Fulbright History in Korea

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The birth of the Fulbright Program worldwide and its mission of creating a more peaceful world could be said to have risen from the death and devastation of war. After the end of World War II, Senator J. William Fulbright, confident that educational and cultural exchange was key to promoting world peace, proposed a bill to financially support exchanges between the United States and countries around the world utilizing funds from the sale of military surplus. The bill was approved by the 79th Congress of the United States as an amendment to the Surplus Property Act of 1944. Now known as the Fulbright Act, the amendment was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on August 1, 1946. Thus, the global Fulbright Program was born.

A little less than four years later, on April 28, 1950, a unified Korea became one of the first twenty countries in the world to establish a Fulbright agreement for the financing of educational exchange with the United States, with funding initially provided almost solely by the U.S. government. However, war would again impact the Fulbright Program in Korea as the eruption of the Korean War shortly after the signing of the initial agreement postponed its implementation for a decade. With the reenactment of the agreement in 1960, on September 1 of that year, what was then the U.S. Educational Commission in Korea (USEC/K) began its delayed mission of supporting educational exchange between Korea and the U.S.

Exactly a year later, on September 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the Mutual Education and Cultural Exchange Act, now known as the Fulbright-Hays Act. This prompted the Korean and U.S. governments to sign a new binational agreement on June 18, 1963, based on the Fulbright-Hays Act. When the binational agreement was again revised in 1972, the Korean government elected to begin financing the Fulbright Program in Korea in partnership with the U.S. Accordingly, the USEC/K was renamed the Korean-American Educational Commission (KAEC) in recognition of the truly binational nature of the agreement that established KAEC and the binational funding that continues to support the Fulbright Program in Korea. The signing of the 1972 binational agreement made Korea one of 49 countries (out of the approximately 160 that host the Fulbright Program) that financially support the Fulbright Program in partnership with the U.S. Since 1972, the Korean government has increased its funding for the Fulbright Program in Korea so as to provide equal support with the U.S. or higher.

Today, through the support of the Korean and U.S. governments, KAEC annually provides grants to over 200 American and Korean citizens undertaking academic, research, and professional exchange opportunities through the Fulbright Program. These grantees join a global network of Fulbright participants striving to promote a more peaceful world while enriching educations, advancing careers, and making meaningful contributions to the communities in which they live. They also join a global network of alumni who continue to make significant contributions in their respective fields, including over 7,000 alumni of the Fulbright Program in Korea who have received grants during KAEC’s nearly 70-year history.

Establishment of the Original Binational Agreement

Establishment of the Original Binational Agreement

In accordance with the Fulbright Act signed by President Truman in 1946, a unified Korea becomes one of the first twenty countries in the world to establish a Fulbright agreement for the financing of educational exchange with the United States, with funding initially provided almost solely by the U.S. government.

Establishment of the U.S. Educational Commission in Korea

Establishment of the U.S. Educational Commission in Korea

With the reenactment of the Fulbright agreement in the wake of the Korean War, the U.S. Educational Commission in Korea (USEC/K) is established with its headquarters inside the cultural affairs office of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.

Arrival of the First American Grantee to Korea

Arrival of the First American Grantee to Korea

Dr. Belle Boone Beard of Sweet Briar College arrives as a visiting scholar at Seoul National University and Seoul Women’s University, becoming the first American Fulbright grantee to Korea.

Revision of Binational Agreement

Revision of Binational Agreement

In accordance with the Fulbright-Hays Act signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Korean and U.S. governments revise the binational agreement.

Renaming of the Commission

Another revision of the binational agreement results in the Korean government electing to finance the Fulbright Program in Korea in partnership with the U.S. The USEC/K is renamed the Korean-American Educational Commission (KAEC) in recognition of the truly binational nature of the Commission and Fulbright Program in Korea.

Administration of Academic Tests

In order to provide academic support services necessary to promote educational and cultural exchange, KAEC partners with Educational Testing Services (ETS) to administer the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Senator and Mrs. Fulbright Visit Korea

Senator and Mrs. Fulbright Visit Korea

Senator Fulbright and his wife, Harriet Mayor Fulbright, visit Korea to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Korea. While in Seoul, Senator and Mrs. Fulbright meet President Roh Tae-woo.

40th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Korea

40th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Korea

The 40th anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Korea is celebrated at the Seoul Intercontinental Hotel. Senator Fulbright and his wife, Harriet Mayor Fulbright, are in attendance.

Purchase and Relocation to the Fulbright Building

Purchase and Relocation to the Fulbright Building

With the support of Korean Fulbright alumni, KAEC purchases and relocates to its current headquarters, the Fulbright Building. U.S. Ambassador to Korea Stephen Bosworth attends the opening ceremony for the building in January 2000.

“Cross-Cultural Visions” Art Exhibition

“Cross-Cultural Visions” Art Exhibition

“Cross-Cultural Visions,” a traveling art exhibition featuring the work of U.S. and Korean Fulbright alumni is hosted in Seoul, New York, and Washington, D.C. in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Korea.

60th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Korea

60th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Korea

Fulbright in Korea’s Future: A 60th Anniversary Commemorative History is published. Multiple events, including a reception, symposium, conference, and gala banquet, are held in honor of the program’s 60th anniversary.

Creation of Grant Program for North Korean Defectors

In preparation for the reunification of North and South Korea, KAEC establishes a grant program specifically for North Korean Defectors wishing to complete advanced studies in the U.S.