For some of the Korean students I teach, I am the first American they have ever met in person, let alone interacted with on a regular basis.
As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant living in a factory town in the heart of South Korea, I share my experiences with 700 Korean middle school students each week. From convincing my students that many Americans indeed do like spicy food to larger discussions about diversity and equality, I am able to engage in ways that offer a critical and complex view of the world around us. I am learning a lot about Korea and Korean culture and have been able to share my knowledge with friends, family and acquaintances back in the U.S.A. thanks to Fulbright.
The Fulbright Program is one of the best opportunities that America has to improve its relationship with the rest of the world. Instead of being bogged down in high-level diplomatic talks and lofty statements by politicians, Fulbrighters work to make a direct person-to-person impact. While there are other educational exchange programs, Fulbright's rich history and success has left an important mark with people around the world. Out of Fulbright's ranks have come numerous heads of state and over 50 Nobel Prize winners.
However, the Obama Administration's 2015 budget proposal threatens the legacy and continued success of the Fulbright Program. Laudably, the Administration opted to increase funding for international exchange programs, specifically focusing in areas of interest in Asia and Africa, by 1.6 percent. While these new initiatives are good news, they come at the expense of the Fulbright Program in the form of a $30 million cut.
The Fulbright Program's current budget is $235 million per year. The proposed cut represents 13 percent of the core funding for the program. Worse, the administration has provided no plan for how they would implement the cuts and which countries that they would impact.
We cannot afford to cut the Fulbright Program. No other program has such an established worldwide reputation; it is the gold standard in international educational exchange. It is not just for Americans, either; the Fulbright program offers thousands of people from foreign countries the chance to teach and research in the United States each year.
Over 300,000 people have been able to learn about other cultures and exchange knowledge around the world because of the Fulbright Program. By allowing this massive cut, we are starting a down a slippery slope that leads towards more cuts in the future, jeopardizes the $100 million contribution that partner governments make each year, and ultimately threatens the existence of Fulbright as we know it.
I have about four months left in my grant year in South Korea, and I am savoring every moment with my students and my Korean host family. Together, we need make sure that others continue to have the opportunity to study, teach, and solve global issues as part of Fulbright. That is also why I have joined SaveFulbright.org -- an independent grassroots coalition of current and former Fulbright recipients around the world working to fight this devastating budget cut. With over 10,000 people already taking a stand for the power of the Fulbright experience, we need every voice possible to stop this unprecedented policy shift.
Senator J. William Fulbright said,
Educational exchange is not merely one of those nice but marginal activities in which we engage in international affairs, but rather, from the standpoint of future world peace and order, probably the most important and potentially rewarding of our foreign-policy activities.
There is enough money in the budget to fund all international programs, both new initiatives and Fulbright, in full. We need to send a strong message to President Obama and Congress that the Fulbright Program is a valuable part of U.S. foreign policy. The positive effects that the program makes on individuals everyday is staggering; it truly changes lives and brings the world a little bit closer together. We need to #SaveFulbright.