In my blogs and speeches I often make reference to the Fulbright Program, but what is it and what does it do? The Fulbright Program – named after the U.S. Senator who first proposed it –was established in 1946 and is designed to increase friendship and mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Todate, more than 300,000 people have participated in the Fulbright Program worldwide.
The Fulbright is a two-way exchange. The core Fulbright programs provide students and scholarswith the opportunity to study, teach, and pursue research in the United States, and it also sends accomplished U.S. scholars overseas to contribute to the productive exchange of ideas, information, and expertise.
Each year, outstanding young Cambodians are selected to pursue two years of advanced studyin the United States through the prestigious Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Program.This year, six Cambodian students were selected for this program: Pheng Meas Sak (Brandeis University), Hoeun Sopheak (University of Missouri), NginSovath (University of Washington), SrunSovan (Colorado State University), Heng Chanpanhavuth (Stevens Institute of Technology), and Vann Yuvaktep (New York University).This is a distinguished group of young people and I have every confidence they will do wonderful things for Cambodia’s development when they return from the United States.
I am also pleased that talented U.S. Fulbright students and scholarscome to Cambodia (usually for nine or ten months) to share their academic experiences and build bridges between Cambodian and American institutions. U.S. students and scholars work in a wide variety of fields, some of which are well known and some that are new. This year, for instance, scholar Erin Moriarty Harrelson, tapped into her own experience as a deaf person to explore the emergence of deaf culture in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia – a subject that is poorly understood and that needs attention.
Erin, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at American University, is one of the first five grantees selected for the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship. Over the past nine months, Erin traveled throughout Cambodia to work with the country’s deaf community to learn about their stories. She used video, text, photographs, maps, and drawings to document the lives of deaf Cambodians as they learn Cambodian Sign Language– a language that is still being developed and documented. As part of her Fellowship, Erinwrote a blog about her experiences with the Cambodian deaf community. I highly encourage you to check it out.
By documenting the lives of deaf people in Cambodia, Erinhas helped to bring attentionto acommunity that currently lacks sufficient access to education and information due to the absence of closed caption television and other resources.I thank Erin for her commitment to raising awareness of deaf people in Cambodia and the struggles they face in their everyday lives.Thanks to her efforts, policy makers and organizations can better address the needs of deaf people in Cambodia.
Erin Harrelson’s program is just one example of the incredible difference that the Fulbright Program is making in Cambodia and around the world through the simple act of bringing people together. I send my best wishes to all of our departing U.S. Fulbrighters and look forward to seeing what amazing things the next group will do!