Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology
Go if you can! Prepare thoroughly for your stay, and if you are taking your family with you, prioritise accommodation, your children's schools and your partner having something enjoyable to do with their time. These are Blaženka's tips that she can share after several trips abroad with her family.
Hello Blaženka. What is your department and your subject area?
My department is the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, and my research and teaching areas is Biblical Studies, more specifically Old Testament Exegesis.
You have taught abroad on several occasions. For example, you spent a period in the United States with STINT funding, as well as in Auckland, New Zealand. Tell us more!
That is correct. I was in the USA from August 2010 to January 2011 with STINT through the programme that at the time was called Excellence in Teaching. It is now called Teaching Sabbatical. The university that expressed interest in hosting me was Williams College in Massachusetts. It is a prestigious college, founded in 1793, and repeatedly ranked as the best liberal arts college in the United States. I worked at Williams College for a full semester, for six months, mostly teaching but also participating in seminars and in the administrative work of the college.
I went to New Zealand on my own initiative, but through the U21 network. The contacts within the network helped me to get in touch with the right people at Auckland University, to get access to libraries, and to join different research networks in the country. I first spent 13 months in New Zealand between August 2013 and September 2014 and then again between October 2016 and March 2017. My stay in New Zealand and at Auckland University was more of a research stay, although I did have the opportunity to do some teaching and participate in conferences and seminars.
Was the STINT application involved and difficult to do, as you recall?
No, it was not particularly difficult. STINT had clear instructions on what types of documents to attach to the application, but the actual nomination was done by the HT Faculties and not by me personally. Once LU nominated me to STINT, the process was relatively straightforward. STINT's commitment to the candidates' family situation was particularly valuable. The condition for my stay was that I would be able to bring my husband and three children to the USA. STINT not only made this possible, but gave all five of us the opportunity to really make the most of our stay there.
How did you get in touch with your colleagues in New Zealand?
I started with the U21 contact person at LU, who contacted their colleague at Auckland University. Then I got in touch with my subject colleagues there. Of course, I had checked them out beforehand, but it was still nice to have the U21 network behind me when I contacted them.
What course components have you taught at the universities? What were the student groups like and how do you think it worked?
At Auckland University, I had occasional lectures, and seminar and conference presentations. At Williams College, I was responsible for an entire course by myself. The course was at 50% pace, and was equivalent to 15 credits. The student group was mixed, but consisted mostly of students studying law, medicine or economics. Everyone was extremely friendly and committed, and I thought it all worked quite well. It is a challenge to teach in English, but it went pretty well. After all, our "research language" is English – even here in Lund where we use mostly English literature in both research and teaching.
Do you see any particular differences or similarities with your teaching in Lund?
Yes, I did. The student group is far more homogeneous in the USA in terms of engagement, ability, and even interest. Here at home, we often have groups where the differences in these respects can be quite large. The challenge here at home is to try to teach so that the "strong" students do not get bored while the "less strong" students still keep up. In the USA, at an elite college like Williams, everyone is strong, or is expected to be 😊. But I must also say that our best students are at least as good, if not better in some respects, than the students at Williams, for example. It is this great breadth that can be a challenge here at home …
Did you also have the opportunity to teach together with a colleague? If so, how did that work?
No, I didn't. But I sat in when my colleagues taught, and sometimes they sat in my classes. This was extremely rewarding. For example, Williams is known for its pedagogy, and it was fascinating to see how a good teacher can mould students into critical thinkers. The teachers did this by formulating questions for the students about the literature they read, but also by helping the students to formulate their own critical questions about the literature.
What do you think you have gained from these exchanges and collaborations, in terms of research, teaching and personal experience?
The simplest answer is perhaps, somewhat self-centred, that it has enriched my life (and that of my family). Understanding how learning occurs in other environments not only provides knowledge about those environments but changes your perspective on your own environment. Both institutions were characterised by a tangible diversity in which people from different backgrounds found community in the space of academic science: it was beautiful to see and experience. Insights from there have influenced my research, my pedagogy and me as a person. Then, more concretely, colleagues from both universities have been in Lund to lecture and participate in our seminars and conferences.
What has been the best part of your periods abroad?
The actual stay there. But also living in countries that are so similar but also so different from Sweden in many ways. It is probably the whole thing that was the best ... to stand still for a while. In times when we fly everywhere for a few days or a long weekend, rushing between different conference presentations, it is good to just stand still, take in the environment, create a home there, even if only for half a year or a year ... That has been the best part.
What has been the most challenging?
Being prepared to be one of the crowd and manage to "fit in". Being the "guest researcher" or "guest teacher" who does not always understand all the unwritten rules that exist. At the same time, it is extremely useful to actually experience this – then perhaps we can learn to be better at receiving guest researchers here at home. Of course, the logistics of the move are very challenging – especially for families with young children. But it was worth it. 😊
Do you have any tips for prospective travelling teachers?
Yes, go if you can! If you have a family and young children, make sure to prepare them as well so that the children end up in good schools and your partner has something sensible to do during your stay there. Also make sure you get good accommodation. If the accommodation is good and the surroundings safe, everyone will be happy and the whole stay will be a success. As a guest researcher or teacher, you will want to dedicate yourself to the task – it will be difficult if your family is not comfortable.