August 31, 2005 - Gili Sherman may never look at a tulip the same way again. Every time she sees the beautiful flower, she is taken back to the architecture, domes, windows and arches of Istanbul, Turkey, and her monthlong tour through a misunderstood country.
Sherman, a Sunrise Drive Elementary School art teacher, and Sam Caruso, a Catalina Foothills High School advanced placement history teacher, who traveled to Australia, were both awarded an all-expense paid journey to foreign lands to soak up the culture and bring back a better understanding of the world.
The trips were sponsored by the Fulbright Program, which was proposed to the U.S. Congress by Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas in 1945 and was signed into law in 1946. The program was viewed by Fulbright as a way, in a post-World War II era, to promote "mutual understanding." Since the program's inception, more than 250,000 participants have been awarded the opportunity to travel abroad.
Sherman was honored when she was selected as a visitor of Turkey, a land of beauty and mystery that many Americans may never get the chance to see, she said.
"It was the most amazing gift," she said.
For a month, Sherman meandered through the cities of Turkey, viewing artwork, entering museums, talking to the people and meeting other teachers much like her.
For Sherman, the trip was "a lesson in empathy," she said.
Turkey is a country of great tolerance and intolerance, she said, a country where similarities are recognized and individuality is lost in translation.
Sherman recalled talking to Turks during her travels. At first, most labeled themselves as Turks. Then, Sherman would peel back the layers and find out that a father was Armenian and another family member was Arab, for example. That's a typical way, Sherman said, that Turks are absorbed in a melting pot of identity.
When at all possible, a Fulbright recipient gets to see the host country's school system close up, and, at times, a resident from the visiting country visits the United States. For the two Catalina Foothills School District teachers, that is not the case. No foreign teachers will be visiting Tucson, Sherman said.
It would have been nice to see more of Turkish schools, she said, but since the trip was in the summer and school is not in session the lessons were limited.
One way Sherman said she chose to illustrate her travels was by sketching. Everywhere she went she took along a sketchbook. She drew the architecture, the people, and the flowers. She wanted to capture it all and bring it back to her family and her students.
She was always keeping her eyes open, she said.
Sherman has adapted her lesson plans for the new school year to reflect her travels to Turkey. She is having students sketch places where they have traveled.
A section of her classroom is dedicated to Turkey. A flag hangs on the wall, and there's a large map on which she points out to her students where she spent her summer vacation. There also are photos and paintings from Turkey, a world so far away and yet present in this Foothills classroom.
Caruso, an advanced placement European history and American history teacher at the high school, is bringing his Fulbright experience into his classroom as well.
"It was a terrific trip," Caruso said. "They treated us like royalty."
The us Caruso is referring to are the 16 other traveling professors, teachers and scholars who made the trek into the Outback with Caruso.
The trip, as well as $250 in books to bring back to the classroom, was paid for by the Fulbright Program, he said.
"I was really fortunate," he said.
For a month, Caruso traveled throughout Australia learning about the aboriginal people and the culture of the continent.
A seasoned traveler, Caruso enjoyed the museums, cultural centers, crocodile spotting, and sunset watching. It was a way to view Australia and Tucson all at the same time.
Caruso said he firmly believes that traveling creates a deeper connection with and understanding of a person's hometown surroundings. Watching sunsets in Australia over the mountains, Caruso uncovered a fondness for the Santa Catalina Mountains and their beauty, a beauty that may be taken for granted most days, he said.
It was the "trip of a lifetime," he said.
There is not much of a difference between Australian schools and American schools, said Caruso, who has been teaching at the high school for 10 years. The main difference lies in the testing, he said. There is no SAT test for the Aussies, he said, and technical schools at the high school level are encouraged, offering a more specialized training than regular high school coursework.
While the schooling may be slightly different in Australia, Caruso realizes many of his Foothills students cannot travel as easily as he can, so he is bringing the country to them.
"I talk about travel all the time in my classes," he said.
And it is that knowledge of other cultures and societies that the high school's Principal Wagner Van Vlack said makes Caruso a well-liked educator.
Van Vlack wrote Caruso a letter of recommendation for the Fulbright Program and said he was pleased when he was chosen for the trip.
He is "a good man," he said.
With the school year underway and students back in their classrooms, Caruso and Sherman are challenged with creating a curriculum that uses the information they received through their travels.
Caruso plans to focus on aboriginal societal structure and how it relates to American Indian history, he said. Sherman plans to adapt a curriculum about the tulip and talk about how it relates to Turkish architecture.
Any Fulbright Program participant who wants to incorporate lessons from an overseas experience into coursework in a school back home can request an award of additional funding from the Fulbright Program for books.
But as Sherman put it, she already won. She traveled for a month in Turkey, met wonderful people and had a "humanistic" experience, she said.
"I grew," she said.