Back Issues of PDAA Today

Back issues of PDAA Today, PDAA’s quarterly print newsletter are now online and available for download.

Fulbright at 75: Recollections from our members

Public Diplomacy Officers, previously in the United States Information Agency and since 1999 in the U.S. Department of State, administer America’s premier academic exchange program, the Fulbright Program. Overseas, Public Diplomacy sections and bi-national commissions help recruit and administer the exchanges. We asked some of the members of the Public Diplomacy Association of America to recall their experiences with Fulbright. As you will see, some of them were themselves “Fulbrighters” before joining the Foreign Service. Here are some of their recollections.

Memories of J. William Fulbright

By Dr. Sherry Mueller

Editor’s Note: Dr. Sherry Mueller was recognized as a member of the 1946 Society at the 2019 Fulbright Association Conference held in Crystal City October 24-26. The 1946 Society is named after the year when the scholarship program was established following legislation introduced by Senator J. W. Fulbright. At the ceremony recognizing her, Dr. Mueller recalled her memories of Sen. Fulbright.

It is a privilege to have this opportunity to share my recollections of Senator Fulbright. He and the values he embodied, and so articulately embraced, are certainly the reasons I joined the 1946 Society and support the impressive work of the Fulbright Association.

In the early 1980s, I was working for the Institute of International Education. My staff and I were asked to design and implement the first Fulbright Enrichment Seminar for 180 Fulbright graduate students from around the world. Working closely with USIA, we orchestrated a three-day seminar in Washington, DC. The highlight of the seminar (and others that followed) was the Friday luncheon where Senator Fulbright spoke and interacted with each student. That was the beginning of my friendship with him and his second wife, Harriet, that lasted until he passed away in 1995. However, my admiration for him and his impact on my long career implementing exchanges endures to this day. As I teach Cultural Diplomacy at the AU School of International Service, I try to make sure my students appreciate his profound wisdom and enduring legacy. I just visited with Harriet last Saturday and convey her warm greetings to you all. As you may know, she is moving to Chapel Hill, NC, to be closer to one of her daughters.

Once, I asked Senator Fulbright what he considered his greatest accomplishment in addition to the Fulbright Program. He responded by explaining how he was one of the only American leaders who would hang out with the Soviets when they were in Washington, DC. Once he accompanied Foreign Minister Gromyko to a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet at Constitution Hall. He told me that he was embarrassed that the stage was too small and concluded that the Nation’s Capital needed a proper center for the performing arts. He and others worked to establish one, but it was only after President Kennedy was assassinated that they could muster the necessary support in Congress for the Center for the Performing Arts – by naming it after President Kennedy.

In 2012, the President of Friendship Force International invited me to give the keynote address at their World Conference in Hiroshima. The theme was “Peace Through Friendship” – a challenging topic for an American to tackle in the city that was once decimated by our atomic bomb. As I prepared my speech, I remembered that Senator Fulbright had received the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a foreigner – The Order of the Rising Sun. So after talking about the wonderful long-lasting results of the Japanese gift of 3000 cherry trees to the United States 100 years earlier in 1912, I invoked the Senator by noting that I was fortunate to become friends with him and that he founded America’s flagship scholarship program in 1946 because he believed we must do everything possible to prevent the horrors of World War II from recurring. I reminded the primarily Japanese audience that one of the many honors he received was “The Order of the Rising Sun” and quoted this passage in his book The Price of Empire:

“The only thing that gives me hope is . . . the belief that international relations can be improved, and the danger of war significantly reduced, by producing generations of leaders . . . who through the experience of educational exchange will have acquired some feeling and understanding of other people’s cultures . . . . It is possible that people can find in themselves, through intercultural education, the ways and means of living together in peace.”

That is the reason I joined the 1946 Society. It gives me hope in these turbulent times. My thanks to each of you for your pivotal role in preserving and extending the legacy of Senator Fulbright.¤

Sherry Mueller is President of the Public Diplomacy Council and a member of the Board of Directors of PDAA. The sketch of Sen. Fulbright that accompanies this article was presented to Dr. Mueller by a South African participant in one of the Fulbright Enrichment Seminars she helped organize.

Fulbright in Spain

by Mark L. Asquino

Mark Asquino (1975) while a Fulbrighter and on a hike in the mountains surrounding Oviedo, Spain.

In September 1975, I travelled to Spain on a Fulbright fellowship to teach American literature and history at the University of Oviedo in the northwest region of Asturias. At the time, I was close to finishing a Ph.D. in American Studies at Brown. Little did I know that the Fulbright fellowship would lead directly to my entering the Foreign Service.

These were the fraught, final months of the Franco regime, and when I arrived in Oviedo, the city still had battle scars from the 1936-38 Spanish Civil War. As the Fulbright lecturer, I taught two American literature courses and one on American history. It struck me that whether I was explaining the democratic values that sparked the American Revolution or discussing American Transcendentalism, much of what I had to say was at odds with the Fascist orthodoxy of Franco’s Spain. This was very gratifying for me.

During my fellowship year, I came to know several USIS officers at our embassy in Madrid. They asked if I would help them set up programs for American speakers at the university, and I told them I’d be more than happy to do so.

1976 graduating class from the University of Oviedo. Mark Asquino is pictured in the top row, second from the left..

Most of the speakers who came to Oviedo were U.S. professors, and I enjoyed arranging schedules for them. The USIS officers told me that I had the sort of outgoing personality and strong administrative skills needed for a career with USIA.  They encouraged me to take the Foreign Service entry exam, and in 1976-77, I passed both portions of it. With no teaching job prospects on the horizon, I was delighted to enter the October 1978 class of the new USICA.

My overseas postings were in Latin America, Europe, Central Asia and Africa. In 2015, I retired following a tour as the U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, Spain’s only former colony in sub-Saharan Africa. Starting in Spain, I had come full circle, ending my career on what had once been Spanish soil.

And it had all begun decades earlier with the Fulbright program, to which I’ll always be grateful.

Mark Asquino is a retired Foreign Service Officer and member of PDAA.

Dick Arndt – Fulbrighter to FSO

By Skyler Arndt-Briggs, Ph.D.

Charcoal portrait of Dick Arndt drawn on the ship to France in 1949.

As one of the first cohort of US Fulbrighters to go to France, Richard T. Arndt arrived in October 1949, two days before his twenty-first birthday. Despite growing up poor, he had benefited from two lucky breaks. He won a scholarship for promising New Jersey kids to attend Princeton University; and, just as he was graduating, IIE’s Larry Duggan succeeded in getting the Fulbright program to France up and running.

In Dick’s own words, his year in Dijon “was a complete change of life—with regard to food, dress, behavior, manners, history, customs, anti-Americanism, foreign ‘ignorance,’ languages, everything.” After his return, he taught and completed a PhD in French literature at Columbia. In 1961, he answered J.F. Kennedy’s call to “ask what you can do for your country” and joined USIA.

In Beirut (1961-63), Sri Lanka (1963-66), and Teheran (1966-71), Dick focused on cultural affairs—programming artists and scholars, running libraries, ESL and cultural centers, and supporting universities—and was able to make important contributions that crossed political lines without, for the most part, getting mired in controversial issues. His approach even worked in Rome (1974-78)—where he was posted together with his new spouse, USIA officer Lois Roth—but not in Paris (1978-80). Dick and Lois spent the next few years in Washington, DC, until Dick’s retirement in 1985 and Lois’s untimely death in 1986.

Amb. Armin H. Meyer, Dick Arndt, Lois Roth at award ceremony for FSN Kazem Passima. Teheran c. 1970

In retirement, Dick continued writing about US cultural diplomacy, returning to the lessons he’d learned as a Fulbrighter and expanded upon in successive posts. A personal friend of Senator J. William Fulbright, Dick co-founded the Fulbright Association (of US alumni), wrote an article on “Questioning the Fulbright Experience,” and co-edited The Fulbright Difference,1948-92. Teaching classes at the University of Virginia and George Washington University, he researched and wrote his history of US cultural diplomacy, The First Resort of Kings. In recent years, he has been working on a history of US contributions to education in Iran and an argument for the rehabilitation of Larry Duggan—whose reputation was torpedoed by mythmaking surrounding the Red Scare and the Cold War.

The foundation Dick created in memory of his deceased wife, Lois Roth, works with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to honor the achievements of those working in cultural affairs for the U.S. Foreign Service.¤

Skyler Arndt-Briggs chairs the Lois Roth Endowment.

Public Diplomacy & Cultural Festivals in Syria

By Evelyn A. Early, Ph.D.

The trust and friendships cultivated during my 1982 Fulbright in Syria continued through my return in 1996 as a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus.

Young woman singing at the 1982 Deir az-Zor Cultural Festival

In 1982, when I was one of only a few American researchers in Syria, I focused on Syrian popular culture.

At the Baathist Vanguard Youth Party Cultural Festival I attended in Deir az-Zor in 1982, the students presented dances and plays highlighting pan-Arabism. The Vanguard Cultural Director Dr. Abdullah, who had earned his doctorate in Moscow, spoke in a formal style of Arabic to demonstrate the cultural and political unity among the Arab states. While the children’s festival pieces presented serious themes like feudalism and nationalism using a similar Arabic, the skits were set in a child’s everyday play world peopled with colorful folk heroes.

When I returned to Syria in 1996 as PAO, my friends introduced me to producers of the popular historical television dramas which all debut during the month of Ramadan. Such series have presented Arab audiences with critiques on important issues such as terrorism much more effectively than any soft power initiative by western powers. I recommended that Washington fund local teledrama efforts, which it did.

Vanguard youth dancing at the 1982 Festival. Red slogan reads: “We want our children to live a happy childhood.”

Some of our best dialogues with Syrian officials took place over such dinners as our American Jazz Tour celebration. Ambassador Crocker knew the value of attending openings where similar opportunities for informal talks with Syrian officials were interspersed with such programs as Vanguard folkloric dances similar to those in Deir az-Zor in 1982.

A few years later when I was PAO Rabat, Jamal Suleiman—a heartthrob of these Syrian television dramas whom I’d come to know in Damascus—was in Morocco for a film festival. I invited top Moroccan actors/actresses to lunch to meet him. My staff told me Jamal would never come, given current Middle East politics. They were wrong. After a lunchtime discussion of pan-Arab cultural issues, Jamal announced that, given events in Lebanon, he was on his way to resign as UN Goodwill Ambassador, but that he had not wanted to miss the chance to discuss culture with a friend like Dr. Early.¤

Evelyn Early is a retired senior Foreign Service Officer.

Chairing a Trinational Fulbright Commission

By Judith R. Baroody

Trinational Fulbright Board and staff, 1997. Note Lellos Demetriades, second from right in dark suit. Photo by Athos Sophocleous, in public domain.

Soon after I arrived in Cyprus in 1996 to take up the job as PAO, I received an official letter from Ambassador Richard Boucher appointing me as Chairperson of the Fulbright Commission. This presented a special challenge in a country described as “paradise with a problem.”

The island is divided across the middle, east-to-west, into Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. UN troops guard the neutral zone, and citizens were not allowed to cross from one side to the other.

When I took on the chairmanship, Cyprus had the largest per capita budget of any Fulbright Commission in the world. We had an annual budget of over six million dollars in a country of about a million people, thanks to Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.). He managed to add a line item of 15 million dollars in the federal budget every year for the island.

Five million went to Fulbright, which also received money from investments and the Government of Cyprus. Ten million went to a special fund administered by the Embassy for bicommunal reconciliation. With that kind of money, we were able to dream up and carry out a range of ambitious projects with the approval of the board.

The Fulbright Board was considered trinational. Members included Americans, Greek Cypriots, and Turkish Cypriots, who regarded themselves as citizens of a separate republic. The meetings could get lively.

PAO Judith Baroody with Special Envoy to Cyprus Richard Holbrooke.

Among those representing the Greek Cypriots was Lellos Demetriades, mayor of Nicosia and a tough-talking lawyer. Lellos would take a maximalist approach to negotiations, demanding the impossible and settling for the plausible. He was also warm and funny. He once told me, “We realized that Cyprus would never be a major power, so we decided to be a major nuisance instead.”

Despite the sometimes heated rhetoric, it was actually a congenial group. We all wanted the same thing, which was to find an equitable peace settlement and provide academic opportunities for the young people of Cyprus, whatever their ethnicity.

The first year I was there, we gave out 65 scholarships and 65 training opportunities, sending mid-level professionals to the U.S. to learn about their fields and meet American counterparts. We also hosted a variety of workshops and cultural exhibits on the island to encourage Greek and Turkish Cypriots to get to know each other.

Bringing the two sides together was, in reality, our only job—bicommunal reconciliation and, ultimately, peace.¤

Judith Baroody is a retired Foreign Service Officer and a member of the PDAA Board of Directors.

That Time the Senator Undermined U.S. Foreign Policy

By John Quintus

I was retired Senator J. William Fulbright’s Control Officer when he visited Germany in 1985 at the invitation of the German-American Fulbright Commission. It was the eve of the 40th Anniversary of the program that still bears Fulbright’s name, and the Commission, one of the world’s largest, wanted to be among the first to enjoy the Senator’s presence.

John Quintus and Senator Fulbright

Fulbright spoke to a large gathering at the University of Bonn with Ambassador Arthur Burns in attendance. When Bill told the German audience that they should resist the stationing of Pershing medium-range rockets on their soil, the Ambassador covered his face with his right hand. He was not amused, since the Embassy was doing its utmost to justify the installation of the Pershing system to counter the Soviets’ SS-20 missiles.

Then Bill, who had always preferred diplomacy to military action, said something I’ve never forgotten: “Before I left on this trip I asked the folks at the U.S. Information Agency to determine how much money had been spent on the Fulbright Program since its inception nearly 40 years ago. Well, let me tell you here today that all that money wouldn’t buy the tail end of a Trident submarine!”

It was typical Fulbright, and a pointed reminder that investing in peace and mutual understanding was and is far less costly than preparing for war.

USIA actively supported the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program. It was good that the Agency did so, since—alas—the Senator did not live to witness the 50th Anniversary. Fortunately, Fulbright’s legacy endures; it is a legacy we all hope will rebound with the end of the current pandemic and with increasing funding from the Biden Administration.¤

John Quintus is a retired Foreign Service Officer and member of PDAA. He served as Assistant CAO in Bonn.

Fulbrighters in Poland

by Peter Becskehazy

Front row, Fulbright professor Jim Hutcheson and spouse Joanne Hutcheson
Back row (l to r), Cathleen Becskehazy and Fulbright Professor Joe Mullen, and steering the raft, one of the residents of a regional ethnic group known locally as Górale, Highlanders of the Polish Tatra Mountains.

My wife Cathleen and I and consular officer David Summer, from the US Consulate in Krakow, Poland arranged for a cultural experience for two of our Fulbright professors on a raft trip on the Dunajec River in southern Poland, separating Poland and Slovakia. The Fulbrighters played an important role in transmitting American culture to faculty and students of universities in Poland at a time when Poland was a communist country and part of the Warsaw Pact. Our guides and raft captains were local highlanders who carried on the Górale regional traditions of spoken language, song and dance. Our guide sang some Górale folk songs and taught us their dialect.

Peter Becskehazy is a retired Foreign Service Officer and a member of PDAA. He was Principal Officer and PAO of the American consulate in Krakow.


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