WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Trump’s 2018 budget proposes major funding cuts for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), which runs a variety of cultural exchange programs that allow people to conduct research and promote diplomacy all over the globe. The only program Trump proposes to maintain is the Fulbright Program, claiming it “forges lasting connections between Americans and emerging leaders around the globe.”
The impact of cultural exchange programs on global poverty alleviation is impressive. The Fulbright was established in 1946 and is one of the most highly regarded U.S. exchange programs. Recipients of the Fulbright, or “Fulbrighters,” are graduates or established academics that participate in funded trips to foreign countries on which they choose to either teach English or conduct research. The program also offers grants for people without permanent U.S. residencies to come study in the U.S. The Fulbright is prestigious, and only around 8,000 grants are awarded each year.
While all Fulbrighters can help establish diplomatic relationships between the U.S. and other countries and bring new understandings foreign cultures home with them, some Fulbrighters address global poverty more directly. Carlos Pereira Di Salvo is a current Ph.D. student in philosophy at Northwestern University and was a recipient of a 2016-17 grant. Di Salvo studied at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany and focused on “proposals for democratizing global governance,” work that he believes will “provide a foundation for future research into global poverty and poverty alleviation, as well as the global regulation of migration.”
As mentioned, established academics can also serve as Fulbrighters. Stephen Smith, a professor of economics and the director of the Institute for International Economic Policy at George Washington University, conducted research into global poverty at Kurukshetra University in India during the 2012-13 award cycle. Smith’s research focuses on methods to alleviate extreme poverty, concentrating specifically on the economics of labor cooperatives.
While the Fulbright makes a strong case for the impact of cultural exchange programs on global poverty alleviation, if not at least diplomacy, the Fulbright is restricted to those who are privileged enough to attend school for, apply for and win it. Statistically speaking, diplomacy cannot be developed with foreign countries through one small group of demographically similar scholars alone.
Currently, one of the many programs the ECA funds allows disabled adults to live in foreign countries for extended periods of time. Exchange programs that are aimed specifically at marginalized groups are important for building understanding, as issues beyond cultural difference (for instance, ableism) may be experienced and resolved to a degree.
Put simply, people from diverse demographics, especially those who are disadvantaged in terms of physical or mental ability, socioeconomic background, and public perception based on race, gender, or sexuality deserve to participate in the process of building diplomacy, which is integral to addressing global poverty.
As the Trump administration moves forward with its budget, it will hopefully consider what, or more specifically who, building lasting international connections should involve and opt to include more people — both Americans and foreigners — in the process rather than exclude them, in this way increasing the impact of cultural exchange programs on global poverty alleviation.
– Caroline Meyers