The Fulbright Program is devoted to increasing mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. It is the world’s largest and most diverse international educational exchange program. As a Fulbrighter, one will join the ranks of many distinguished program participants. Alumni have become heads of state, judges, ambassadors, cabinet ministers, CEOs, university presidents, leading journalists, artists, scientists, and teachers. They include 62 Nobel Laureates, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, 80 MacArthur Fellows, and thousands of leaders across the private, public, and non-profit sectors. Since its inception in 1946, more than 400,000 Fulbrighters have participated in the Program.

Our own Jeff Spanke recently received the opportunity to become a Fulbright Scholar, below is an interview with him. It will tell you more about his specific award and plans.

How did you hear about the award?

Through my work with the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship over the last nine years, I’ve worked with hundreds of students from around the United States and Europe. This program has also allowed me to work with past Fulbright scholars who encouraged me to do some research and apply for an award.

What encouraged you to apply?

There really wasn’t anything specific that made me apply, I’d say. But I do think that everyone gets to a point in their lives where they’re just looking for something new and different. For me, I think it was a combination of COVID, earning tenure at Ball State, losing some family members to cancer, and approaching…a certain age…that made me wonder what else is out there. When you’re 20, you tend to think that everything needs to gel by, say, 30. When you’re 30, 40 seems like an eternity away. When you’re 40, you start to realize that you may actually still feel like you’re 30, and you start to question what you’re gonna do with the rest of your time. Basically, all the arbitrary markers of success and status melt away, and it’s just you, your life, and all those people along the way who’ve convinced you that you might be able to do some cool things with it someday….

Why did you pick Norway?

The logical response would be that it’s the only country that offers the Roving Fulbright Scholarship that I received. This particular opportunity has tremendous appeal to me because of its combined emphasis on American Studies and Education. I guess a broader answer would be that I’ve just never been to Norway before. In that sense, there’s something literally cool, I guess, about fully immersing myself in a place that’s kind of unconventional or absent from most travel itineraries. My family and I truly believe that it will be simultaneously the greatest experience we’ve yet had and, unquestionably, for so many reasons, the most difficult. The teacher educator in me, of course, is drawn to Norway’s education system and cultural emphasis on community and individual contribution. The Norwegian students I’ve known through BFTF have always had really compelling perspectives on the role of schools in a democratic society, and I’m fascinated by how Norwegian education and cultural philosophies might enhance my practice at Ball State.

What do you plan to accomplish while there?

I hope that I’m able to represent the United States and Ball State University in a positive way. Especially since I’ll be over there during an election, it’s not lost on me the privilege and responsibility I have as maybe the only American educator that some of my Norwegian students ever meet. I hope that I’m able to teach something in terms of content and learning objectives, but more holistically, I hope I’m able to offer Norwegian stakeholders insights into American culture and pedagogy. Of course, along these same lines, hopefully something to come out of this experience will be a renewed appreciation for the good that can happen when you don’t always have a plan. Yes, I do plan to accomplish certain things when I’m over there—but maybe more importantly, I recognize and concede that so much of what I’ll accomplish and learn cannot be itemized or specified. There’s a certain element of deference that I need to have to the spirit of the adventure itself which, while terrifying, is also what gives it value and meaning. Learning, ultimately, is the primary goal.

What impact do you hope to make as a Fulbright scholar, its impact on you??

I hope that this experience offers a platform from which I can spend the rest of my career advocating for cultural exchanges and critical dialogue that produce an increased empathy and mutual understanding between the United States and other countries. And in terms of the impact that I hope Fulbright will have on me? Stay tuned, I guess!