Just a week ago I returned home from the official Australian-American Fulbright orientation program held in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). After a quick 45-minute flight from Melbourne, I settled into listening to everyone’s 30-second introductions and learned there are 141 AUS + US Fulbright scholars in the Aus-Am cohort for 2020– the largest Fulbright Program cohort in the world!
This post will mostly be quotes from other people who spoke at our orientation program. During the first morning, Executive Director of the Aus-Am Fulbright Commission and retired U.S. Ambassador Thomas Daugherty shared: “you were selected for your innate capacity for empathy because senator Fulbright believed that in selection of the emerging leaders of our countries, it was important to bring that knowledge and empathy back to our communities. This comes with a weight of responsibility, as you are the new ambassadors for the Fulbright program and alumni who have walked in your same footsteps.” This quote truly set the tone for the week as I embraced networking opportunities after hearing each Scholar’s intriguing story, project summary, and trying my best to remember which AUS Fulbrighters I wanted to chat with about their projects and their destination in my home country!
This first day took place as the National Strategic Action Plan for Rare Diseases was introduced in Parliament House just across the street. This plan was advocated by Rare Voices Australia and is a huge leap toward equity as we prepared to celebrate Rare Disease Day on February 29th, the most rare day of the year– yay for leap year and showing our stripes as the global rare disease community.
I learned at our first night’s informal dinner that the first treaty between Australia and the United States was to establish the Australian-American Fulbright program over 70 years ago and my passion for maintaining these lifelong bilateral relationships was refreshed.
During our final day of orientation, we enjoyed a great breakfast buffet at our QT Hotel Canberra and prepared for our Fulbright Gala later that evening after a tour of Parliament House. The theme of the day’s speakers including Fulbright and Rhoades Scholar alumna Carolyn Evans, Vice Chancellor of Griffith University; as well as rare disease mom, author, journalist, American and now Australian, Sara James was making beautiful things out of the ashes. To quote Carolyn, “it’s been a hard summer: fires, floods, fear. But think about the fires from which the Fulbright program was founded.” And to quote Sara,
“In the world of rare disease, I’m Jackie’s mom. It’s my double helix. We need to kick some goals here.
Fear. Its absence can diminish memory’s truth. How do we take that sense of alarm and turn it into something good? How do we take it and remind us not to repeat it?
A senator from Arkansas had a great idea: where we introduce each other, send our best and brightest, and instead of starting an inferno, we get together and blaze a trail.
It’s easy to forget fear. It’s easy to forget why we send you out to do what you do. Because this is how we make the world a better place.
It really is true: we can fight fire with fire.“
In conclusion, the highlight of this whole experience for me was finding the Kinghorns in the midst of Parliament House at the Gala to say a simple thank you for funding my Fulbright Future Scholarship. Their humble character is sincerely furthering the well-being and relationships between AUS + the US. Thank you.
Now, more than ever, William J. Fulbright’s words resonate with me:
We must dare to think unthinkable thoughts. We must learn to explore all options & possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world.