Fulbright in Action: Enrichment Seminars Engage Students on Democracy

Posted by Ann Stock
April 16, 2012
Fulbright Students Engage in Mock Debate in Denver

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.

The last seminar in this series begins in Philadelphia on April 19. Follow the action on Twitter at @fulbrightprgrm or with the hashtag #fulbrightenrichment!



Pierre C.
April 17, 2012

Pierre C. in Haiti writes:

Tis article make me so soured. I wish deeply to be among those students.

April 18, 2012

Harper in Canada writes:

Yes it would be nice to see more democracy in the world.

The simple act of voting directly for who runs the nation is something deprived of many in the world. Without such a simple act of democracy - there is no democracy.

Canada, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Myanmar............. How many real democracies are in the world?

There should be an end to all the pseudo democracies and dictator regimes in the world.

Heck, even Russians can vote for their leader. In fact it is sad when a Russian leader (no disrespect) has more popular support and votes then the Prime ministers of Canada and the UK. (laugh - perhaps thats why they were so quite about the recent Russian election)

Populations need to wake up and put an end to the pseudo democracies/ dictatorships - they breed an exceptional amount of corruption by there very nature of mechanism - despite what they claim otherwise.

In far too many countries the decision making of nations are made by people who by and large don't represent the wishes of the majority of the people.

Take Canada - about half the voting population showed up to vote in the last election. Those that did vote, diluted their votes into 3 or more political parties. The political party that wins -really only has a small percentage of the overall population support (max 20% - likely much less). Yet in Canada this party has the majority government and can seemingly do what it wants. That is not democracy - that's a pseudo democracy - most people in Canada are paying huge amounts of tax for people that don't actually represent them or what they believe.

Sadly Canadians seem not to care about this despite many complaining about the effects of such a flawed political mechanism impacting their lives daily (most dont make the connection).

Its not much different in the U.K - The U.K is interesting because the conservatives and liberals have successfully angered a wide section of society - those same voters have had enough I think with labor - What does that leave for the UK voters in the next election - BNP?

Pseudo democracies and dictatorships can create situations that politically can and do cause unstable global affairs - any wonder the west is in so much trouble? Seems the mid east is not the only place needing change.

Sadly the change in the political mechanism must come from the politicians (at least if it is to happen peacefully) but they dont want it changed - they claim that the citizens dont want it changed - but I have to wonder what kind of citizen are you; if you dont even have the self respect or dignity to want the ability to vote for someone that you think will represent what you believe?

How many of these same citizens would pay money for something they don't want - that's exactly what they are doing when they pay taxes to governments that dont represent even the majority of the people.

Good luck with your program but politicians arnt notorious for change or innovation - after all - Canada's judicial and political system essentially was imposed on the country by an empire that no longer exists and it was not designed for the benefits of a free Canadian people.(most Canadians dont understand this - Oddly even the UK has tried to modernize their systems a bit - India seems to have learned something - Canada is yet to wake up)

Not suggesting Americas system is better (at least Americans can vote for their president)- could do with some much needed change IMHO.


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