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Global Citizenship: An Interview with Professor Shyam Sharma
Conducted by: Naomi Vingron & Adrienne Blaser
Thursday, October 9, 2014

Prof Sharma

First, I research and write about international students, especially their academic transition and success, and one of my objectives in this area is to highlight how international students don't just have "language problems" but they also bring--along with their proficiencies in other languages--a world of knowledge and perspectives. Second, I teach and write about rhetoric and writing across countries, cultures, and contexts; my research in this area is also driven by an interest in promoting intercultural communicative competencies and a sense of global citizenship. Third, I study how US universities are helping international graduate students meet the challenges of communicating, research, teaching, and other professional demands in graduate school and in the professions. I hope that these types of research/scholarship initiatives will help make society more open to other cultures and their resources.

As part of the Center of Multilingualism and Intercultural Communication’s Spotlight feature we interviewed Dr. Shyam Sharma of the Program of Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University who serves on the Campus Advisory board for the center:

Growing up in a multicultural society in India, Professor Sharma grew up speaking English, several Indian and Nepalese local dialects. He was never attached to one particular culture or language. Professor Sharma explained, “I was never convinced that your identity is just one thing, with one language, with one culture,” and he never developed a good understanding of what culture is and the way people seem to use it as a straightforward word for identity. Instead he believes that multiculturalism and multilingualism is the norm rather than the exception in our society.
In his early twenties, Dr. Sharma became an English teacher in Nepal and while he was surrounded by scholars it was not until he came to the US that he found multilingualism as discourse. Teaching literature, linguistics, and critical theory in Nepal, Sharma found that the content of it (to learn, take exams, get grades) showed no relationship between what was taught in school, his life, the students’, professors’, or even society’s life for that matter. The gap between learning knowledge and life was precisely the reason he left to study composition studies, writing and rhetoric between the ages of twenty-five and thirty years old in the US. In the US, Sharma found that the field of writing studies was just beginning to value multilingualism and what they now call trans-lingualism. Building on this discovery, Dr. Sharma started reading literature, taking courses in that area, and naturally built on the personal and the social aspects of multilingualism.
Today, Dr. Sharma teaches scientists and engineers how to communicate to the public at Stony Brook University. He teaches students how to develop their research skills before they go into the profession and translate academic writing skills into professional writing skills. Dr. Sharma believes in the notion that there is academic discourse that everyone needs to learn. There is a distinct danger of disconnect between learning and life that looms over everyone. It runs the risk that learning knowledge and learning life will each remain an isolated world. Of utmost importance, Dr. Sharma’s mindset is that there is a constant need to rethink the relationship, relevance, and significance of learning to life. The notions of global citizenship through multilingualism brings a person out of their comfort zone, relates them to other peoples and cultures, and broaden horizons.
In regards to his experience at SBU, Sharma pronounces, “the reality of your life, even here at Stony Brook, if you go to any class you will see multilingualism and multiculturalism in at least half the people there. That is the phenomenon here at Stony Brook University.” Multilingualism and the idea of global citizenship are not exotic ideas for scholars to research. Sharma believes that these are the realities of the classroom and student identity here at Stony Brook and we shouldn’t make these things feels like they are fancy new topics.
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