“Know from whence you came,” James Baldwin, the major American writer and activist acclaimed for his insights on the African-American experience, wrote in 1953.
It is fitting that I was in India last fall, heeding Baldwin’s advice by visiting the place from where my parents immigrated to the United States, when I got a call from the White House notifying me of my appointment to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. It was a special moment -- it felt right that I was in India, deepening my knowledge of my own culture, when I agreed to serve on the board of a program that does so much to increase cross-cultural understanding. It also seemed that the universe was delivering poetic justice after I had been flatly (and deservedly) rejected from the program as a college student.
In my early twenties, in Yale’s international public health master’s program, I discovered how powerful it could be to share medical knowledge across cultures. Then, while planning my sister’s Indian wedding, I discovered my passion for creating experiences and found my calling in life. In my own way, I have experienced the transformative power of cross-cultural blending. As a member of the Fulbright Board, my appreciation for international education has only grown.
I have always admired Senator Fulbright’s vision for cross-pollination through education. He once said of his namesake program, “Our future is not in the stars but in our own minds and hearts. Creative leadership and liberal education, which in fact go together, are the first requirements for a hopeful future for humankind.”
Almost 70 years later, the Fulbright experience remains just as relevant and future-thinking as it was at its inception. In 2013, I founded Live in the Grey, a future-of-work company that believes great work is purposeful and allows people to blend their personal passions with their professions to make the biggest impact. Fulbright is the ultimate example of “grey,” allowing students, scholars, and teachers to not just blend cultures but to blend their international education experiences into the rest of their careers.
Fulbright alumni around the world have combined the knowledge they gained during their overseas experiences with entrepreneurial skills and imagination to bring about positive change. Diana Jue, for example, used her experiences as a Fulbright Student in India to co-found Essmart Global, a private firm that markets solar lanterns, water filters, and cellphone-operated water pumping control systems to communities in rural Tamil Nadu state in India. Essmart has improved the lives of over 35,000 people.
Fulbright alum Patrick Dowd was inspired during a 15-day train trip around India with 400 other millennials as part of a program to encourage entrepreneurship. When he returned to the United States, Patrick began leading crowd-funded transcontinental train journeys for Fulbright Foreign Students and young American entrepreneurs to strengthen their entrepreneurship skills through the Millennial Trains Project.
If you’ve ever used noise-cancelling headphones or splurged on a Bose sound system, you’ve also encountered the work of Amar Gopal Bose, founder of the Bose Corporation, who was a Fulbright fellow in India.
These are just a few examples of the over 360,000 students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists, and artists from the United States and over 150 other countries who have taken part in the Fulbright experience in the past seven decades. Regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic background, regardless of what kind of school you attend, if you have an idea you are passionate about that can help contribute to human knowledge, you are exactly the kind of person who should apply for a Fulbright grant.
It is International Education Week. To celebrate it, I urge you to learn more about opportunities like Fulbright that will push you outside your comfort zone and toward a more robust, fulfilling life. Gaining perspective and changing up your context through international education might just be the perfect way to kick-start your journey and make an impact.
About the Author: Maneesh K. Goyal was appointed in October 2014 by President Barack Obama to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Goyal is the Founder and CEO of Pineapple Co, the parent company of his portfolio of culture-focused businesses including Live in the Grey, MKG, Pink Sparrow, and 214.