At the end of an 18-hour flight Jim McDonald, dean of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences at Southern Utah University, exited the plane to the hustle and bustle of an airport in Morroco.
For the next six weeks, McDonald taught as a Fulbright Specialist at Ecole de Gouvernance et d’Economie in Rabat — an unfamiliar campus in an unfamiliar city. He compared his experience to that of a freshman just coming to SUU, “I had to figure it all out for myself. Everything was different and I learned to adjust.”
McDonald is one of many SUU professors who ventured outside their classrooms and taught abroad in countries such as Morocco, Finland, China and Australia this last academic year.
Another one of those professors was Deb Hill, dean of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson College of Education and Human Development, who also sojourned to Finland as a Fulbright Specialist.
As she was on the plane to Finland she recalls, “I kept thinking ‘What have I done? I’m leaving my comfort zone.’”
In the coming weeks Hill taught at the Oulu Institute of Applied Sciences and gained valuable insights that changed her perspective on education. The experience was transformative for Hill, who says she hopes all professors seek out opportunities to teach abroad.
Kurt Harris, director of the Sargon Heinrich Global Engagement Center, also encourages professors to spend time teaching overseas, saying that those who do “frequently learn new teaching and research methods by interacting with colleagues overseas, broaden their network of academic colleagues, and expand their cultural knowledge.”
SUU continues to send more and more professors abroad each year and among that number is Kevin Stein, an associate professor with the Department of Communications. Stein and his family lived in Shangsha, China for the past year where he taught at Hunan Normal University.
Remarking on the cultural experience he undertook, Stein said, “I learned how to be a better teacher by realizing not all my students are alike, even back home, and that I need to be a bit more flexible in my approach to education.”
Stein is right about his students not being alike. Last year, SUU had nearly 400 international students on campus, 46 of whom came from China.
When SUU’s professors go abroad, not only do they return more equipped to teach the diverse student body on campus, but they also bring back innovative ideas that benefit the entire University, according to Hill.
“What I came back with was an understanding of other education systems. I learned to appreciate my university and have also implemented some great Finnish ideas,” Hill said. “I think when you go to other countries and learn about their culture and society, especially progressive countries like Finland, you gain a different perspective on educational issues.”Mirroring Hill’s comments, McDonald said of his time in Morocco, “It is so important as an academic to receive this kind of rich, diverse experience. Whenever our universities enter into a cross cultural experience both parties leave enriched and invigorated."