Professors Share Stories of Teaching Abroad
When someone asks me to describe study abroad to them, I usually respond that many students in college take the opportunity to learn in a foreign country. However, college professors also take study abroad trips. Whether a professor is conducting research, or is preparing to take students on a trip to a foreign country, they also go abroad to learn.
Dr. Cristofer Scarboro, of the King’s College history department, and Dr. Pankaj Chakraborty, a visiting professor in the political science department, have both travelled between India and Wilkes-Barre in recent years.
During the 2010-2011 academic year, Scarboro spent a year in India with his family. He taught at a sister school of King’s College, Holy Cross in Agartala, which iswhich is in the northeastern part of India. He made a lot of connections with his coworkers while there, and he found that many of them were willing to work together with him on research and developing better teaching strategies.
Scarboro said that one of the best things that came out of his time in India was “the collaboration, and working with faculty and learning how they think.” Scarboro said he went to India with an “amateur knowledge of what India was like but came back with a much greater understanding of its history and culture.”
While he was there he taught several classes, and Scarboro wasn’t totally prepared for what was going to happen, as he didn’t know what classes he would be teaching until he arrived in India. The semester had had already started when he arrived and met with Chakraborty, who asked him if he was ready to teach class that afternoon. Scarboro was slightly taken aback and said that his first thought was “I don’t even know what class it is.”
Scarboro also told me about the way India’s education system differs from ours.
When he got there he found out that the syllabi were mandated by India’s Ministry of Education. Not only was the syllabus for the semester predetermined, but so were the curriculum, books, and exams. Scarboro also found that they didn’t have any history classes, which was strange since he is a historian; because of this he ended up teaching classes on constitutional government, as well as 19th and 20th century social theory.
Scarboro said that “it was a challenging environment in which to teach. I had classes often with 90 students, and in some cases English was their second or even third or fourth language.” He also taught a class in English Literature while there which was difficult because in a classroom with about 90 students only about three of them had the book.
He also said that teaching in general was a different experience for him in India.
“The way students there learn is different from the way students at King’s learn. The manner in which they are assessed is very much an exam system so they studied all semester for an exam at the end of the semester.”
Scarboro also told me that he wasn’t the one writing the exam. It was written by a central body and “figuring out how to prepare for it was challenging.” He recounts, laughing, that the first semester was a little bit rough because people had trouble with his accent.
Being in this different environment allowed Scarboro to try different teaching styles and techniques that he had not tried before. Overall, he said, “the experience has made me a better teacher, as well as a better collaborator” because he was constantly working with other professors.”
Scarboro said that teaching in India for a year allowed for King’s to begin moving from the traditional European study abroad experience, because a group of King’s students came to Agartala for a short-term study abroad course that he co-led with Dr. Noreen O’Connor.
Scarboro encourages King’s students to study abroad because it allows them to see the larger world that they are a part of. “Every time I lead a study abroad program I am astounded and thrilled to see just how transformed the students are. They go abroad for three weeks and come back changed. It’s one of the most wonderful parts of my job.”
The experience helped to allow him bridge the gap between the schools. Scarboro told me that “the Holy Cross College I was teaching at wanted to become a standalone liberal arts college that was in charge of creating its own syllabi as well as curriculum.” So, while in India, he co-led a conference to help professors develop syllabi and curriculum. He also helped convene the first international seminar that they had, where scholars from India and South Asia came to discuss globalization.
Although he left Agartala at the end of the year, Scarboro hopes that he left some impact. Scarboro said he wanted to learn from the experience in addition to teaching. “I wanted to work with scholars in India and for the conversations they had to be mutually fruitful.” He also wanted his time there to be the first step in a long relationship between the two colleges. One of the things that Scarboro brought back with him is “the confidence and the knowledge” to incorporate sections in his CORE history classes that contain a stronger Indian influence.
One of the most substantial outcomes of Scarboro’s visit has come to King’s this year. King’s has welcomed Chakraborty, a political science professor from Holy Cross College in Agartala India. Chakraborty is teaching this year at King’s as a visiting scholar through the U.S. Department of Education’s Fulbright program.
When Scarboro went to India, Chakraborty worked with him closely, and he says “I found while working with him that the system that we have there (in India) and the system we have here (at King’s) are totally different.”
While working with Scarboro he found that they had a lot of similar interests and after hearing about the different ways Scarboro was able to teach in the United States, Chakraborty wanted to experience it for himself. They began talking about ways that Chakraborty could come to the United States, and around six months after Scarboro began teaching they started looking into a Fulbright scholarship.
During Chakraborty‘s first semester at King’s, he taught two classes. The first class, The Discovery of India, co-taught with Scarboro, focused on Indian history and politics, from “the Middle Ages, through British rule, to independent India, to today,” Chakraborty explained. The other class he taught was a CORE called Globalization and Terrorism, which he is teaching again this semester alongside a Model United Nations class he is teaching with Dr. Beth Admiraal.
In regards to differences in classes, Chakraborty said that “the classes are not exactly similar but they are related to what I taught in India.”
One of the biggest surprises for Chakraborty was that he was able to make his own syllabus. He knew that he was going to be able to do this, but it was still a bit of a shock for him. He said that “being able to make my own syllabus was exciting for me, because we don’t get the opportunity to do that in India because the syllabus comes from the university.”
He feels that when he goes back to India, and if the school decides to allow professors to make their own syllabi, he will be comfortable making his own.
One difference Chakraborty found between his classes in India and his classes at King’sis class size.
“Here I have twenty-five students, where in India I have classes with more than sixty students,” he said,
He also said that the maturity level of the students here is different because students in India are still very much dependent on their parents. However the classroom response level has been similar. He said he feels “neither system is better nor worse, it has just been a cultural change for me.” Chakraborty said teaching only two classes each semester as a Fulbright scholar has allowed him to learn from others as well as to work with them.
One of the most inspirational things about the Fulbright exchange, Chakraborty said, was that “to me education and teaching are not a one way process. I never believed in my life that I could only teach students, I always believed that I could also learn from them.”
He also said that being able to teach here will be a way to continue a connection between the schools: “it is not only giving me a chance to work at King’s College; it’s giving me a chance to take the relationship between King’s College and Holy Cross Agartala further, making it a personal as well as institutional benefit.”
He said he is “taking back the relationships that I have made here, and I will cherish them.”
While here, he has been able to take part in many of his colleagues’ celebrations, including Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl. “I learned about American culture in books but now I am getting to see it in person,” Chakraborty said.
The cultural differences he has observed have been interesting.
“In India, if you came to my house I would offer you tea first, here if I go somewhere I am offered a beer first” he said, laughing.
“I knew coming over that I would have to adapt to new things and that I came here to experience all the differences and I like them all, they are all interesting to me, but I am sad that my time here is coming to an end, and that it is going too fast,” said Chakraborty.
Both Scarboro and Chakraborty have enjoyed their time “being abroad.” Much like students who go out into the world looking for new experiences and knowledge, both professors say they’ve grown from their involvement in other countries. They allow students to see that they are not the only ones who benefit from going out and exploring new places.