Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Cyprus Built Community Connections Through Sports and the Arts

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Carole Cox, Professor of Social Work, Fordham University 
2014-2015 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Cyprus   

Let me begin by saying I was one of those Americans who really had little idea of Cyprus, only that it was somewhere in the Middle East and that it was an island. But given my love for Greek culture, my strong interest in experiencing the new, and the fact that Cyprus was interested in having a scholar in social work, it seemed a good fit for my Fulbright Scholar application. In addition, the country has an aging population which, with my focus in gerontological social work and policy, made it commensurate with my experience and interests.  

I spent the spring semester of 2015 at the European University of Cyprus in the social work department as a Fulbright Scholar. My scholarship involved teaching a course in social work practice with older adults and research on the decision-making process to place a relative in a nursing home. Fortunately, I co-taught with a Cypriot professor who had lived in the USA, so we used a mixture of Greek and English in our lectures. He had translated my PowerPoint files to Greek, which really facilitated the teaching. The research enabled me to become familiar with nursing homes in Cyprus and deepened my understanding of caregiving stress, a universal phenomenon. I also learned that teaching in Cyprus meant learning a lot about flexibility. As an example, students often came to part of the class and were not seen after lunch and this did not impact their grades.  Even though there was supposed to be a deadline for papers, this was not really followed.  Perhaps one of the most confusing experiences was the first faculty meeting. I was there at the scheduled time and no one showed up. I waited about 25 minutes and was about to leave when people started coming. I then clearly realized that Cypriot time was not the same as New York time, an important piece of learning.   

As a Fulbright scholar, it is essential to become involved in the community. Because I was there alone, without spouse or children, I made a strong effort to do this.  It really paid off!  I joined a fabulous hiking group composed of Cypriots and many international walkers, and made very strong friendships which continue.  Cyprus is very involved with the arts with almost nightly concerts and recitals. There is also a vibrant art community with many galleries. I joined a painting class and benefited from a teacher who helped me to develop my skills. The class itself was interesting, as I was the only non-Cypriot and was brought into their circle. In fact, they held a farewell dinner for me that lasted 4 hours! I took potting lessons from a wonderful Cypriot potter and learned that the wheel is never used.  I learned so much about the history, art and culture of the island from this potter.   

One of the most exciting professional experiences I had came as a result of my involvement in a tennis group. One of the participants was attached to a church doing work with sex trafficking victims.  I learned how big a problem this was in Cyprus and became involved in a project exploring policies and programs dealing with sex trafficking in the country. This led to a journal publication as well as my work being included in the Vatican’s Consultation on Human Trafficking.  

The Fulbright experience has had a strong impact on my professional life. With regard to my work in aging, the role of culture in maintaining strong relationships with older people, which I witnessed in Cyprus, and the strong intergenerational relationships that result have been integrated into my teaching. My research in trafficking, which was primarily based on personal interviews with policy makers and government officials, broadened my knowledge of the intricacies and complexity of policy and its implementation.

My advice to U.S. Fulbright scholars is to be open to all experiences. There are so many opportunities in the host countries that go beyond the classroom. Join community groups; get involved in local sports; take a class in music or painting or potting; or join a walking group. In short, make friends! My Cypriot experience was so extraordinary that I have already returned once and plan on many more visits.