H.E. Bruce J. Oreck: Strengthening the Ties Between Us

This year marks two milestones in the relationship between the United States and Finland.  Ninety years ago our two countries first established formal diplomatic relations, although the United States had been welcoming immigrants from Finland for much longer. Sixty years ago we saw the start of the Amerikan Suomen Lainan Apurahat (American Loan Grants to Finland) Program, the direct predecessor of today’s Fulbright Program.  Despite the hardship of the Great Depression, Finns continued to make payments on First World War loans from the United States, which earned much good will for Finland. In recognition of Finland’s commitment to repay, our Congress voted in 1949 to redirect these loan payments into an educational exchange program that three years later grew into the Finnish Fulbright Program. It is no accident that educational exchange has been at the heart of the warm relations between the United States and Finland.

Finland has been an enthusiastic participant in Fulbright exchanges for students and scholars. Thanks to the Fulbright Program, over the years more than 3,500 Finns and 1,500 Americans have pursued educational opportunities in our two countries. Newer programs, such as the Finnish Language and Culture Teaching Assistant Program, the Fulbright Specialist Program and the Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching Program, have enriched these exchanges. The Fulbright Center has also been successful in creating strong alliances with the private sector which reflected the Finnish commitment to education. Fulbright awards are provided in partnership with the Nokia Foundation, the Saastamoinen Foundation and the Technology Industries of Finland Centennial Foundation,  among others.

Each Fulbright participant, whether American or Finnish, has an important story to tell. Some are well known in both our countries. Architect Daniel Libeskind, U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Finland, is the creative mind behind the master site plan for rebuilding the World Trade Center at Ground Zero in New York. Conductor and composer Leif Segerstam, a Fulbright student at the Juilliard School of Music, has amazed and inspired millions during his brilliant tenure at the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.  It is telling that both these Fulbright alumni are in creative fields. Like so many Americans, I admire Finland's remarkable achievements in education, technology, design, and the arts.

Secretary of State Clinton often uses the term smart diplomacy, by which it is meant making the best possible use of all our resources, especially human resources. I think the Fulbright Program is one of the smartest things the United States does to build understanding between my country and the rest of the world. Individual students,  scholars, teachers, artists and professionals build personal bridges that, over time, link schools, universities and cultural institutions of every kind. I am delighted that Finns share my passion for educational exchange and grateful that for 60 years, your government has supported this passion with unwavering commitment.

The ties between the United States and Finland have never been stronger. They are based on a solid foundation of common values and the shared aspirations of our peoples for a stable, just and prosperous world. We are committed to keeping these ties strong with the help of a thriving Fulbright Program in Finland.


H.E. Bruce J. Oreck
United States Ambassador to Finland


Published in the Fulbright Center News 2/2009