The 2023-2024 U.S.-UK Fulbrighters pose for a group photo.

Grab some Earl Grey, a fry-up, maybe a crumpet or two — in 2023, the Fulbright Program marked its 75th anniversary in the United Kingdom.  There is much to celebrate.  More than 27,000 students and scholars have benefitted from Fulbright exchanges between the United States and United Kingdom, including three Members of Congress, 10 Nobel Prize recipients, 22 Pulitzer Prize winners, and current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who summed up neatly: “[It] changed my life.” 

At the government level, we often speak of the Special Relationship between the United States and United Kingdom, and for good reason:  our countries share a common history, language, and values, and cooperate on pressing global challenges through NATO, AUKUS, and the Five Eyes.  More than 1.3 million workers in the United States are employed by UK companies, and nearly 1.5 million workers in the United Kingdom are employed by U.S. firms.  Every U.S. state has jobs connected to an investment by a UK company.  Without a doubt, the Special Relationship matters. 


Six Fulbrighters pose for a photo holding a sign that says: 75 years. They are inside and smiling.
Fulbrighters celebrate 75 years of the U.S.-UK Fulbright program. [State Department photo]

That’s why we shouldn’t overlook all the special relationships that make the Special Relationship possible.  That’s where the Fulbright Program comes in.  By facilitating the exchange of students and scholars across every academic field and profession, Fulbright advances knowledge in every area of human inquiry.  Just as importantly, it facilitates the people-to-people connections that promote real understanding between our closely linked but still distinct countries. 

How does it all work?  The secret sauce is less rocket science, more common touch:  As a U.S. Fulbrighter integrates in their host city and community, they make countless connections and relationships with their British colleagues and friends.  They exchange opinions and perspectives on myriad issues, navigate new social and professional customs and settings, and in doing so come to understand the United Kingdom’s cultural frameworks – what really makes the place tick.  The same goes for British Fulbrighters in the United States.  The experience has a multiplier effect:  On returning home, Fulbrighters share this knowledge with their friends, families, and communities (another multiplier effect:  Fulbright does this in over 160 countries around the world). 

Eight people smile and pose for a photo outside.
Celebrating 75 years of Fulbright. [State Department photo]

Fulbrighters are some of our countries’ most effective spokespersons.  They are diplomats without talking points, free to share their unfettered, unvarnished thoughts and experiences about what makes life in the United States and United Kingdom meaningful, hopeful, maddening.  That kind of honesty carries real credibility; it yields real understanding, real empathy, real cooperation. 

Like rivers flowing into the sea, these special relationships feed into and ultimately become the Special Relationship.

The 2023-2024 Fulbrighters pose for a group photo in London.
The 2023-2024 Fulbrighters in London. [State Department photo]

But we can’t take our close ties for granted.  As a senior colleague at U.S. Embassy London told me recently, there is a pressing need to explain anew its meaning and value to youth in both countries. 

Consider:  if you were a young British or American teenager in 2015 who has since come into adulthood, your only experience would be of a supercharged, tumultuous political climate punctuated by a global pandemic, the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and Brexit and its continuing aftershocks.  Amid this whirlwind of change, the importance of U.S.-UK ties may not be as self-evident as it was to your parents or grandparents’ generations. 

The good news is we have tremendous built-in advantages.  Thanks in large part to our shared history, language, and values, the line between our countries and cultures is highly permeable.  From Paddington and the Premier League to SNL and the NFL, our music, literature, arts, and sports cross the Pond with speed and ease.  And if the sign of a close friendship is the ability to laugh at and with one another, we need look no further than “Ted Lasso” to confirm that this too is a prized feature of our relationship. 

Four people stand, smile and pose for a photo holding a sign that reads: 75 YEARS.
Celebrating 75 years of Fulbright. [State Department photo]

Thankfully, we also benefit from the Fulbright Program, and through it, the special relationships that have emotionally reinforced the Special Relationship for 75 years and counting.  

About the Author:  Zach Przystup is a program officer in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs 

U.S. Department of State

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