Building Bridges: The Fulbright Legacy and the Future of International Exchange

May 17-19, 2019

Program Description

International Conference at the University of Arkansas

The conference “Building Bridges” was hosted by the German-American Fulbright Commission in partnership with the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The conference was open to Fulbright grantees and alumni, the University of Arkansas' community and all interested guests.

International exchange programs connect an ever-widening circle of students, scholars, and professionals around the world. Exchange nurtures their appreciation of the value of international engagement, their understanding, and empathy, and fosters important collaborations among nations on such issues as global education, international trade, and mutual security: “Turning nations into people,” to quote the late Senator Fulbright.

Established in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Fulbright Program was founded upon such principles and expectations. Led by the United States government in partnership with 49 binational commissions worldwide, Fulbright offers unique international and cultural exchange programs.

The Fulbright Program has been an especially important component of forging transatlantic ties between Germany and the United States. Throughout the past 67 years, the binational Fulbright Commission has remained the largest and most varied of the Fulbright programs worldwide. By enabling Americans and Germans to experience each other’s communities and culture firsthand, Fulbright exchanges between our two nations have proved critical to supporting German-American diplomacy in the past, and continues to do so in the present and future.

Part of the “Wunderbar Together” campaign focusing on German-American friendship, the international conference investigated the role Fulbright’s educational and cultural exchanges have played in American public diplomacy and foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. The conference also demonstrated how educational exchange can empower individuals to “build bridges” in society and to become citizen ambassadors advocating for continued international understanding.

Conference Program

The participants:

  • Explored the legacy of the global Fulbright program, including highlights of the University’s special collection such as the Fulbright papers. And discussed Fulbright’s impact as an organization today with experts like Prof. Dr. Randall B. Woods (Distinguished Professor of History, University of Arkansas) and Dr. Lonnie R. Johnson (Executive Director, Fulbright Austria). What does the future hold for international exchange?
  • Met the participants of Fulbright Germany’s roadtrip project. What surprises did they encounter on the road across the American heartland? How did they experience their role as a cultural ambassador?
  • Learned from the recent historic wink of “walls making history” (or, as some have it, of “making walls history”): the fall of the Berlin Wall (1961-1989). Unification was indeed much more, and much more complex than a merger of two divided half-countries. Looking back 30 years later, we may ask ourselves together with keynote Speaker Dr. Hope Harrison (Associate Professor of History and International Affairs, The Elliott School, George Washington University): Does the history of The Wall have lessons for us about rebuilding bridges of old, or bridging current divides?
  • Applied those learnings to local context, and discussed current realities of intercultural understanding with members of the Arkansas communities.
  • Enjoyed conversations with other Fulbrighters in an informal atmosphere at the welcome reception on Friday and the celebratory dinner party on Saturday.
Please find the complete Conference Program here. In addition, conference participant Dietrich Gross kindly provided us with a Report on the conference from his perspective.
Thanks to the University of Arkansas’ hospitality, the conference participants engaged with this timely issue in a very meaningful place: eighty years ago, J. William Fulbright assumed the presidency of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Following his tenure, he represented Arkansas in both chambers of the United States Congress, including almost thirty years as a US Senator.
The conference began on Friday evening (May 17, 2019) with a welcome reception and concluded on Sunday noon (May 19, 2019).

Visit of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Participants visited the world renowned Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Sunday afternoon. Crystal Bridges takes its name from the natural Crystal Spring and from the unique bridge construction incorporated into the building design. Demonstrating the powerful connections between people through art, the exhibition tied in perfectly with the conference “Building Bridges”.


Fulbright Germany

Lützowufer 26
10787 Berlin


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