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Americanization: Austrian Student Exchange Programs with the U.S.

The exchange of students and scholars became a principal tool for promoting mutual understanding and influencing future elites. As early as 1945, what became known as the “European Forum” in Alpbach attracted intellectuals from all over Europe and the U.S. In 1947, Harvard students and faculty raised funds and organized the first gathering of European students at Castle Leopoldskron in Salzburg (“Salzburg Seminar”). Well-known Harvard faculty members such as F.O. Matthiesen and Daniel Aaron kept coming to Salzburg year after year to teach Europeans from East and West the basics of American civilization (“the intellectual Marshall Plan”). The “Salzburg Seminar” at the “Schloss” became a premier intellectual hub in Europe and also the birth place of “American Studies” on the continent.

On June 6, 1950, the Austrian and American governments signed the “Fulbright agreement” establishing a joint “United States Educational Commission in Austria” facilitating student and scholar exchanges. In 1951/52, it sent the first group of 139 Austrian students and faculty to American universities. By the year 2000, more than 3,100 Austrian “Fulbrighters” had come to the U.S. Some 1,800 American scholars (students and faculty) had come to Austria through the Fulbright program. The “American Field Service” (AFS) program began to send Austrian high school students to the U.S.—in 1951/52, it was five; by the 1960s, some 70 Austrian Gymnasiasten came to the U.S. annually to live with American families and attend high schools (the author of these texts spent a year at San Ramon Valley High School in Danville, California, in 1972/73). Both programs infused some 7,000 thousand young Austrians with a life-long enthusiasm for all things American.

In 1963, the famous Austrian émigré scholars Karl Lazarsfeld (a sociologist) and Oskar Morgenstern (an economist) helped found the “Institute for Advanced Studies” in Vienna (IHS – Institut für Höhere Studien). Financed by the Ford Foundation, American professors came to Vienna on a regular basis to train young Austrian scholars in up-to-date social science methodologies. The cream of the crop of postwar Austrian political scientists like Anton Pelinka and Peter Gerlich were trained at the IHS. At the same time, Austrian and American universities developed bilateral partnership programs for the exchange of students and faculty such as the activities between the Universities of New Orleans and Innsbruck, Emory and the University of Vienna, or Illinois and the Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien.

Sources: Günter Bischof, “Two Sides of the Coin: The Americanization of Austria and Austrian Anti-Americanism,” in: idem, Relationships/Beziehungsgeschichten, 25–56.

Thomas König, Die Frühgeschichte des Fulbright Program in Österreich: Transatlantische “Fühlungsnahme auf dem Gebiet der Erziehung” (Innsbruck: StudienVerlag, 2012).

Fulbright at Fifty: Austrian-American Educational Exchange 1950-2000 (Vienna: Fulbright, 2000).

The Fulbright Program

Signing of the extension of the Fulbright Agreement between Austria and the United States in the Austrian Federal Chancellery, June 25, 1963.

The signatories are J.W. Riddleberger, U.S. Ambassador to Austria (left) and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Bruno Kreisky.

Austrian National Library

European Forum Alpbach

A sign greeting guests of the European Forum Alpbach, ca. 1950. The sign reads “European Forum Alpbach – The Austrian College Greets its Guests.”

Austrian National Library

The Fulbright Program

Young Austrian scholar and Fulbright grantee portrayed before departure to the United States.

Austrian National Library

The Fulbright Program

Young Austrian scholar and Fulbright grantee portrayed before departure to the United States.

Austrian National Library