Last summer I taught at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey and this summer I’ll be headed to the University of Gondar in Ethiopia. As I get ready for departure, I want to do a blog post on teaching overseas.
Although, I cringe when people call me a “teacher” (since I’m a researcher as well), teaching is very important to me. I enjoy being at a teaching oriented institution. However, I’m often jealous of friends and colleagues at research institutions who have resources and schedules that make going abroad easier. In the absence of those resources, teaching overseas during the summer is a great opportunity to both develop myself as a teacher and conduct research. Importantly, working with students overseas makes me something other than a tourist. While, I don’t horribly mind being a tourist (sometimes), being one certainly limits you. As a social scientist, it’s important to have first hand knowledge that isn’t filtered through pre-packaged vacations. I don’t want to just visit places, I want to get to know as much about a society as possible.
I teach and write on globalization and cities, as such, being able to live and work in other parts of the world (even if briefly) is vital to my intellectual and professional growth. As Donald Hall writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the benefits of teaching abroad include “important pedagogical, research-related, and life lessons.” It allows me to bring experiences back into the classroom and it informs my research writing. Overseas teaching not only gives me intimate knowledge of places and people, but forces me to critically think about the material I teach or write about.
From the standpoint of research, I was able to meet with colleagues (old and new) to share ideas last summer in Istanbul. I also learned a great deal from my students. My time there led to two article manuscripts and a new perspective on the city’s dramatic growth since my first visit in 2006 (and subsequent visits in 2008 and 2011). Perhaps most interesting was being able to teach an environmental sociology course amidst the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul.
This summer, I’ll be visiting Ethiopia for the first time. This trip will greatly support my ongoing work on global urban development issues. While most of my time will be in Gondar, I’m looking forward to seeing Addis Ababa. As an urbanist, it’s always interesting to see different types of cities. I’m hoping to learn about the city and the country, as well as examine the connections that shape different types of urbanism around the world.