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Fulbright Future

All you need to know about the Fulbright-Nehru Fellowships.

Most visitors to the port city of Baltimore, Maryland, enjoy the world-class aquarium, watch a baseball game or grab a delicious dinner in Little Italy.

But this group had a bigger agenda.

In March, 60 scholars from around the world gathered in Baltimore to learn firsthand about the struggles faced by the city’s poor communities, in a three-day program titled, “A Tale of Two Cities: Focus on Public Health.” Panel discussions, volunteer opportunities and site visits to nonprofit aid organizations gave the visitors a chance to better understand the economic disparity in Baltimore and its impact on health care access, violence and substance abuse.

The visitors were Fulbright scholars—participants of the flagship educational exchange program established by the U.S. Congress in 1946. The program offers grants to non-U.S. citizens to study, research and teach at colleges and universities in America, and to U.S. citizens to do the same in other countries. To date, more than 325,400 scholars from 155 countries have participated in the exchanges, designed to nurture people-to-people connections and bring international relations to the individual level.

Fulbright exchanges between the United States and India began in 1950. In 2008, the program expanded, as both countries became financial and administrative partners in the exchange. The awards were renamed Fulbright-Nehru Fellowships.

“Since the agreement in 2008, the numbers of exchanges with India have really mushroomed,” says Betty Castor, chair of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, which oversees the selection of Fulbright scholars worldwide. “We now have about 300 Fulbright-Nehru exchanges a year.”

The Fulbright-Nehru grants are administered by the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF). Indian nationals and citizens at various stages of graduate study and professional work are eligible to apply for the program. The types of awards include master’s fellowships, doctoral and professional research fellowships, postdoctoral “Scholar-in-Residence” grants and the “Distinguished Awards in Teaching” program.

Castor’s advice for anyone interested in the program: “Apply!”

“You can go online to get an idea of the basic requirements,” explains Castor. She also recommends contacting academic institutions in India, as many have a key staff person involved with the Fulbright program. “But the best way to learn more is to talk to a Fulbrighter—someone who has the experience already.”

Although the variety of opportunities and eligibility qualifications can be overwhelming, the USIEF website offers details on each program, and they host information sessions for interested applicants. They also help students connect with Fulbright alumni for more information.

One of the grants is the Fulbright-Nehru Master’s Fellowship. Designed for Indians interested in pursuing a master’s degree at selected U.S. academic institutions, the program offers study in one of the following fields: arts and culture management including heritage conservation and museum studies, environmental science/studies, higher education administration, public health, urban and regional planning, and women’s studies/gender studies. The program looks for highly-motivated leaders who have completed the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree, have at least three years of work experience and who commit to return and contribute to their communities after the one- or two-year fellowship. The grant includes J-1 visa support, round trip airfare to the United States, tuition and fees, and living and related expenses.

“The Fulbright program builds mutual understanding between countries and people,” says Castor. “The program provides the unique opportunity for students and scholars to not only become deeply involved in their own research, but to learn in another environment, meet new colleagues in their field and bring back the interests and knowledge to their home countries.”

Applicants to the United States propose a specific project to research. But if they are accepted into the program, they receive exposure to a broad range of topics during the fellowship. When Fulbrighters come to the United States, they do not just conduct research in the back bookshelves of a university library. They are encouraged to get to know the different communities and cultures around the country, so that they develop an authentic understanding of the past and current issues in America. Participants attend the Fulbright enrichment programs that take place in locations around the United States. These include studying innovation in the Pacific Northwest, civil rights in Atlanta and Native American life in Oklahoma. The seminars immerse scholars in regional American culture and history, offering them context and human connections around some of the country’s toughest issues.

Just a month after the Fulbright seminar concluded in Baltimore, protests, and later, riots broke out across the city, sparked by deepening concern about police brutality toward African Americans. “Anyone who attended the enrichment seminar in Baltimore would better understand some of the challenges there,” says Castor, who also participated in the session.

With nearly 70 years of professional and educational exchanges, increased mutual understanding through people-to-people connections is exactly what the Fulbright program is about. And the impact endures, adds Castor. “Fulbrighters build academic friendships and contacts that will serve them a lifetime.”


Jane Varner Malhotra is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.