Peace Corps and Fulbright: Commonalities & Connections
By Kevin Quigley on Friday, July 23rd, 2010
Both programs were born in war and use personal exchanges to promote understanding that increase prospects for peace. The Fulbright Program grew out of the ashes of World War II, and the Peace Corps was created in the coldest moments of the Cold War.
Both programs recognize and rely on the fact that Americans working alongside individuals from other countries are truly our best “ambassadors.” As a consequence, the Peace Corps and the Fulbright Programs are perhaps the most widely recognized and respected U.S. government programs overseas.
Both programs also have major anniversaries: the Peace Corps is on the eve of the 50th Anniversary and the Fulbright is celebrating 60 years of success in Thailand.
These different anniversaries are profoundly important in their own ways. For Western societies, the half-century mark is an indication of success and maturity. In many Asian cultures 60 years, or the completion of five 12-year astrological cycles, is the equivalent measure.
During this Fulbright anniversary celebration, I was struck again and again by the commonalities of philosophy and personalities.
Reflecting this, the Thai Fulbright program is governed by a number of early Peace Corps volunteers, including Harvey Price from Thai One, and Anthony Zola, who served in the early 70s.
One of the featured speakers at the anniversary celebration was Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, the current Secretary General of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the former Thai Foreign Minister. Dr. Surin reflects perfectly the deep connections between these two programs. He was taught by a Peace Corps couple, a former Country Director helped him attend college in the United States, and later he was a Fulbrighter here.
At this celebration, I also saw Dr. Bruce Svare, brother-in-law of former Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan, who was a Fulbrighter teaching neuroscience at Chulalongkorn University some years ago. Now, Bruce spends a month every year teaching in Chulanlongkorn, exemplifying the best of the Peace Corps-type spirit in maintaining an ongoing connection with his project site.
This recent Fulbright celebration was presided over by Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who also presided over the 2007 45th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps program in Thailand. Princess Sirindhorn spoke eloquently about how leaders who have an understanding of others based on personal relationships can make a profound difference.
As a former Peace Corps volunteer and Fulbrighter in Thailand, I truly wish that these programs could be expanded ten-fold. In that way, much more of the promise of both of these remarkable programs would be better realized.