"Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain"

The Spectrum

Until April 5, senior Thawab Shibly was adamant about avoiding talk of the future. Unsure of what life would entail after graduation, she dodged the conversation any time it came up.

This all changed that day - she discovered she had been accepted into the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships (ETA) Program.

The ETA Program is an element of the esteemed Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which offers recent college graduates the opportunity to travel abroad for one academic year in the area of their choice, according to the Fulbright website.

Through the program, Shibly, an English and political science major, will be traveling to Jordan this coming September to teach English to Jordanian students. In addition, she hopes to focus her individual research project on the oral history of Palestinian refugees living in Jordan.

Shibly's passion for helping others is a result of her conscientious upbringing. Her parents, both dentists, have been extremely supportive throughout the process - they are the ones who sparked her interest in human rights.

"They've always wanted me to become a dentist...but recently they've seen more of a value in what I've been trying to accomplish," Shibly said. "[At home] we never sit and talk about teeth. We talk about what's going on in the world. My parents raised us to be very conscious individuals, and when I went to college...I wanted to get into the stuff that they taught me."

Shibly's family moved to Buffalo from Syria when she was only 1 year old, and has lived in Buffalo ever since. Shibly, however, has traveled to and from the Middle East many times in recent years on humanitarian trips, helping and working with people in places like Lebanon and Palestine - more specifically the West Bank.

While visiting Palestine, she worked with a non-governmental organization, Project Hope, and taught English to refugees of all ages. She considers the time that she spent there the best summer of her life.

"They live in these camps and these tight conditions...yet they just have so much hope and they're so eager to learn," Shibly said. "They have such a huge focus on education...learning from them really pushed me. I don't think I would have a Fulbright or think of applying to it without the people I've met there."

There is a lot Shibly wants to get done personally while she's in Jordan. She hopes to live up to the Fulbright expectation that each scholar will represent America in a positive light, and ultimately create positive, strong ties with foreigners that neither party will forget. She also hopes to reconnect with her roots by taking Arabic courses and simply immersing herself in Middle Eastern culture.

"The great thing about being American is that you can speak any language and be from anywhere in the world and still call yourself an American. I think this [next] year will help me find a balance between these two supposedly different cultures," Shibly said. "There's no room for stereotypes in this world, and you fear what you don't know...I've been blessed in that I can try to be that link."

Excited as she is to embark on her year abroad, she admits that she wouldn't have made it this far without her family, professors, and friends. She considers herself to be the "number one procrastinator" and acknowledges that without the help of others to stay on track, she may not have even applied for the Fulbright in the first place.

Her best friend of eight years is senior English and political science major Erin Willis. According to Shibly, Willis has played a huge role in opening her eyes to the world, though they come from different faiths and backgrounds.

"Thawab is a lot better at managing stress and activities [than I am]. I also think that her more laid back personality makes her a more approachable person," Willis said.

Shibly hasn't always been as positive as she is now. In addition to having a fluctuating GPA, she was also the victim of extreme racism over the last semester, having had a swastika keyed into the side of her car twice.

After the event she reached one of her lowest points at UB and couldn't wait to graduate and leave without looking back.

However, with the support of her family and friends, she decided not to give up on her beliefs. She knows that if she comes across another hurtful instance, it will only make her stronger.

This unfaltering dedication and passion is what she thinks has led to her success.

"Being passionate about something and showing that you're dedicated is important...in the end, if you stick by what you believe in, nobody can really stop you," Shibly said. "Just get into it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Though at this point she has not been informed of specific travel dates, she knows that by Sept. 1 she will be in Jordan - one step closer to reaching her goals of helping others.

Email: features@ubspectrum.com