Fulbright Program Celebrates its 75th Anniversary

2021 marks 75 incredible years of the Fulbright Program! Join Embassy Bern as we celebrate the program’s history of positive impact on the lives of individuals as well as on global and local communities. To find more information on the U.S. government’s flagship international education exchange program and to read participants’ stories, visit https://fulbright75.org/

In this blog series, we’ll share examples of the Fulbright Program’s influence on the lives and careers of Swiss Fulbright students and scholars.

Vanessa Rüegger 
Samuel Blaser
Ursula Keller
Kantarama Gahigiri
Julie Meylan 
Nino Wenger
Silvio Buchmeier


Interested in applying for a Fulbright grant? Check out https://www.swissuniversities.ch/service/stipendien-ausland/grants-for-the-usa for more information on this incredible scholarship opportunity!

Swiss Fulbrighters Are Inspired and Empowered by the Exchange Program
Inspired by Fulbright Program to launch Basel Contact Point for Human Rights Litigation

In December 2020, Fulbright Alumna Vanessa Rüegger launched the Contact Point for Human Rights Litigation in Basel, Switzerland. Together with the University of Basel, she will organize the 2021 National Human Rights Conference, the first to be held in Switzerland.

The goal of the Contact Point is to develop strategic legal processes to close gaps in human rights protection and to strengthen access to justice for marginalized groups. Structural human rights violations are discussed on the basis of specific court cases, and will contribute to a wider debate – for example the debate on racial profiling. Furthermore, we provide vulnerable groups a voice through public relations work; the issue of “access to law” is anchored in public awareness. Notably, the contact point does not manage cases but takes on a mediating function, connecting lawyers, those affected, NGOs, and specialist organizations.

In an interview, Vanessa explains how Fulbright helped her achieve her goals. As she puts it, “this contact point and the inaugural Swiss national human rights conference we are launching with the University of Basel in June 2021, would not happen without the support of Fulbright and I feel very grateful for all the support I received through the program.”

When did you go to the US on a Fulbright grant, where did you go, and what did you do?
I was a Fulbright Scholar at Cardozo Law School in 2018/19. I researched human rights clinics and strategic human rights litigation. At Cardozo I worked with the Human Rights and Atrocity Prevention Clinic on a variety of human rights cases. I also got the chance to work with the Global Justice Clinic at NYU Law School.

What were specific highlights of your time in the US that had an impact on your life and your career?The Fulbright experience allowed me to learn from experts in the field and to work in a diverse and enriching academic environment. Specific highlights included working as a team with highly motivated students, experiencing different approaches to research and teaching, the encounters with other Fulbrighters, and the lively cultural life of New York City. The support I received from my supervisor Prof. Jocelyn Getgen Kestenbaum uplifted and encouraged me to continue my work. The scholarship had a huge positive impact on my work and career.

Why did you decide to launch the Contact Point for Human Rights Litigation?
Through my research, I learned how difficult it was for those affected by human rights violations to be heard and to gain access to justice. Bringing human rights cases to justice requires highly specialized knowledge. Often there is also a lack of financial resources to bring a case to court. Through my stay in the USA I learned how institutions like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), or inspiring litigators such as Bryan Stevensen and his Equal Justice Initiative, have a real impact on the standard of human rights protection through litigation. My goal was to unlock this potential in Switzerland.

How did your time in the US on a Fulbright grant help you achieve this?
The Fulbright scholarship allowed me to gain first-hand insights on how to organize and litigate human rights cases strategically. It also gave me the opportunity to study a broad range of subjects and to conduct a series of interviews with litigators from the ACLU and other NGOs. Through this work I gained the skills and knowledge necessary to launch the Contact Point upon my return to Switzerland.

Thank you, Vanessa. Is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to thank the Fulbright program for the opportunity the scholarship gave me.

Samuel Blaser was the first Swiss musician to receive a Fulbright grant; this was 2005. After Samuel, several other Swiss visual artists and musicians followed in his path.

Samuel’s Fulbright experience completely transformed his way of looking at music, in particular jazz, and his perspective on surviving in the music business. Since 2005, he has gone on to great success and in 2019 Samuel won the European Musician Prize awarded by the Académie du Jazz in Paris. Read on to learn all about Samuel’s fascinating story and how his Fulbright experience helped lead to his future success.

“Thanks to the Fulbright I was able to realize my childhood dream of living in New York City. The Fulbright allowed me to study at SUNY Purchase in 2005 with Jim Pugh, John Fedchock, Hal Galper and Jon Faddis and obtain a Master’s degree in 2007. But above all, I took advantage of this dream opportunity to stay in the heart of the city and in particular to develop many projects that are still active today and that allow me to expand my network in music again and again. I think in particular of my precious meeting with producer Robert Sadin (Sting, Herbie Hancock, Placido Domingo) who connected me with so many musicians but in particular with Wallace Roney (Miles Davis’ protege), Oliver Lake, Ira Coleman, and the legendary Paul Motian. I was lucky enough to be able to invite each of these musicians to record with me on several albums and to perform with them in the United States and Europe. In 2006 in New York I created the Samuel Blaser Quartet and have since recorded eight albums, including two in New York.

My encounter with the New York scene has completely transformed my way of looking at music. Classified jazz, crossover, hybrid, avant-garde and classical contemporary, the music I write, record and perform, is anything but mainstream. New York also taught me how to take care in the music business. I found my first manager in NYC who opened so many doors for me. I learned how to sell my projects on the international market with more audacity and confidence, notably by developing good strategies, using the right tools and surrounding myself with an international team of partners (publicists, agents, editors, managers, etc.) who now support my work all over the world.

Being a recipient of the distinguished Fulbright Grant played an essential role in all aspects of the development of my career as a composer and trombonist. Even the very difficult administrative task of obtaining a work visa in America, for which one must prove exceptional talent greatly assisted me. All of the above wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of the Fulbright Grant.

Since my return to Europe in 2009, I have been fortunate enough to be able to expand my musical language by multiplying fruitful collaborations with internationally renowned musicians such as Daniel Humair, Michel Portal, Pierre Favre, and Marc Ducret. I have acquired through the years, and thanks to my studies in the United States, a solid technique that allows me to carry out my personal projects with great success, a success crowned in 2019 by the European Musician Prize awarded presented by the Académie du Jazz in Paris.”

Read more on Samuel Blaser: www.samuelblaser.com  

In 1992, thanks to her Fulbright Grant to complete a Ph.D. in the United States, Ursula Keller became the first ever tenured female professor in the physics department at ETH Zurich. Read on to discover how Ursula achieved this incredible success.

Ursula Keller obtained her Fulbright Student grant for the academic year 1985/1986 and travelled to Stanford University as a Ph.D. student in applied physics. She ended up staying four years at Stanford University with support of an IBM Pre-Doctoral Fellowship.

With a Ph.D. from a leading university, she was immediately offered a permanent research staff position at AT&T Bell Labs, Holmdel, NJ, as member of the technical staff (MTS), and stayed there until 1993. This great opportunity allowed her to start independent research efforts from very early on in her career.

With the research experience obtained at AT&T Bell Labs, she was recruited as the first tenured female professor in the physics department at ETH Zurich in 1992. She started at the ETH in March 1993 and has been there ever since.

“I experienced great mentoring from excellent researchers in the United States and with this experience I was able to jump start my research at ETH Zurich. I am convinced that without this Fulbright experience I never would have become a professor at ETH.”

Exposed to the Stanford mentality with many professors active in both fundamental and applied research with many start-up companies, I took this spirit with me for the rest of my life. Coming back to Switzerland my husband and I started a company based on the inventions I made during my work at Bell Labs. This example inspired many of my students to start their own companies.”

Kantarama Gahigiri is a Swiss-Rwandan filmmaker, holding a Master’s degree in both International Relations and Cinema. As a Fulbright Award recipient (2004), she studied at the NYIT’s Manhattan campus and graduated in 2006 with an MA in Film, earning an impressive 4.0 GPA AND receiving the John J. Theobald Graduate Achievement Award. Today, with 15 years of experience and 26 international film awards, Kantarama pursues her passion as a writer/director, with a focus on exploration of identity, migration, and on-screen representation, through recent projects shot in Switzerland and East Africa.

Back in 2004, Fulbright was the first institution to give her an opportunity in this highly competitive industry, a field that she now thrives in. Kantarama’s Fulbright experience helped jumpstart her career, and build her network from scratch. During the years she spent in New York City, she learned her craft directly from an ensemble of dedicated and brilliant artists working with talents the likes of Keanu Reeves, Will Smith, Elle Fanning, Dakota Johnson, Jim Caviezel, Sam Shepard, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraji P. Henson, Michael Emerson and many more. She assisted renowned filmmakers such as producer Lynette Howell (produced the 2019 Oscar’s Ceremony), and worked on film and TV series such as Suits, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Jonathan Nolan’s Person of Interest; various projects produced by famous studios like Universal Studios, HBO, Silvercup, Steiner Studios, and Kaufman Astoria. Thanks to her perseverance, Kantarama built professional relationships with cast and crew members that last to this day.

In sum, her years as a Fulbright recipient allowed her to plant precious seeds that grew slowly but are now blossoming into a network that spans three continents.

Kantarama’s recent work includes:
• Tanzanite, a science fiction odyssey in the making, that will take place in 2050 Nairobi, Kenya. Ethereality, a short film about migration and the sense of belonging, shot in Switzerland. The film screened in competition at Chicago International Film Festival (2020), and features in the program Quartiers Lointains Season 6: Afrofuturistik amongst other achievements.
• Tapis Rouge, a feature film that she co-wrote and co-directed; that was screened and awarded worldwide including TV5Monde Best Francophone Feature Film at Geneva International Film Festival, and Best Directing at Chelsea Film Festival (New York), followed by a theatrical release in Switzerland and in France (2017).
• THE MERCY OF THE JUNGLE, 90 min. Made in Uganda
(Fiction, drama about the absurdity of war: The story of two soldiers lost in the jungle.)
Streaming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj9PCNYpgZo&ab_channel=YouTubeMovies
• MINI SERIES (3min Episodes) ME+U made in NYC:
(Fiction, social commentary about life in New York City in the early 2010s.)
Streaming: http://circusproductions.tv/?slug=episodic-series

Her other achievements include:
• Since 2014, Kantarama teaches directing, writing & producing workshops to help younger artists implement their work in Rwanda, Brazil, Switzerland, Tunisia, Kenya, Tanzania and Malaysia.
• She is a recurrent lecturer at HEAD Genève, Université de Lausanne, HSLU Luzern, University of Nairobi, and a curator for Africa Tech Summit Creative Track – Kigali, Rwanda (2018-19) and Festival International du Film de Fribourg – FIFF Switzerland (2020-21).
• Kantarama is also an alumna of the following prestigious film networks and development programs : Berlinale Talents (2021), Le Moulin d’Andé (2020) & La Fabrique – Cannes Film Festival (2019).
• And most recently, Kantarama recorded her first TEDx speech (2020)

Kantarama Gahigiri – Press (select.)
ORANGE CINEMA – VARIETY https://variety.com/2020/film/global/orange-studio-tanzanite-kantarama-gahigiri-close-up-filmsmigros-1234712132/
LE TEMPS https://tinyurl.com/y6b6ge79

Kantarama Gahigiri – Online

In the summer of 2015, I landed in New York – Fulbright documents in hand – for an LL.M. in International Legal Studies at NYU School of Law. A dream as a child (for the city) and as a student of international law (for the University)!

This experience enabled me to discover the cultural wealth of New York, where I took acting classes and attended numerous performances at the Metropolitan Opera. Furthermore, meeting, and befriending students from all over the world, enjoying the unique cosmopolitan center of New York City and receiving encouragement in law classes to think out of the box opened new perspectives for me.

In fact, I had never seen myself working as a lawyer in Lausanne or Geneva…My path was elsewhere, and I discovered it at NYU. One evening, as we were celebrating the end of a class, I shared my doubts about what I wanted to do next with a French professor. He encouraged me to take an interest in the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations. Our discussion awakened something in me.

Upon my return to Switzerland, I obtained an internship at our Permanent Mission in Geneva. Diplomacy quickly revealed itself as the profession I was dreaming of – diverse and fascinating fields, changing environments and in the center of international relations, politics, and international law, all for the defense of the interests of my country.
I am now diplomatic attaché to the Embassy of Switzerland in Lisbon, and will be transferred, if all goes well, to our Embassy in Rome next summer. I will be in charge of Italian national politics, human rights, migration and…international law. Finally, I will be living in the same city as one of my best friends that I met at NYU! The circle is complete. For now.

Therefore, my experience at NYU, through the Fulbright, not only widened my intellectual and cultural background, but also brought me valuable friendships and was key in my decision to embark on an incredible career. Without the Fulbright, I would not have had this opportunity.

My Fulbright adventure started September 2018 when I travelled for the first time to New York City. I studied saxophone and composition with Mark Turner, Jorge Rossy, Larry Grenadier, Adam Rogers, Guillermo Klein, and Michael Wolff, and earned my artist diploma in jazz saxophone from New York University.

Life in New York alone was a highlight for me. Everything is so big, there is so much going on and you meet people from different parts of the world every day. The daily exposure to different cultures broadened my horizon. Additionally, I won first prize at the NYU promising artist series and travelled to Costa Rica with my band. Another highlight was touring with Dan Pugach Nonet (GRAMMY® nominated drummer and composer living in Brooklyn), performing every night, and getting to know different parts of the United States.

I became friends with a lot of the musicians I collaborated with and plan to keep working with them in the future.

I was set on becoming a musician before going to the United States, and the Fulbright Program helped me deepen my understanding of American culture and offered me the chance to make important contacts in my line of work. I am still in contact with many of them, and as soon as the pandemic permits, I look forward to inviting musicians to Switzerland or playing with them in the United States.

I’m incredibly grateful for my Fulbright experience and I would recommend the program to anyone interested in a life changing academic and personal experience.

If you would like to learn more about Nino Wenger and his music, go to https://en.ninowenger.com/

Photo: Kira Linn

In 2017, Silvio Buchmeier travelled to the United States on a Fulbright grant to study film music composition. Read on to learn about Silvio’s unforgettable experience. Not only did Silvio thoroughly enjoy his studies, but he also benefited from his participation in the myriad additional Fulbright programs, like One to World in New York, the Gateway Orientation program, and the Enrichment Seminar.

Silvio Buchmeier started his Fulbright journey abruptly. He still gets excited when talking about his memories from 2017: “When I first found out about the program, the initial deadline was just days away! I remember deciding whether I should scramble and put in the extra effort or if I should just let it go. Today, I am very glad that I followed through with it.”

Silvio’s Fulbright grant led him to Manhattan and New York University (NYU), home to one of the most renowned film music composition programs in the world. Fulbright gave him the opportunity to study with acclaimed composers and professionals from the New York film community and from Hollywood. He also gained valuable experience composing for orchestral ensembles and renowned groups like the JACK string quartet. In addition, he began many fruitful collaborations with emerging film directors studying at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. One project was with director Scarlett Li on her short film “Double Happiness.” Silvio co-composed the music together with his colleague and classmate Juan Dussán and in 2021 the film screened at the highly regarded Palm Springs ShortFest.

Immersion in the Fulbright community in the Big Apple meant two things: making new friends from around the world and attending numerous performances of the New York Philharmonic, Jazz concerts, and more. The Fulbright community in New York is also supported by the organization One to World, which provides volunteering opportunities for Fulbrighters and hosts events and seminars. At one of their alumni events in Lower Manhattan, Silvio was able to connect with a group of former Fulbrighters and foster relationships that continue to this day. As he puts it, “Attending events with other Fulbright grantees never requires conversational ice-breaking since we are all so closely connected in spirit.”

The generosity of the Fulbright Program allowed Silvio to attend two life-changing seminars. He traveled with the Gateway Orientation and eighty other grantees to Miami where they enjoyed the generosity of the hosts at Miami-Dade College and learned more about their Fulbright mission and shared community goals. Through this experience, Silvio formed deep connections and friendships with people from every corner of the world.

During his second semester at NYU, the Fulbright program invited him to an Enrichment seminar in Nashville, Tennessee. The vibrant city hosted another group of eighty Fulbrighters all eager to learn about its musical history. As part of the program, the group was invited to volunteer at a local charitable organization. Through this opportunity, Silvio contributed to the important work of Book’Em. Book’Em’s mission is to distribute children’s books to create a more literate Nashville and ignite children’s passion for reading. Silvio recounts the events fondly, “We went there for a whole morning to go through hundreds of donated books to divide them into appropriate age categories. It was very humbling and gave me a lot of respect for the volunteers and staffers who are dedicated to making a difference in their community.”

It is encouraging to know that Book’Em distributed more than 115’000 books that year, helping children to become proud book-owners and avid readers.

Despite the pandemic bringing life to a grinding halt, Silvio decided to stay in the country after graduating to pursue post-degree academic training. Through previously established connections in Los Angeles, he secured an internship with a composer who writes music for major television shows on Netflix and cable channels. He was eventually hired to work on the music team for blockbuster releases such as “Mortal Kombat” and “Old.” As of summer of 2021, Silvio is still in Los Angeles, finishing his post-degree academic training. “Fulbright gave me opportunities in my life,” he says, “that would otherwise have been nearly unattainable. I can’t be more thankful for the support and hope to give back many-fold in the coming years. I’m also eager to reconnect with some of my global Fulbright family and keep creating with them.”

You can learn more about Silvio on his website www.silvio-buchmeier.ch