60th Anniversary of U.S.-Thai Fulbright Program
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
(As Prepared for Delivery)
Thank you for your kind introduction, and for the invitation to join you here this morning. It is a special honor to be joined today by Ambassador Don [and] so many friends of the Thailand-U.S. Educational Foundation and the Fulbright Program.
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More than 175 years ago, the United States signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between Thailand and the United States – the very first such treaty between America and an Asian nation.
Sixty years ago, our two nations marked another milestone of friendship: the inauguration of our joint Fulbright program—a program that has become one of the world’s oldest continuous Fulbright programs.
This happened because a very wise man – the late Senator J. William Fulbright -- had the far-sighted idea that differences between nations could be bridged better if their citizens understood each other through overseas study and lived in proximity to one another. So he persuaded his colleagues in Congress to establish the scholarship program which now bears his name.
In his words, “Of all the joint ventures in which we might engage, the most productive is educational exchange … [It is] probably the most important and potentially rewarding of our foreign policy activities.” And I must say those words ring true today, perhaps more than ever.
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Over the past sixty years, more than 2,000 Thai students and scholars have traveled to the United States under the Fulbright banner, and more than 1,000 American students and scholars have gone to Thailand.
Thailand has a long tradition of sending its best and brightest to the United States for education. His Majesty the King was born in the United States, while his father studied at Harvard University.
Fulbright alumni have forged important ties between our two countries. They can be found among the ranks of professionals in nearly every area of Thai society, and in a wide range of fields in the United States as well: government, academia, business, journalism, law, the sciences, and the arts. They are a testimony to the breadth and depth of the world-class talent that Thailand and the United States have shared with the world.
Two prominent examples who are here at today’s symposium are Dr. Uthai, President of Silpakorn University, one of the first five universities in Thailand, and Michael Zager, an award-winning music professor, composer and producer, who will be recognized at this evening’s reception for composing Thailand’s Fulbright anthem.
Another prominent Fulbright alumnus, whom many of you may recognize is Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Thailand Sobchok. He was a Fulbrighter in 1980 at Southern Methodist University where he studied international labor law.
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Over the past year, President Obama has underscored educational exchanges as a powerful force for increasing mutual understanding and collaboration. He has said, "I'm absolutely confident that America has no better ambassadors to offer than our young people. For they are filled with talent and energy and optimism about the history that is yet to be written."
Likewise, Secretary Clinton has reaffirmed our deep commitment to enhancing educational exchanges between the United States and Thailand. When she visited Thailand last year, she said: “We have been working together for over 175 years, and there have been a number of important initiatives over that long period of time. But I think educational exchanges and student exchanges are among the most important, and I would like to see even more of them.”
There are several specific ways that we are working to accomplish this.
First, the Department of State has increased its overall funding for Thai-U.S. Fulbright exchanges by over $200,000 since 2006 and is providing other opportunities for students and scholars through special initiatives such as the Fulbright International Science and Technology Program and the Fulbright Specialists Program. In 2008, in a sign of its commitment to the Fulbright program, the Government of Thailand tripled its annual funding for Fulbright exchanges.
Second, we are strongly supporting English language programs abroad, including our Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Program, which sends new college graduates to teach English in underserved schools overseas. In that spirit, I am happy to announce that the Department of State will expand the ETA program in Thailand this year and send five more American students to teach English in Thai secondary schools outside of Bangkok.
We must seek to provide more opportunities for those in our societies who may be less privileged, but who are equally talented and deserving of the chance to participate in educational exchanges. The Department of State is working hard to help meet this challenge. The ETA program in Thailand has been highly successful since its inception in 2006, in large part due to the strong support and partnership the program receives from participating Thai schools.
In addition, our English Access Microscholarship Program is providing after-school English classes to disadvantaged 14- to 18-year-old high school students in southern Thailand; and our Global Undergraduate Exchange Program is bringing outstanding Thai undergraduate students from underrepresented sectors of the country to the U.S. for semester or year-long academic experiences at U.S. colleges and universities. Both these programs help us to deepen the pool of students who are capable, engaged, and may aspire to study in the United States.
Finally, we are encouraging more U.S. students and scholars to apply for Fulbright Scholarships in the sciences. Currently, 40 percent of Fulbright Foreign Students come to the United States to study in science and technology fields. We believe that percentage should be higher. We must recognize that solutions to the global challenges we face, from food security to climate change, depend on robust scientific and technological partnerships across sectors and nations.
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Through the Fulbright Program, we are excited to work together to identify, educate and support the next generation of leaders in both our countries. They, in turn, will work together in the coming years on issues such as energy, the environment, food security, human rights, conflict resolution and others that affect our nations individually and collectively.
I am confident, given the special historical relationship between Thailand and the United States—and the talent shared by our two nations through the Fulbright Program—that the coming generation will rise to this challenge.