The year was 1925, after graduating from college, James William Fulbright left his home in Arkansas to embark on a journey across the Atlantic. He studied at Oxford University, traveled throughout Europe, and learned about the lives and concerns of the people he met along the way. But the results of this transformational overseas experience would not fully emerge for another 20 years.
After Fulbright returned to the United States, he attended law school, served as a university president, and began a career in public service. In 1945, as the Junior Senator from Arkansas, he introduced legislation to use funds from surplus war materials for a new international educational exchange program.
In 1946, President Harry Truman signed legislation to establish the Fulbright Program, an International Scholarship with an ambitious goal– to increase mutual understanding and support friendly and peaceful relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.
Today, through an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of State sponsors Fulbright Program exchanges with more than 155 countries around the world. The State Department manages the overall program, sets priorities, allocates resources, and funds the Fulbright program’s day-to-day administration by non-governmental organizations, such as IIE and CIES. In each country, the State Department’s U.S. Embassy staff works with partner governments to provide in-country oversight to the Fulbright Program.
In some countries, the two governments have established independent bi-national Fulbright commissions to carry out the program. Finally, the presidentially appointed Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board establishes
policies and procedures and selects participants for the Fulbright Program.
Worldwide, most of the funding for the Fulbright Program comes from the U.S. Government, while many foreign governments contribute substantially to the program as well. Higher education institutions, both in the U.S. And abroad, also play an important role, sharing costs, and serving as centers of academic and professional development for Fulbrighters. Private organizations and individual donors provide additional funding and in-kind support.
Through this cooperation among governments, academia, the private sector, and civil society, the Fulbright Program increases international understanding and responds to critical global issues. Fulbrighters the world over are engaged in projects on environmental issues, food security, public health, education, and other challenges that require innovation, creativity, and knowledge that transcends borders.
So what does it mean to be a Fulbrighter? Fulbrighters are current and future leaders, who are ready to share their knowledge and culture, who are open to new ideas, and who are committed to international engagement. Fulbright alumni have gone on to become Nobel Prize winners, Heads of State, Ambassadors, leaders in scientific research and innovation, educators, artists, business professionals, and civic leaders.
Above all, Fulbrighters exemplify the power of international academic exchange to transform lives, bridge geographic and cultural boundaries, and promote a more peaceful and prosperous world.