As a Fulbright Scholar, Nancy Strow Sheley, who holds a joint position in English and Liberal Studies, will spend six months, beginning January, teaching American Studies on the divided island of Cyprus.
“I’m quite honored,” said Sheley, who joined the university in 2001. “This award is an extraordinary achievement and has been one of my lifetime goals.”
The Fulbright program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, is an international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars, and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide.
In 2004, Sheley received a Fulbright-Hays Travel Abroad Award that sent her with 12 other educators to Rwanda, site of the 1994 mass extermination of nearly a million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutu sympathizers. Sheley believes one reason for her appointment to Cyprus is a recognition of her understanding of internal conflict, backed by her Rwandan research.
“Add to that a potential for leadership in curriculum development, my expertise in American Studies, and my willingness to be a cultural ambassador, and you have what the Fulbright people seemed to be looking for,” she said.
Sheley will divide her time between the University of Cyprus in Nicosia and the Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta. “My goal is to present American Studies in a global context,” she said. “I envision myself as someone who tries to answer others’ questions, not just to dictate answers and viewpoints. I anticipate my courses and lectures will broaden perspectives from those Cypriots may have garnered from the news.” Cyprus, split between Turkish and Greek populations, also strikes a balance between the old and the new. “I feel overwhelmed by the thousands of years of history in Cyprus,” she said. “But, I don’t have the feeling I’m headed for a third world country at all. Cyprus is highly developed with every technological advantage.”
Sheley prepares for her trip by learning as much as she can about the languages of Cyprus, its political climate, and its cultural past. “Plus, I’m talking to other Fulbright scholars in general and those who served on Cyprus in particular,” she said. “Part of the appeal of this teaching experience is its length, from January through July. Once I find a place to live, I can begin to discover the rhythms of life on Cyprus and determine how I can be most effective as a Fulbrighter at the universities and in the communities. I’m also looking forward to meeting people from all walks of life, enjoying village life, studying the island’s art, and certainly discovering its panoramic scenes, best places to eat, and cultural activities.”
Her goals during the six months in Cyprus include contacting leaders in the Cypriot educational system as well as those in civic and public life. She also hopes to create a link between her classes in Cyprus and CSULB.
“Student-to-student communication is possible and we have the technology to do it,” she said. “But the real value is in the face-to-face contact that is essential to a Fulbright because it puts the humanity back into research. It puts a human face on Cyprus and its cultures, as well as provides clearer communications about the United States and its peoples.” She added, “We can’t underestimate the power of personal communication; it may be possible to misread the printed word, but miscommunication is easier to detect in direct conversations.”
Sheley is no stranger to relocation. Her trip to Cyprus will be the 14th time she has moved. “Any move, but especially this Fulbright, offers me the chance to re-invent myself” she said. “It means becoming someone different. I can shed what I don’t want to take with me—of my responsibilities and obligations here—and to acquire there what I need for personal growth. It is a chance to embrace new things. I know I will be changed when I come back.”
Sheley received her bachelor’s degree from Murray State University, her master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Kansas in 2000. She also served as an instructor at Washburn University of Topeka before joining CSULB.
Sheley looks forward to her Cyprus adventure and encourages other faculty to apply to the Fulbright program. “The key to securing a Fulbright is planning for the opportunity,” she said. “I researched the possibilities for study and teaching abroad and sought information online, from colleagues, and from Fulbright personnel at conferences. You’ve got to be willing to go through the process and put yourself out there. To make it feasible, it needs to be the right time in life to pursue that dream. Most of all, believe it is possible. That way, you make it believable to yourself and to others.”