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. We kick things off with Vanessa Rüegger, Fulbright Scholar at Cardozo Law School in 2018/19. The second one is of Samuel Blaser, the first Swiss musician who got a Fulbright Grant (2005).

Vanessa Rüegger 
Samuel Blaser


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