Date of Thesis



America's engagement with the world in the years following 9/11 is often criticized for being arrogant, conducted in a top-down fashion, and paying too little attention to listening and creating meaningful human interactions. Since 2009, President Obama has emphasized his belief in people-to-people contacts and soft power: the idea that a country can achieve what it wants in world politics by the power of attraction. Public diplomacy programs such as cultural and educational exchanges are believed to be valuable in creating lifelong friends for the United States, but there is little empirical evidence of their effectiveness as a foreign policy tool. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the impact of U.S. government-sponsored Fulbright Student and Fulbright Scholar exchange programs on Estonian participants' beliefs about the United States and its role in the world. The empirical part of the study was conducted through two comprehensive surveys: the first cross-examined 26 Estonians, who participated in the Fulbright program in 2009-2014, and the second consisted of a control group of 54 Estonians, who had not taken part in U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs. The results of the Estonian case study provide some evidence for the effectiveness of the exchange programs, but suggest that the impact varies, and is strongly shaped by various historical, cultural, and political factors. The results confirm the notion of the difficulty of translating soft power into political power, and call for innovative solutions to make the exchange programs and U.S. public diplomacy more effective, but acknowledge the inherent value of exchanges in creating global networks and shaping today's world.


Soft power, Public diplomacy, Cultural exchange, U.S. foreign policy, Estonia

Access Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

David Mitchell

Second Advisor

Emek Ucarer