The Fulbright Program is perhaps best-known for the one-of-a-kind international experience it offers participants. But for foreign students in the United States, the classroom is only one piece of the program. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs hosts an annual series of enrichment seminars for groups of first-year Fulbright foreign students.
This academic year's seminars on "U.S. Politics and Elections: Democracy in Action" have provided more than 1,200 Fulbrighters the opportunity to learn more about our country. The seminars have been, or will be, held in Atlanta, GA; Nashville, TN; Sacramento, CA; Baltimore, MD; Denver, CO; Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; St. Louis, MO; and Philadelphia, PA. As Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board Chair Tom Healy told participants at the seminar in Atlanta, "Fulbright is not about saving the world, but sharing the world." And, that starts at home.
Each seminar has tackled different pieces of American civil society. Topics have included the U.S. Constitution, our First Amendment rights, group and identity politics, enfranchisement issues, and diversity and minority influence. Each conference has brought together approximately 140 participants, representing over 70 countries and studying at colleges and universities across the United States, to examine the issues through panel discussions, local community engagement, and a mock campaign and election.
We have been incredibly fortunate to have a great slate of speakers in every city. Civil rights icon Xernona Clayton challenged students in Atlanta not to be afraid to lead by example and confront the status quo. Founder of the First Amendment Center John Seigenthaler spoke to participants in Washington, D.C. and Nashville, TN about his experiences growing up in the segregated American South and emphasized how "the conscience of the country was pricked," thanks to the widespread press coverage of the Civil Rights movement. In Chicago, Deputy Mayor Mark Angelson praised Fulbrighters for their achievements and offered candid answers to questions about U.S. political system, the city of Chicago, and his own career. And U.S. Congressman Lacy Clay and Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan kicked off the seminar in St. Louis.
Community service and local engagement have also been a key element of the seminars. The American culture of volunteerism is a new -- and often inspiring -- concept to many foreign students, and we are always proud to guide them through the community service experience. Across the country, Fulbrighters sorted donations at the Sacramento Food Bank, cleaned up litter with Greenways for Nashville, and met elementary school students through the Hands On Atlanta Discovery Program. They also enjoyed fun, informal dinners at the homes of local families -- giving them another chance to see American volunteerism in action.
Each of the seminars has culminated in a workshop simulating a U.S. presidential election, which has been the highlight of the week at all locations. During the workshops, participants joined various interest groups and political parties and applied the seminar's lessons for a U.S.-style election. "Nominees" ran opposing "campaigns" and participated in mock debates. After a hard-fought race, voters elected one of their own as "President."
In parts and as a whole, the series has been a great way for international students to discover what it means to be an American -- and how hard we continue to strive for a more perfect Union. As Nazaire Massamba, a Fulbrighter from the Republic of Congo, told an audience in Denver:
"America is giving us an opportunity and we just want to grab this opportunity... We'll go back to each one of our countries with the notion that America is preparing tomorrow's global leaders that will work towards achieving a better world and a better tomorrow where peace, freedom and prosperity is within everybody's reach."
Other students mentioned the seminar series made them feel as if they had been part of something bigger than an international scholarship program. The Fulbrighters left feeling inspired by the sense of community and purpose they found in the experience.