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A Prestigious Yet Achievable Award

“The Fulbright Program aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.” – Senator J. William Fulbright

The prestigious Fulbright Program, founded by US Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946, involves over 180 countries. Since 1963, it has offered places to almost a thousand Malaysians. To date, over a quarter of a million people have participated in the Fulbright Program worldwide, in the broad areas of education, the sciences and languages.

The Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE) was also established in 1963 to promote inter-cultural understanding through education and educational exchange between Malaysia and the US. Earlier this month, MACEE hosted a debriefing session for the Fulbright Malaysian and other US exchange program grantees, to welcome home the grantees of 2010-2011 to Malaysia.

Armed with a power-point presentation encapsulating their entire experience abroad, most demonstrated a positive experience of cultural exchange. Broadly speaking, they were involved in community services and local celebrations unique to the different parts of America.

The grantees returned home with deep understanding, compassion and respect for American friends, colleagues and the uniquely diverse cultures of America. All of them said that the initial culture-shock gave way to a cultural-acceptance which could not but extend their academic and cultural horizons.

Zuliana Haslinda, a biology teacher from ILEP (International Leaders in Education Program), said, “The American students had an insatiable desire to understand  Islam and accepted me as I exchanged experiences and built an understanding with them about where I came from.”

Dr. Kartini Ahmad, an associate professor from UKM, went to the US on the Fulbright Malaysian Scholar Program to research on voice measurement. Apart from the chance to engage with one of the world’s professors in the field she also found the locals to be “genuine, friendly and truly helpful,” she added.

Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad, a dance choreographer, scholar and writer, went to America on the Fulbright Malaysian Professional Exchange Program. He said that his experience of teaching in a dance department at the University of California, Riverside, was invaluable. “Meeting all the big names in dance, people who write about it, enabled me to receive constructive feedback on my performance,” he added. It was even, for him, a radical experience of discovery.

Paul Jones with Malaysian Scholars

In his speech to the scholars, the US Ambassador to Malaysia, HE Paul W Jones, noted that these are “exciting times between Malaysia and the US” given President Obama’s interest in fostering mutual understanding, cooperation and respect among the international community. The Fulbright exchange program builds on the two countries’ people-to-people ties, especially among youth, through education and exchange.

He encouraged the grantees to “wear this experience proudly and share it; be informal ambassadors, and be active in community work.” Having people involved in educational exchange can only assist in fostering goodwill and understanding, said Jones.

James Coffman addresses the gathering

While most Malaysians shy away from applying to the Fulbright program because of its perceived elitism, a recent interview with MACEE executive director, Dr James Coffman, shed light on the selection process.

Coffman reiterates that MACEE looks for individuals of passion, dynamism and character; who are inspirational and leaders in their own right. They have a good sense of what areas of study they intend to pursue and how these might contribute to their professional development. If this describes you, then Coffman would encourage you to apply.

He stresses that there has to be a sense of balance about the candidate; he or she needs to have strong sense of purpose and be able to carry herself well enough to represent Malaysia.

Among the areas of study offered are in the arts, speech therapy, voice measurement, psychology, behavioral science, dance, photo-journalism, teaching, political science, and HIV/AIDS policy and prevention.

There are a wide variety of grants available through MACEE for educational exchange. Grants for Malaysians include the Fulbright Malaysian Scholar Program, Fulbright Malaysian Professional Exchange Program, Fulbright Graduate Study and Research Program, the International Fulbright Science and Technology Award, Hubert H. Humphrey Program, and the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program.

Other US Grants (Non Fulbright) include the International Leaders in Education Program and the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program. For more information, please contact MACEE.

* Article is written by Lynn D’Cruz of KomunitiKini on August 25, 2011.