International Exchange Programs: Strengthening Transatlantic Relations

By Matteo Quattrocchi, Programs and Exchanges Assistant, Department of Public Affairs, U.S. Mission to the European Union.

In 2010, right after graduating from LUISS University in Rome, I decided that I wanted to study in the United States. I based my decision on the fact that I wanted to live in the U.S. and that I thought a U.S. degree would give me a competitive advantage while looking for a job. While my degree definitely helped in the job market, it was the experience of living abroad, in direct contact with a foreign culture that changed entirely my perspective on American society and the American people. All the time I had spent studying American Law and History before moving to Washington did not come close to the experience of being an international student in the U.S. Issues I had learned of in books, from the Bill of Rights to the U.S. National Security structure, suddenly became a living thing I was part of. Studying in an American university proved to be an incredibly challenging and fulfilling experience. Moreover, personal connections with fellow American students gave me a deeper understanding of U.S. society, with its fundamental values and freedoms, and the intrinsic contradictions of the world oldest democracy. When I eventually moved back to Europe, I realized my sensitivity towards a foreign culture had fundamentally changed. At the same time those I came in contact with had learned more about my home country; their sensitivities also fundamentally changed. Overall, I feel this increased cultural awareness also transferred to my openness to understanding other cultures and nationalities.

Educational exchanges have always been at the center of the growth of culture, fostering global integration in times of turmoil as in times of peace. The cornerstone of any educational system is the free exchange of ideas among academics, students and society at large. It is the possibility for students and teachers to travel and visit foreign learning institutions, to broaden their horizons, and bring back to their home countries new perspectives, that allows cultures to develop.

The Fulbright program, established in 1946, has been the most successful exchange to date, and has become a fundamental stepping stone for generations of students and academics traveling the world. The success of the Fulbright Program has led the way for countless similar exchanges, none more renowned than the Erasmus Program, established in 1987 and today a fundamental part of the European experience for millions of European citizens.

What we now call the Fulbright-Schuman Program started as a small exchange program between the United States and the European Communities in 1990.  22977623181_a8ba225293_oIt supported the study of transatlantic issues, fostering a new generation of American and European thinkers. This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Fulbright-Schuman Program, with more than 300 American and European citizens benefitting from the program since 1990 and making fundamental contributions to strengthening U.S.-EU relations.

As Fulbright-Schuman moves to confirm its success for the years to come, it also strives to expand its support to forward thinking individuals across the United States and Europe. In October, U.S Ambassador to the EU, Anthony Luzzatto Gardner announced the creation of the new Fulbright-Schuman Innovation Grants to support research at the intersection of technology and policy.

Ambassador Garner Announcing the Fulbright-Schuman Innovation Grants at the College of Europe, Oct 19, 2015 (video)

Grantees will focus their work on how to conciliate technological advancements with existing regulatory and policy frameworks. For the first time in the history of Fulbright-Schuman, the U.S. Mission to the EU is looking to the private sector for support in this exciting new initiative. As the success of the Fulbright and Erasmus programs proves, an investment in educational exchanges is the safest investment in the future of U.S.-EU relations.

This month, from November 16th to November 20th, celebrate International Education Week, now in its 15th edition. The Fulbright Program is but part of the larger effort by the U.S. Government to bring international students to the United States. Each year, nearly 975,000 international students (64,000 from the EU) travel across the country to discover the American way of life and of learning. They bring back to their home countries shared values and a new understanding of the United States. At the same time, more than 157,000 U.S. students chose to study in the EU each year, experiencing the cultures, languages, and traditions that make the EU great.

Educational exchanges constitute a fundamental part of the Department of State’s outreach programs. They allow for a better understanding with partner countries, and to mitigate tensions with other. They have undoubtedly served as an indispensable instrument for the policy priorities of the U.S. Mission to the EU.

Nevertheless, exchanges are not just a public diplomacy tool. Over the years, they have bridged what often seemed unsurmountable differences. Educational exchanges contribute every day in connecting students from across the world.  As I learned during my year in Washington, DC, these exchanges allow not only for the sharing of ideas and research, but especially that cultures and traditions become part of a personal growth experience for communities in the U.S. and abroad.

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