The Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute is a one month long summer institute of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, created in 2006 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin
The initiative is named after this American statesman and diplomat, to honor the great inspiration his life and career provided to those who are working to strengthen transatlantic cooperation. Franklin spent part of his life focusing on transatlantic affairs, making efforts to bring Americans and Europeans closer in understanding. Even 300 years after his birth, his life offers inspiration to today’s young citizens to bridge the Atlantic. His diplomatic actions, as well as his breakthroughs in printing, had great influence on how Americans and Europeans see each other and the world.
Having this in consideration, the goals of this institute are “to develop a commitment to transatlantic cooperation”, “foster relationships between American and European youth from different ethnic, religious, and national groups”, “promote mutual understanding between the United States and Europe”, and “to develop a cadre of youth leaders who will share their knowledge and skills with their peers through positive action”. By bringing together selected European and American Youth, the U.S. is fostering transatlantic communication and cooperation, through education and friendship building.
The program offers a combination of several activities to two groups of 45 students, going from 16 through to 18 years of age, 35 of which are representatives of their respective European countries and 10 are selected from all over the United States. For a month, at either Wake Forest or Purdue University, each group participates in interactive classes, seminars, workshops, webinars, and teleconferences presented by prominent scholars and specialists in international relations, diplomacy, communication, media, civic education, and science. By combining this academic approach with a 10 day stay with a host family and several culture trips, this program introduces fellows to Benjamin Franklin’s ideas and promotes mutual understanding and civic responsibility, thus encouraging them to establish strong linkages between nations and cultures. Also, by developing a sense of democratic local, national, and global citizenship, fellows are encouraged to implement in their communities the new knowledge and skills acquired during the Institute.
In fact, one of the most important parts of the exchange is Project Citizen, in which participants implement upon return to their home countries. This project is one of the key parts of this transatlantic experience, as it represents the fulfillment of the goal to change the community for the better and fixing problems in society.
Let us consider, for instance, Unnur Lárusdóttir. Unnur was the Icelandic representative at BFTF 2014 Purdue University. After the institute, she returned to her country and organized a conference concerning Reforms in Icelandic Education. Her activity was so successful that it was worth her winning Alumni of the Month title, due to all the positive impact it had in her community, which was spread nationally by the media. Another important example can be found in Daniel Voda. Following his 2010 Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute exchange, Daniel helped found the Youth Ambassadors Summer Institute (YASI), a program that joins young adults in becoming politically active citizens and building good relationships among European countries. According to Daniel, “knowledge is meant to move across the world to engage more and more people.” Being a youth leader, Daniel is often on Moldovan television, sharing his thoughts on various social and political events.
This exchange and all the gained knowledge is something that will go with the participants for the rest of their lives, thus representing an investment not only in education and social entrepreneurship, but also in a good transatlantic future where today’s youth leaders may become prominent figures in leadership, science and politics in the next generations to come.
In an age of quick and easy global communication, it is very important not to forget the value of face-to-face interaction and learning with other school students from all over the world. Sharing experiences, moments and building friendships in new places has greater impact than any online or digital interaction. This program is a clear representation of these goals, as it sees potential from investing in the gathering and bonding of youth leaders from all over the world. So considering this perspective, it becomes clear that programs such as this one are important to our future as a society and should be encouraged. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I remember, Involve me and I learn”.