The story of the Fulbright Program: how the scholarship builds bridges between people in different countries


James Colasurdo, Staff Writer


 On Aug. 1, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed into law the Fulbright bill. Fullbright became the largest education exchange program in history, and still exists today. Created in the aftermath of World War II, the Fulbright Program aims to promote peace and understanding across peoples in different countries, through educational exchange. 

 Curious to learn more about it, I sat down with two Fulbright Scholars at Saint Martin’s University. The scholars were Professor Igor Krasnov, who is currently at Saint Martin’s from Russia, and Professor Jeff Birkenstein, who in 2013, traveled to Petrozavodsk, Russia and is currently the campus Fulbright liaison for the Fulbright Scholarship at Saint Martin’s.

 Professors interested in applying can pick one country per year where they would like to teach. However, those who want the best chance to go will have a higher likelihood in Asian and Indonesian countries whereas the demand is greater than in European countries.

 Applying this idea to his own application Birkenstein says, “In Russia I already had connections to Igor and the Russia university.” Moreover, Krasnov’s university was outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, which helped his chances, because there was less competition.

 In Krasnov’s case, he states, “As I was not applying for Harvard, or Stanford, or Berkeley—since it was Saint Martin’s, my chances went up.” With Fulbright’s increasing interest to fund smaller schools and not just Ivy Leagues, Saint Martin’s is in a good position in moving forward for Fulbright applicants.

 Birkenstein also stresses that the Fulbright program, “is not just for faculty, it is also for students, or students who have graduated. There’s one Fulbright for faculty and another up until you get your Ph.D. Once you get your undergraduate degree you can apply for one, for years if you want,” Birkenstein said. The first Fulbright student to Saint Martin’s came several years ago, but since then the applications have been few and far between. Students can apply their senior year, but also several years after graduation.

 Prior to his Fulbright application, Birkenstein spent four weeks in Russia in 2010. Eager to return, he applied for the Fulbright program. Though he had heard of the program before, he finally decided to try to get in. Sure enough, two years later Birkenstein applied and on the third year he went back.

 In Krasnov’s case, he mentions that this is his second semester a part of the Fulbright program, his first being in Minnesota. A second Fulbright is a rare thing because, he states, “they tend not to give a Fulbright to the same person twice.” However, since his application was not concerning lecture or research, but instead, “a completely different program in Scholar in residence, and it was prepared so that the initiative was from Saint Martin’s, so that Saint Martin’s wanted exactly me.” Krasnov stated. Having visited Saint Martin’s several years ago, he already had some general expectations and connects to the school.

 Krasnov mentions, “One of the things the scholarship does is it gives you two very important things which you’ll very rarely get back home, teaching University in Russia: opportunity and time, and they pay for it. There’s no pressure, and a nice schedule, which keeps you busy but not overloaded and it gives you all these opportunities to see the country, to speak to people.” He continues to share that being back home is like running on a treadmill, where you are repeatedly working. While the setting here is different, he is, “happy to do it a second time around.”

 Krasnov states that back in Russia, “the Fulbright programs has an office in Moscow, pretty close to an American embassy, and they work together closely with the embassy and they send people all over Russia, to different universities to give presentations to tell people about all the possibilities.” Krasnov mentions the other possibilities, which are all sponsored by the U.S. Department of State through other programs such as: Edmond Musky, Canon Institute, and the now defunct United States Information Agency (USIA) in the 1990s. Krasnov remarks, “there were all these different organization promoting America to the world. [However] in all those programs, Fulbright is always the summit. It’s the most prestigious program, and I also had colleagues, who had Fulbright before me and they were all encouraging me.”   However, there is real, current conflict with the Fulbright program in the United States, as recent federal budgets proposed to cut the fund entirely. Birkenstein noted that although the program doesn’t bring countries together, it does bring individuals within those countries together. The Fulbright program allows, “actual humans in the same room and that’s what this program does. It gives you an opportunity to meet regular people in other countries, and our world needs more of that and not less.”

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