Fellowship as Assimilation

Fellowship as Assimilation
(A Critical Insight)

Dr. Ronnie V. Amorado
Republic of the Philippines
Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow 2009-2010
Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
Syracuse University, NY

Paper presented at the Fellows' Break-out Sharing Session during the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows' Global Year-End Retreat held on May 16-19, 2010 at the Rocky Gap Hotel Resort in Cumberland, Maryland USA.

To view the videos, click on this link.

ONE OF THE MANY things I observed in attending the Humphrey activities is its tendency to be US-centric. In the goal of showcasing America to the Fellows from around the globe, what happens is a sharing asymmetry. Fellows learn a lot about America, but how can America learn about the Fellows’ countries and their culture and people?

Or more importantly, how can the Fellows learn from each one's country?

With all the activities in the entire year and exposing the Fellows to the great developments in the US, we can easily forget the problems back in our own countries. We stand in awe, become envious of how this country has become so great and advanced. America has become a benchmark, and the Humphrey Fellowship an inevitable tool for comparison. From the point of view of neo-colonization, this can be a modern form of assimilation. A geopolitical indoctrination embedded in student exchange. Fellows can embrace all that is good and beautiful in this country.

But Hubert Humphrey once said about America: “History teaches us that the great revolutions aren't started by people who are utterly down and out, without hope and vision. They take place when people begin to live a little better - and when they see how much yet remains to be achieved.”

I take the longer and more strategic view in what Humphrey exhorted about seeing what remains to be achieved. While one can agonize on the painful reality of assimilation, I will break free from myopia and turn it into an empowering emancipation.

America is a vantage view. The country is generally clean. Law enforcers are highly esteemed. The museums and public libraries effectively serve as bearer of culture and promoter of heritage. American work ethic is distinguishable, though not necessarily representative of quality of life. Online commerce is excellently established and trusted. But again as Humphrey quipped, to live a little better to see how much remains to be done.

In one of the school visits during last year’s Global Leadership Forum, I can vividly recall when a school principal told me that praying in the classroom in public schools is a criminal offense. How strange to what extent secular hegemony can marginalize religious pluralism. The health care debate is fascinating, at times difficult to understand. While Americans champion the cause of universal education and even spend for those who cannot afford, they remonstrate on health care which is more important than education and a more fundamental requirement for human survival.

America is a vantage point that allows us to see our own countries from afar. Much remains to be achieved when I go back to the Philippines. Not from the benchmark of America; not from the standards of Western progress. Not from emulation, but by convergence and selective appreciation.

My Humphrey Fellowship serves as my torch to appreciate my country’s endowments and inadequacies. By learning from American institutions, my Fellowship should allow me to see how much remains to be done in my part of the world.

It is thus a challenge to each and every Fellow. After about 10 months of immersion in the US, what can we do when we return to our homelands?

Many of us come to the US for exposure. To establish networks. To attend academic programs. Others come for vacation and luxury. Some for future career opportunity. It is my view that a meaningful and productive Fellowship should allow us to produce some clear and tangible outputs in the service of our country. They serve as our strategic plans; Fellows are men and women on mission. As Humphrey Fellows, we act as ambassadors of our countries and maintain the links that bridge us with the United States. With clear outputs, we do not waste our sacrifices to be away from our country and family.

For the Humphrey program, it is also my exhortation to allow for more cross-cultural learning to reduce the asymmetry. We do not come to the US to learn only about America; we also want to learn and understand the countries of our co-Fellows. United States can also learn from us.

To reduce the asymmetry, our fellowship can be a tool for genuine emancipation through systematic cross-learning activities embedded in the Humphrey program. I am sure we want to hear about the history and heritage of our Fellows’ countries. I am sure we can resonate with common problems and thus inspire us to work together.

I therefore end with two important questions for our reflection:

Through the Humphrey Fellowship, how can America learn from the Fellows coming from different countries?

And through the Humphrey Fellowship, how can the Fellows learn from each other’s country?

Our recommendations should be able to help and benefit the succeeding harvests of Humphrey Fellows.

Thank you very much!