Jun 23, 2017
As I looked out at the terrain of the Ardennes forest in Belgium, I thought to myself: This is where my Great-Uncle Lester fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. I had come to the Bastogne War Memorial and Museum on a trip with the American-Belgian Fulbright commission. I had been one of fifty American Fulbright grantees selected by our European host countries to travel to Luxembourg and Belgium and learn about the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
After I looked out into the forest, I looked back at the group of Americans with whom I was travelling. In my group were scientists, researchers, teachers, and engineers. There were artists, lawyers, journalists, future business leaders, and medical doctors. All of us came from different states and various backgrounds. We were of different races, genders, religions, sexual orientations, and ethnicities.
The one thing we all had in common was our American identity and our grants as Fulbright scholars. Our group was in awe of the site we were seeing. Over 89,000 American soldiers were casualties of this battle. These soldiers suffered for us – so that our generation could live in peace.
My journey as an American Fulbright scholar living in Germany has truly changed my life. A few months after this moment, I was disturbed to learn that the current administration is seeking to cut 47 percent of the Fulbright Program’s funding. If we, as Americans, were to allow this cut to happen, not only would it be a loss to the thousands of deserving Fulbright applicants who would not receive awards, but it would be an insult to the 165 host countries that we work with, who also contribute a significant amount of their own governments’ funding.
Founded in 1946 by United States Senator J. William Fulbright, the Fulbright program was designed to increase dialogue and mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other nations of the world by creating means of educational and cultural exchange. Every year the United States sends Fulbright scholars on year-long grants to study, do research, complete creative projects, or teach English in foreign countries. In addition, the governments of the participating foreign countries send their own selected Fulbright grantees to come to the United States and do the same.
Since its founding, over 370,000 people have been granted Fulbright scholarships. The United States grants approximately 8,000 Fulbright scholarships every year. Fulbright grantees have gone on to do amazing things such as become heads of governments or states, win MacArthur fellowships or Pulitzer Prizes. Sixteen Fulbright alumni have won the Presidential Medal of Freedom and fifty-seven have become Nobel Laureates.
Yet when looking beyond the prizes, Fulbright scholarship grantees have all gone on to bring some kind of hope or progress to the world – whether that has been through discovering a cure to a disease in a laboratory or writing a book that changes the way readers see a foreign culture. We all seek to become leaders in our field.
In addition to completing our own individual projects, as Fulbright scholars we are expected to serve as cultural ambassadors representing our home country to the host country that we are living in. As an American Fulbright living in Berlin, Germany this year, I knew I had a responsibility to raise awareness for the issues taking place in the United States. Whenever a German person asked me about my country, I tried to answer them intelligently. Furthermore, I felt driven to understand the issues taking place within Germany itself, so that when I returned back to the United States, I could communicate the issues of modern Germany from a former resident’s perspective.
If there’s one thing I believe the Fulbright encourages, it is the acquisition of empathy and understanding by means of dialogue and cultural exchange. As Senator Fulbright once said,
"International educational exchange is the most significant current project designed to continue the process of humanizing mankind to the point, we would hope, that men can learn to live in peace… We must try to expand the boundaries of human wisdom, empathy and perception, and there is no way of doing that except through education."
As a young woman who grew up in an American Jewish household, the last place I saw myself spending one year was Germany. When I was young, my vision of modern day Germany was a scary one since I only looked at Germany through the lens of the Holocaust. When I decided that I wanted to come to Germany for a year and write a book about how its Jewish community has resurged since the Holocaust, nobody in my town’s Jewish community could believe me.
“But why Germany?” they would ask.
“Because I want to see the country with a new set of eyes,” I would say.
A goal for my year in Germany was to see how Germany was different now than it was before. Throughout this year, I’ve spent time interviewing different German Jewish citizens and feel as though I’ve made a place for myself in the German Jewish community. In the process, I’ve made many German friends and have been able to see life through the eyes of a modern day German citizen. Now that my Fulbright grant here is almost finished, I can see how much I’ve learned.
From my experience living abroad as a Fulbright scholarship recipient, I can see why now more than ever before, scholarships like the Fulbright are so important for the future of our planet. Living in Germany through the Brexit vote, the European elections, and the ongoing refugee crisis has opened my eyes not only to the issues of my own nation, but the issues of our world.
Going back to America, I feel more determined now to be an active citizen. Perhaps this has been the greatest gift of the Fulbright – it’s shown me how to dig deeper, build international connections, and stand up for the truth. As the world’s leading country and the founder of the US Fulbright Program, America owes it to our host country counterparts to uphold our side of the funding bargain. We cannot leave governments like the German one hanging. Currently for every dollar the US government pays for the German-American Fulbright exchange, the German government invests two.
I firmly believe in Senator Fulbright’s words that “in the long course of history, having people who understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine.” In addition to military cooperation, I’ve learned how it’s the exchange of people, thought, technology, and cultural ideas that can really encourage peace.
Please stand for the Fulbright program and write to your members of Congress to oppose these cuts and to restore funding of the program to the $250 million level. There is no better investment than in the Fulbright program, whose aim is to encourage international understanding through people to people dialogue and cultural exchange. Do it for the soldiers who fought at Bastogne more than seventy years ago. Do it for the generations of future Americans who wish to live in a world that knows tolerance, progress, and peace.
Arielle Kaden is a 2016-2017 grantee of the Fulbright Scholarship Young American Journalism Award. She graduated in 2016 from the Johns Hopkins University with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Writing Seminars and minoring in Jewish studies. Arielle has spent her Fulbright year living in Berlin where she has been researching the resurgence of Jewish life in Germany, post-World War II. She has done this by studying German Jewish history at the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European Jewish Studies, interviewing members of the Jewish community in Germany, and immersing herself in Berlin's active Jewish scene.