Danielle Garrison, US Fulbright Advanced Student, La Grainerie
As a grantee living in Toulouse, I do not have many opportunities to interact with fellow Fulbrighters. However, when I spend time with my fellow French grantees, it is an insightful experience where we are able to talk about our lives in France and our own Fulbright narratives. The Berlin conference gave me the opportunity to exchange with approximately 600 grantees completing their projects throughout Europe. Although the conference focused on complex issues in Germany, it was clear that the same issues also affect global concerns. Furthermore, we discussed how these global topics positively and challengingly influence our Fulbright experience.
The importance of networking became clearer for me during this conference. Networking is a popular Fulbright topic this year as we fight to keep the program thriving through alumni and social networks. I often ask myself if the idea of networking is shallow or self-serving. After four days of constant networking opportunities, I felt the crucial vitality of networking. In fact, I enjoyed this endless stream of brief, intense, and meaningful conversations about our multi-geographical identities, passionate projects, and the literal and metaphorical climates of our current world. I realized that what makes the tangible the spirit of the Fulbright program is the respect for and variety of passions present in one space. Supporting diversity, open-mindedness, and problem-solving seem to be thematic elements that were galvanizing within the conference. I am humbled by the kindness, genuine interest in differing projects, and complex conversations I have encountered over the past four days with individuals who appreciate the exposure to new ideas and a chance for someone to listen attentively to their story. The idea of exchange became a hot topic. We were asking about the current relationship between the U.S. and our host countries, as well as emphasizing the “less fashionable,” yet, crucially impactful approach – in a technological and global world – of individualizing the exchange between cultures.
This year, the theme of the conference is the title of a Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are a-Changin.” The conference discussed the possible comparisons from the 1960s to today. One difference between these tumultuous eras, stated by our keynote speaker, Prof. Dr. Heinz Bude, was that in the 1960s the theme was liberation, while today, it is justice. The conference contained wonderful speakers, receptions, a town hall meeting in the historic city hall, Rotes Rathaus, and project presentations by my peers. To learn about the diverse projects was stimulating. Humanizing our projects allowed me to better understand projects that are outside of my expertise. A common thread was the energy and urgency to recognize and respond to various problems Fulbrighters are engaging with during a time of numerous global changes. One specific movement during the conference made this apparent.
During the second day of the conference, a powerful event happened: a group of students worked together to create an additional discussion where students could express and workshop solutions for issues they are facing as Fulbrighters. Within this movement, I could feel that we are addressing the changing times through positive action and support.
I am also grateful for representing Fulbright France during its 70th anniversary by participating on the Dimension Panel. To share a part of my story of living in Toulouse and my project was magical. After my presentation, many students came up to me throughout the conference curious about my artistic project and our we often found similarities between our seemingly divergent projects. These connections allowed us to also talk about how we are navigating change as individuals on this epic Fulbright journey. As a result of these intimate interactions, I have made many new networks, collaborators and friends (I am quite sad to temporarily say goodbye to these new friends!) that I will continue to develop moving forward, using social networking as an effective means to keep in touch. As I reflect on this whirlwind of an experience, I am honored and humbled to be a part of this community and recognize the importance of exchange through cross-cultural, inter-disciplinary, diverse, networking, and personal interactions.
Thank you to the French Fulbright Commission for providing the opportunity to attend and present on the Dimension Panel at the Berlin conference, to all of the grantees who attended for providing endless inspiration, to all the people who shared their experiences with me in Berlin, and to the conference organizers who enabled all of these incredible interactions.