Notes from a BFTF Program Participant: “A program of everyone, by everyone, for everyone”

Participants of the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Institute program in 2018 (© Benjamin Byholm)
(© Benjamin Byholm)
(© Benjamin Byholm)

It was a perfectly ordinary winter afternoon when I first heard about the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute (BFTF for short). Reading the program description, I instantly felt that this was something I wanted to be a part of. Yet, the month I got the opportunity to spend in the US ended up being so much more than I ever thought possible.

The BFTF truly is an exceptional program, gathering together youth from dozens of countries to share a month of their lives in a phenomenal atmosphere. An atmosphere that includes everything from the campus of a leading American university and the Senate Chamber of the US Capitol to an ordinary American home and the backstreets of Philadelphia.

The beauty of the BFTF is that you can be whoever you want and be interested in whatever you like and still fit the program perfectly. Reading the program description, I expected everyone else to have wide knowledge about politics, activism and international relations. Of course, these are all themes that play a big role in the BFTF curriculum but the experience includes so much more than this.

The ambitions of my BFTF fellows ranged from working in the Croatian police force to becoming one of the top dentists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, from having a leading role in Austrian quantum physics research to becoming Bavaria’s first politician to fly his own plane – BFTF is truly for everyone.

This mix of different nationalities and personalities created a wonderful group of extraordinary people, many of whom I continue to have daily online contact with to this day. No matter who you are or where you come from, you will find lifelong friends in the BFTF.

Finally, the BFTF made me realize how national borders mean nothing when it comes to developing deep friendships and a common identity. Despite being from two different continents and 45 countries, all of us ultimately shared the same basic values, wishes and long-term aspirations.

This, to me, was one of the most enlightening experiences of the BFTF and an important reason to me becoming a passionate advocate for increasing cross-cultural understanding, something that would not have been possible without the BFTF.

If I were to describe my BFTF experience with three words, these would be eye-opening, bridging and empowering. I guarantee you, BFTF will provide you with all of these along with so much more.

Benjamin Byholm
Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Institute program participant 2018