Niagara University is pleased to announce that Shannon Hardy, Class of 2011, has been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Scholarship, making her the first student to receive the honor while enrolled at NU. (Other Niagara graduates have received awards, but did so while pursuing advanced degrees at other institutions.)
"We are extremely proud of Shannon and thankful to the faculty members who assisted her in being selected for this prestigious award," said Dr. Timothy Downs, Niagara University's vice president for academic affairs. "This recognition not only speaks to the quality and uniqueness of Shannon's abilities but also to the continued emphasis that NU places on academic excellence and service learning."
Hardy, who recently earned degrees in international studies and political science from NU, departed for Turkey in early September. She is teaching English and American culture at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, an institution founded in 1992 that currently has more than 22,000 matriculating students. She spends approximately 20 hours per week teaching English, with a focus on speaking and listening skills. An equivalent amount of time is allocated for class preparation and participation in extracurricular activities.
"Most of my students have an elementary level of education, some intermediate, but they are all fabulous students and eager to learn," said Hardy, who will return to the U.S. in June 2012. "After morning classes, several of them will even meet me in my office wanting to join me for lunch so that they can have more practice."
Once afternoon sessions are completed, Hardy typically visits the city center to patronize its many shops and cafes with hopes of improving her grasp of Turkish. She then goes home to cook Turkish delicacies with her co-worker and flatmate, Turkan.
"Before I came to Turkey, I was most excited about learning Turkish culture - the food, the people, the language, the folk music and the way of life," Hardy stated. "Now that I have lived here for a month, Turkish culture still excites me! Every day, I am learning so many new things about their way of life that I can never get enough of. Being completely immersed in another culture also teaches you so much about yourself that you never realized before."
It takes a special person to receive one of the 50 assistantships from the Turkish Fulbright Commission. Aside from its exclusivity, language on the U.S. Department of State-sponsored website reads, "Please note that this program can be quite demanding. Many of the universities are very new (less than five years old) and just setting up their academic departments, administrative procedures and even their physical plant. In many places, ETAs will be the only foreigners in town and may evoke intense curiosity, even suspicion."
Hardy's advisor at NU, Dr. David A. Reilly, never doubted that the commission selected the right candidate in the Gilbertsville native.
"Shannon has always been willing to embrace the uncommon path," he said. "Whether that means taking theater classes while majoring in international studies, embarking on a study abroad trip to India, or simply taking a non-traditional approach to her coursework, Shannon is willing to take risks. As a result, she has often had opportunities to challenge herself and expand her horizons. In this sense, research in Turkey is not so far afield for her, and I expect that she is ready for the challenge."
Over the last several years, Turkey has become increasingly integrated with the West, undertaking many reforms to strengthen its democracy and becoming involved with organizations such as the Council of Europe, NATO, OECD, OSCE and the G-20 major economies. And while the U.S. Department of State includes a full page in its Fulbright orientation handbook on the difficulties that previous awardees have had adjusting to their new surroundings (in many countries), Dr. Mustafa Gökçek, an NU faculty member who was born in Turkey, believes that Hardy will adapt quickly.
"Overall, I think Shannon will feel almost at home there, especially since she is staying in one of the most European towns of Turkey," Gökçek said. "However, she might not get as much personal space as she is used to in the U.S. As in many other countries overseas, people in Turkey may ask questions about culture, politics or religion without considering them as offensive. Shannon should also make good use of her history education at NU as she will see Turkey's more than 2,000 years of history revealing itself in every corner."
Although this is Hardy's first trip to Turkey, she has spent a considerable amount of time overseas. In 2006, at the age of 16, Hardy received a Rotary Youth Scholarship, which permitted her to visit Hungary. She graduated from high school in three years and decided to return to Hungary while her classmates caught up in their studies. During that period, she traveled throughout Europe, spending "an enormous" amount of time in Serbia. Then, in spring 2010, she spent a semester in Bengaluru, India, as part of NU's study abroad program.
About halfway through her senior year at Niagara, Hardy, who knew she wanted to attend grad school but not right away, began researching scholarships and fellowships. She came across the ETA version of the Fulbright Fellowship and knew immediately that it was a perfect fit.
"I have always loved traveling, learning new languages and cultures, and I had some volunteer teaching experience, so I couldn't think of a better way to spend the year after graduation," she said.
Hardy gives much of the credit in her securing the assistantship to her professors, including doctors Reilly and Gökçek, who wrote "awesome" letters of recommendation on her behalf and offered helpful advice during the application process.
"Every single one of my professors, all in their own way, helped me to obtain this fellowship by teaching me about life, helping me to discover who I am, and encouraging me every step of the way throughout my four years at Niagara."
Turkish Fulbright Commission
The Turkish Fulbright Commission was established by a binational agreement signed between the U.S. and Turkey in 1949. The commission supports Turkish and American graduate students, academicians and secondary school teachers through grants, which include travel and living expenses, and offers educational advising for Turkish students wishing to study in the U.S. Meanwhile, American scholars visiting Turkey have made major teaching and research contributions in a variety of disciplines, ranging from science and engineering to business to history and literature.