Walking “The Last Three Feet” with Fulbright

Yesterday you read an update from 2014 graduate Eirik Torsvoll.  I also wanted to share this article that he wrote for the U.S.-Norway Fulbright Foundation, which sponsored his studies.

It was the journalist Edward R. Murrow who observed that in promoting international understandings, what matters most is “the last three feet.”  Incomplete perceptions and attitudes about foreign people are best dispelled by actual personal contact, with individuals engaged in conversation with one another.  And so it was with my Fulbright experience.

I arrived in Medford, Massachusetts in the fall of 2012, to pursue a master’s degree in international relations.  My place of study was the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, which is situated 15 minutes from Boston proper.  I was very excited about this unique opportunity to specialize in the fields of study that interest me the most, namely U.S. foreign policy, security studies, and the Asia-Pacific region.

Fletcher offered an incredible range, depth, and freedom of study that I tried to take advantage of to the fullest.  This involved, for example, a highly meticulous process of deciding which courses to take in a given semester.  The task was not made easier by the fact that Fletcher students can cross-register for graduate courses at Harvard University, which significantly widened the list of available courses.  I was not complaining about the degree of choice, however.  For someone hungry to further his studies it was pure bliss.

For my comprehension of world issues, as important as the courses themselves were my fellow peers.  Fletcher attracts a pool of students, both from the United States and abroad, with an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds and experiences.  This meant that for basically every classroom discussion someone would say something like “I was there when that happened” or “I have been working on that for my government.”  This made the talks so much richer, and my understanding of the issues so much deeper.  Having had the opportunity to discuss world issues with people from around the globe, in the pressure cooker of ideas and perspectives that is Fletcher, was a truly invaluable experience.

I also greatly appreciated the Fletcher faculty’s approach of mixing theory and practice in their teaching.  The school prides itself on being a professional school of international affairs, and the professors place great emphasis on training students to be ready to tackle real-world issues.  A skill I particularly valued training for was the ability to express myself concisely.  I had many opportunities to practice this in writing terse two-page memos, where I had to summarize a problem and propose solutions.  One of my professors’ favorite word was actually “pith,” a topic on which he gave a talk every year.

Beyond the classroom my cultural experience in the United States was greatly enhanced by being a part of the Fulbright network.  I attended various Boston Fulbright mixers, meeting many engaging students from around America and the world.  One of my favorite experiences, though, was the Fulbright enrichment seminar I attended in St. Louis, Missouri.  I went there to learn about America’s westward expansion, but came away with much more.

I fondly remember spending time at a local daycare center in the outskirts of St. Louis.  It was a part of Head Start, a U.S. federal program intended to promote the school readiness for young children from lower-income families.  After being questioned by a little girl on “why I talked so funny,” I tried to explain that I was not from the United States.  I attempted to demonstrate this by using Play-Doh to create two blobs representing North America and Europe.  The lesson might only have been partially successful, but I left with a greater appreciation for how inquisitive young minds are, and how important programs like Head Start are in helping all children reach their full potential.

The Fulbright Program has allowed me to attain an education that I know will help me in my professional and personal life.  But, and perhaps more importantly, Fulbright also gave me the opportunity to walk those last three feet and meet so many people that have expanded my understanding of the world, its issues, and its people.  I would strongly encourage anyone considering becoming a part of this program to do so, the last steps toward someone might be the most important ones you ever take.

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