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International Education Programs Service

Fulbright-Hays Programs: The World is Our Classroom

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Only fifty years ago, the geopolitical landscape shifted with the emergence of independent nations and the bipolar struggle for influence in world regions. U.S. leaders were increasingly confronted with the need to understand the Soviet Union, its allies, and the countries of the world in which the Cold War was being played out. Spurred by the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, federal funding to establish foreign language and area studies programs at U.S. universities was authorized under the National Defense Education Act of 1958, later incorporated into Title VI of the Higher Education Act. To ensure scholars would also receive the critical overseas educational experiences necessary for developing high levels of language and area expertise, the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange (Fulbright-Hays) Act of 1961 was enacted.

The Fulbright-Hays programs, administered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), are distinct from the Fulbright programs administered by the U.S. Department of State. While both sets of programs serve international education and national security interests, their specific goals and program emphases differ. State Department programs focus on exchange for mutual understanding by bringing overseas scholars and professionals to the United States and by sending U.S. citizens (often with no prior international experience) abroad.

In contrast, the Fulbright-Hays programs at the U.S. Department of Education serve a domestic agenda. Authorized under Section 102(b)(6) of the Fulbright-Hays Act, they support the internationalization of the nation's educational infrastructure by strengthening area and foreign language expertise among current and prospective U.S. educators. They do this in two ways:

  • by providing critical, advanced overseas study and research opportunities for area and language experts and faculty-in-training; and
  • by offering experiences and resources enabling educators to strengthen their international teaching.
In nine years on the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, I have had the opportunity to see the extraordinary impact of the Fulbright-Hays programs on participants' lives. They develop a rich understanding of people in different countries and cultures and share their knowledge with other Americans after their return to the United States - especially important in the current international environment. For this reason, it is important to maintain the programs' non-political nature, their focus on educational goals.
--Alan Schechter
Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College
Member, J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board

Using funds provided by the Fulbright-Hays programs, participants serve as informal cultural ambassadors and engage in an exchange of knowledge and culture while overseas. Fulbright-Hays sends U.S. citizens abroad, but it does not provide reciprocal opportunities for international scholars to visit the United States. Participants are associated with a domestic education agency rather than foreign policy and therefore enjoy a greater degree of flexibility in their overseas work. Further, Fulbright-Hays programs are targeted primarily (though not exclusively) at educators and future educators. These programs contribute to the U.S. international education infrastructure, supporting ongoing teaching and research about the peoples, cultures, and events that shape today's world. The four Fulbright-Hays programs include: Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad (DDRA), Faculty Research Abroad (FRA), Group Projects Abroad (GPA), and Seminars Abroad (SA).

DDRA and FRA: Building Language and Area Experts

The Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad (DDRA) and Faculty Research Abroad (FRA) programs allow participants who have already acquired a level of expertise in an area or language to deepen and expand this knowledge, thereby creating a pool of highly qualified experts. DDRA allows doctoral students to conduct overseas research in modern foreign languages and area studies for periods of 6-12 months. Proposals that focus on Western Europe are not eligible. Recipients of these awards must possess sufficient language and area knowledge to conduct research in a foreign language of the area on which they will focus. Although applications are evaluated based on the proposed projects' merits, individuals apply to the programs through their home institutions. More information about DDRA and the application process can be found at the following Web site:

DDRA enables Ph.D. candidates to complete their education and research. FRA, on the other hand, provides the opportunity for faculty to maintain their language and area skills and remain current in their fields. It is most often used by junior faculty conducting significant research to strengthen their tenure cases, but is open to participants at any stage in their faculty careers. Individuals receiving FRA funding must have been engaged in teaching relevant to their language or area specialization for two years immediately preceding the award. More information about FRA and the application process can be found at the following website:

Groups and Seminars: Strengthening Expertise and Teaching at all Educational Levels

The Group Projects Abroad (GPA) and Seminars Abroad (SA) programs provide in-depth, overseas study experiences to current and prospective educators who are becoming specialists in foreign languages and cultures. Both programs help to expand and strengthen international teaching across the American educational spectrum. Seminars Abroad enables approximately 160 educators in the humanities, social sciences and languages to experience non-West European countries and form vital cross-cultural partnerships while engaging in curriculum development projects. Eligible participants include not only elementary and secondary (K-12) teachers, but also postsecondary faculty and administrators from two- and four-year colleges, librarians, museum educators, and media or resource specialists. Airfare, room and board, tuition and fees, and travel in the destination country are provided. Unlike the other Fulbright-Hays programs, eligible Seminars applicants submit applications directly to the U.S. Department of Education. The Web site,, provides detailed program and application information.

Group Projects Abroad provides an intensive international learning experience to both students and education professionals, thereby enabling U.S. colleges and universities, state departments of education and private non-profit educational organizations to design and implement short-term seminars (5-6 weeks), curriculum development teams, group research projects (3-12 months), or advanced intensive language institutes. Emphasis is placed on humanities, social sciences and languages in non-West European contexts. Curricular projects focus on regional and national priorities. GPA allows participants to obtain valuable overseas experience while developing new, internationally-focused curricula for use in their U.S. classrooms. The Web site,, provides detailed program and application information.

Fulbright-Hays Today and Tomorrow

Initiated during the tensions of the Cold War, the Fulbright-Hays programs and the international educators they support are no less vital to U.S. security today. Events of recent years have underscored the reality that foreign language and area expertise is more important than ever. Shifts in the global power balance give rise to demands for expertise pertaining to an expanding number of countries, languages and cultures. Federal government sources indicate that the demand for international experts continues to exceed the supply, especially for those having language proficiency and knowledge of less commonly taught areas such as the Balkans, the Caspian Basin or the Persian Gulf. U.S. Navy Commander Edward Kane reiterated this fact when he spoke about the complexities of military work in Africa at a National Briefing on Language and National Security held January 16, 2002 at the National Press Club of Washington, D.C.

Our requirement for linguists is not merely a need for interpreters. It goes much deeper, to the need for trained analysts who understand both what is being said and the context of its meaning. The latter requirement is an essential factor in our attempts to analyze information communicated in foreign languages so that it can effectively aid decision-makers.
-- Cmdr. Edward Kane, U.S. Navy, Washington Liaison Office, United States European Command, at a National Briefing on Language and National Security, National Press Club of Washington, D.C., January 16, 2002

Recent Fulbright-Hays funded activities demonstrate the extent to which the programs remain responsive to a changing international environment. The majority of Fulbright-Hays grants are awarded to institutions through a peer review process. The programs provide opportunities for U.S. experts to identify the best strategies for meeting current national needs. The programs support important transnational topics such as climate, the environment, and immigration while continuing to promote the development of expertise in the languages and cultures of Islamic countries as well as those of the Balkans, the former Soviet Union, Africa and Asia.

With a focus on strengthening the international expertise of teachers at all levels of education and stages of their careers, the Fulbright-Hays programs collectively represent a comprehensive strategy for meeting a vital national need. The actual overseas experiences are critical to international educators' professional development, but the benefits extend beyond the level of individual achievement in succeeding years. Educators establish a myriad of relationships that assist their professional work, including affiliations with overseas institutions, contacts with counterparts in other countries and networks with other Fulbright-Hays participants. The partnerships forged through these programs serve as resources on which U.S. educators can draw later on in their careers. Fulbright-Hays' impact multiplies as participants' experiences translate into curricular, outreach and research initiatives that help to create a cadre of globally aware citizens across the country.

SPOTLIGHT ON: Federal Language Needs
from Richard D. Brecht and William P. Rivers, Language and National Security: The Federal Role in Building Language Capacity in the US, August 2001, The National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland (

  • More than 40,000 US troops are or have been stationed in more than 140 nations since 1991, including every nation in Latin America, all but two of the fifteen successor states to the USSR, some forty nations in Africa, and throughout South and Southeast Asia. More than 140 languages are spoken in these nations.
  • The Intelligence Community reports shortfalls in Central Eurasian, East Asian, and Middle Eastern languages, impacting collection, processing, exploitation, and analysis of data.
  • li> The FBI faces expanding language requirements: "Every piece of foreign language material could be the key to solving the next big international drug case or stopping a terrorist plot… With the growing demand for certain languages, the work continues to back up. When we're talking about critical national security related investigations, the implications are sobering." (Testimony quoted from David E. Alba, Assistant Director of the Investigative Services Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, before the Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services, Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, September 14, 2000.)




Last Modified: 01/21/2011