Ali Sheets, who will visit three continents over the next few months, is the first student at California Lutheran University to win a Fulbright teaching assistantship.
Sheets, 23, will teach in a small town outside Vienna, starting this fall. But first, she's going to spend a couple of weeks in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then go to Hanoi in Vietnam to visit her college roommate's family.
Sheets, who has traveled with her family since she was a child, sees exploring the world as a priority, not a luxury.
"I think of traveling in a different way," said Sheets, who recently graduated from the Thousand Oaks university with a degree in psychology. "If I want to go somewhere, I put that money aside. I'll save for it. It's leaving little things out."
Sheets decided to apply for the Fulbright teaching assistantship during her junior year at CLU when she was studying abroad in Vienna. Shortly after arriving in Vienna, she started a teaching internship, working with two fourth-grade classes.
"It turned out I really liked teaching," Sheets said. "You watch their language form from being barely able to speak anything to forming sentences. I felt like I actually helped out."
Sheets returned to Vienna over winter break of her senior year, turning in her application for the Fulbright in person.
Marsha Anderson, director of sponsored research at CLU, helped Sheets with her application. They met every two weeks, and by asking good questions, Anderson helped Sheets develop her personal statement.
"When she walked in my office, she knew she wanted to be back in Austria," Anderson said. "She loved the lifestyle there."
With her Fulbright, Sheets will teach at two schools and possibly do some tutoring. The teaching assistantship is just one category of the Fulbright Program, which also includes Fulbright scholars and specialists.
Sheets, whose family is from Oklahoma, has been traveling since she was a child. Her parents took her to California when she was almost 4. They traveled overseas for the first time when she was 16, going to England and Scotland.
And she's been traveling ever since. Sheets went to Europe with her AP European history class in high school. At CLU, she signed up for a semester abroad in Austria. Two weeks after arriving in Vienna, she called her family and announced she wanted to stay a year, said her father, Bob Sheets.
"We've always enjoyed traveling, so it's probably our fault," he said.
The Fulbright teaching assistantship gives Sheets the option of teaching for a second year. After that, she might like to do some travel writing.
"I really like sharing a culture with everyone," she said, "even the frustrating aspects of it."
--- Published in the Ventura County Star on July 29, 2010