By Belinda Theriault, Executive Director
Dear Fulbrighters and friends,
Happy anniversary! Fulbright Iceland is thrilled to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Fulbright Program with our friends worldwide. Fulbright was launched in 1946 with the noble goal to enhance mutual understanding and help people and nations work together toward common goals. While Iceland did not join the program until 1957, making this our 64th anniversary year, the program has since its inception been a pillar of the bilateral relationship between Iceland and the U.S. Iceland is fortunate and proud to be one of the 49 countries that hosts a Fulbright Commission and is honored to be the first country highlighted with a Fulbright Country Day during the 75th anniversary year.
In this anniversary newsletter we are showcasing a very few examples of the value of the Fulbright Iceland Program. We are presenting a few of our alumni from the student program, a diverse group of Americans and Icelanders, who took full advantage of the Fulbright experience to improve themselves, gain knowledge and new perspectives and who are now working to advance their chosen fields, to make a difference in their communities and to make our world just a little bit better, each in their own way.
The value that Fulbright provides is a bit like investment banking. Often, we do not know what dividends each individual investment will provide when we are giving out grants. The benefits and results are not always immediate or tweetable. We are building long-term relationships and contributing to research, the results of which are often not published until well after the end of the grant period. We are giving people an opportunity to broaden their horizons, widen their world view and develop their talents, while contributing to their host community in a meaningful way. Looking beyond what Fulbright has done for the 1532 grantees, both Icelanders and Americans, we have had over the past 64 years, I can say with absolute certainty that the Fulbright Program has greatly invigorated U.S.-Iceland academic and professional cooperation to the benefit of both countries.
The worldwide Fulbright Program has since 1946 had enormous and undisputed success. Fulbright is a strong brand, known worldwide for excellence. It is imperative that we continue to build on that success. Fulbright has in the past decades, and again during the past year, shown itself to be flexible, adaptable and open to innovation. This bodes well for the next 75 years. At the start of the Fulbright Program and in its first decades, the world was in many ways quite different from today. In the aftermath of WWII, things were more black and white, with the Cold War putting countries on one side or other of a clear ideological divide. Now we are faced with muddier waters. We have made so much progress, technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate and the human race enjoys unparalleled abundance. But our actions are hurting our planet and all its diverse species in a way that can no longer be ignored. We have been dealing with a global pandemic for a year now. Democracy is under attack. Disinformation abounds and threats to our societies are of a different, less tangible nature than before. Economic hardships and disparities are sowing seeds of discontent that make fertile ground for populists and demagogues. Public discourse is no longer civil. There is an alarming tendency to demonize those with whom we disagree and to dehumanize those who are simply different in some way. We have so much progress and enlightenment, but at the same time devastating destruction and in some ways degression to a darker time in history.
Thus, in today´s world, the Fulbright Program is more important than ever. To successfully navigate current global trends, to meet the challenges of a world that is changing more rapidly than ever, to bring people together, to safeguard and strengthen democracy and human rights and to work towards a world where all people can live lives of dignity and respect, we need to elevate reason, knowledge, science, empathy, cooperation and open-mindedness. That is what Fulbright is all about and the Iceland-US Fulbright Commission is proud to take part in that mission. Despite the current challenges, we are excited and optimistic as we look forward.
On a personal note, I have an anniversary of my own coming up. On March 1st, I will have been Executive Director of the Fulbright Commission in Iceland for 10 years. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the important work that Fulbright does. Our grantees are inspiring and their work gives us hope. It is an honor and a privilege to go to work every day knowing that in our own small way we are helping to strengthen our societies and make the world a better place through Fulbright.