View from the Baltic

By Matt Hawkins
November 12, 2014

After two Fulbright Scholar experiences in former Eastern Bloc countries, Dr. Nancy Sherman couldn’t resist a third opportunity to travel east. This year, she’s learning Russian culture and sharing her Western perspective in the Russian territory of Kaliningrad.

In a country where little English is spoken, the counseling professor is busy learning a new language and alphabet while providing a glimpse into American culture. She quickly discovered a cultural comparison from an English teaching assistant, who relayed his students’ observations of the differences.

“Americans are like peaches: soft on the outside and hard on the inside, meaning friendly and open on the surface but hard to really get to know,” she said. “Russians are like coconuts: hard on the surface and soft in the middle, so hard to get to know initially but when one gets to know them, they are very warm, open people.”

The fall calendar conspired with American comic icon Charlie Brown to break through some of the cultural stereotypes in October. A showing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” complete with a costume contest and Jack-o-lanterns jump-started conversation about traditions.

Sherman is working with linguistics faculty this semester on teaching methodologies, learning theory, conflict resolution and other classroom-focused matters. She also is assisting junior high and high school English classes and presenting at a number of conferences for English teachers.

In the midst of that, Sherman also is continuing her work on mental health care. Class discussions have highlighted the influence of the family unit on Russians’ understanding of mental health issues.

“My students have shared with me that most Russians would not visit a psychotherapist even though Russia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world,” Sherman said. “When I asked who they turned to when they had problems, the answer was always ‘my family.’”

In addition to learning local culture, Sherman has reconnected with friends from previous Fulbright trips to Latvia and Romania. She also toured Moscow with Bradley alumna Anastasia Chernetskaya (MA ’13).

“She was the perfect guide to some of Moscow’s most famous and beautiful sites,” Sherman said, mentioning Red Square, the Tsar’s summer palace, the State Tretyakov art gallery and several tasty restaurants.

As the Fulbright experience continues, Sherman will dive further into her counseling research interests. She is focusing on mental health practitioner training and the status of professional organizations that provide the education. The research will progress as her Russian language and Cyrillic alphabet skills improve.

“This will be much easier once my Russian improves,” she quipped.