Exploring Courage at the Berlin Seminar
A few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to represent Fulbright Belgium at the German Fulbright Commission’s annual Berlin Seminar. At this year’s seminar, there were around 550 grantees, including both those coming from the U.S. to countries around Europe as well as those going from Germany to the U.S. this fall. For me, the seminar was a chance to make connections and see just how many lives Fulbright has touched, all while engaging with other grantees on prevalent issues of today.

The theme of the seminar this year was ‘Courage’, and it was explored on several different fronts, from presentations on the “European Idea” to workshops on social change and diversity. One of the highlights for me was a presentation from Jeffery Bleich, chair of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Ambassador Bleich’s talk explored how courage can be displayed in different ways. Using anecdotes and life lessons, he explained how we can show courage in small ways, like being kind to others against the pressure of peers, or in bigger ways by living for what we believe is right, even if it might mean a substantial failure in our careers. Other notable events were presentations from Sergio Jaramillo Caro, former High Commissioner for Peace in Colombia, Sawson Chebli, a Berlin delegate to the German Federation and secretary for Active Citizenship and International Relations, and Adam Michnik, founder and Editor of Gazeta Wyborzca and former Polish dissident.

Jeff Bleich, U.S. Ambassador to Australia

A special surprise during one of the evening events was one of the first grantees to the U.S. from Germany. Dr. Helga Haftendorn, who later become a professor at the Freie Universität Berlin, received her grant stipend each month in person from Senator J. William Fulbright himself. It was incredible to hear about her travels to the U.S. (on a boat) and her communications and association with Senator Fulbright, even living in his home for a short period of time. Her appearance was a reminder of just how many lives have been touched, perhaps most not so literally, by Fulbright.

Dr. Helga Haftendorn on the right

Outside of the seminar, I went on a walking tour called, “Pathways Through Jewish Berlin.” As someone who has been to Berlin briefly once before, it was important to me to get a new perspective on the city, and this tour gave me just that. Our guide led us from the old sites of synagogues destroyed during or after Kristallnacht to memorials and symbols of tolerance in postwar Berlin. 

The tour was also a reminder that while Berlin today boasts tolerance and progressive values, its heavy history cannot be forgotten.

Overall, the Berlin Seminar was a testament to both the variety of the Fulbright experience and the ability of Fulbrighters to come together and delve into meaningful and timely issues. I hope to take the lessons I’ve learned there and be more courageous in all aspects of life!

Ella De Falco, a 2018-2019 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Belgium, is spending a year teaching at Ghent University. Ella graduated from University of Rochester in spring 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Linguistics. She is excited to have the opportunity to not only teach English but also undertake a sociolinguistic project examining language contact between Dutch (Flemish), French, English, and German on Belgium’s university campuses. As a student of signed languages and Deaf culture, she hopes to engage with the Deaf community in Belgium through outreach and volunteering.

Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.