Meet a General: Cindy Irby Cindy Irby, assistant director of international education and study abroad advisor at W&L, says her experience as a member of Up with People — which included participation in a Super Bowl halftime show — helps to inspire her as she makes study abroad opportunities possible for W&L students.
“I wish more students knew that study abroad is possible for everyone and that W&L faculty and staff are really supportive of study abroad.”
~ Cindy Irby
Q: Where did you grow up?
Lynchburg and the suburbs of Chicago
Q: How long have you worked at W&L?
Four years. Before coming to W&L, I worked at VMI for 10 years as the study abroad adviser. Prior to that, my family lived in Germany (my husband was in the Army and was stationed there).
Q: What does your job here entail?
I work with students who are interested in going abroad for a full term, year or during the summer. I help them select a program abroad and then advise them through the process.
Q: What do you like best about working at W&L?
I love working with students! The best is hearing from them after they return from abroad and how excited they are about the things they have seen and done and also what they have learned about themselves.
Q: Is there anything about your job or department that you wish more people in the W&L community knew?
I wish more students knew that study abroad is possible for everyone and that W&L faculty and staff are really supportive of study abroad. There are so many different types of programs out there. You can study in the local language or in English. You can also go for as little as four weeks or as long as an academic year. Our Spring Term Abroad programs are a great way to go abroad the first time because you are traveling with faculty you know and other W&L students.
Q: What is your favorite spot on campus? Why?
I would say the atrium in the Ruscio Center for Global Learning. It is usually a sunny spot with lots of students getting coffee or tea at the Tea House.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not at work?
I love to travel, both in the U.S. and abroad, and I love to cook.
Q: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you build your dream home? Why?
It would have to be near my family, but if my family could come with me, then I would probably pick Tuscany. The weather and scenery are beautiful and the food is amazing.
Q: What is the best book or film you’ve read/watched recently?
I recently read “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” by Wes Moore as part if the W&L virtual book club (and I admit that I binge-watched “Bridgerton” over winter break)
Q: What is your desert island food?
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
In 1985-86, when I was in college at University of Virginia, I spent a year traveling the world as part of an international program for young people called Up with People. Up with People’s mission is to promote understanding among people of different cultures all over the world, so we toured for one year, living with host families and putting on a two-hour musical show. In that one year, I was able to spend time in Canada, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany. I was also part of about 600 Up with People cast members from 22 countries who put on the halftime show at the 1986 Super Bowl in New Orleans. We lived with host families for a month, rehearsing the show and getting ready for the event. That was the first year that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was a national holiday, so our performance was dedicated to MLK. At the end of the first half, we had about 10 minutes to put the stage together and get ready for the halftime show. I danced in the show, in the center part of the stage.
Q: What was the coolest part of that experience?
It was amazing. It was the first pro football game I had ever been to. I really enjoyed living in New Orleans. I had a great host mom and sister (we still exchange Christmas cards), and we got to go to Mardi Gras parades and just get a feel for the city. Also, I am a Bears fan and they stomped the Patriots, which was fun.
Q: Can you be seen in any footage from that show?
Yes, the show is available on YouTube. I can be seen at the 5:18 mark singing the words “Born in the U.S.A.” The beginning of the video shows cast members rehearsing for the show on the Great Wall of China, in the shadow of a volcano in Hawaii, and in a courtyard in Bruges, Belgium.
Q: People love to criticize halftime shows, as evidenced recently by the reaction to The Weeknd’s performance this year. What do you think kids today would think of your halftime show?
If they could see what we did back then, they would just roll their eyes. It’s definitely not going to make the top 10, but a long time ago it was just about a feel-good experience. Now, with how divisive everything is, I joke that people could use a few more Up with People songs about positivity, unity and coming together.
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