France, fund their own exchange programs.
Whether you use these resources or not, I urge you to lean into the international in the coming years. We will need “all hands” to restore our human connections and renew relationships that make the world more prosperous, more understanding, and peaceful. You can be part of that mission.
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