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The Boston Globe

Ideas

The Fulbright, history’s greatest war-surplus program

Why a great educational exchange was invented, and what it accomplished instead

A Fulbright scholarship is one of the few academic honors with a reputation well beyond academia, its name carrying a strong tinge of global idealism along with its scholarly prestige. Since its creation in 1946, the Fulbright program has become the flagship international educational exchange program of the US government. Over the past 67 years, it has sponsored international travel for almost 320,000 students, scholars, and teachers—either leaving the United States to pursue projects abroad, or coming here from their home nations to do the same.

Given the profound effect these experiences have had on the lives of grant recipients, the Fulbright is often seen as among the most civic-minded international programs of the US government—a vast effort to improve mutual understanding between nations and foster the exchange of ideas. Historian Arnold Toynbee spoke for many when he praised the program as “one of the really generous and imaginative things that have been done in the world since World War II.” Senator J. William Fulbright, the program’s sponsor and namesake, often boasted that the program was paving the road to world peace.

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