Colin Gilbert is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2017, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A marketing and supply chain management major at the University of Pittsburgh, he is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.
In this week's post, Colin discusses his courses and interviews a professor for her point of view on study abroad..
It’s true: studying abroad actually involves studying. While this may come as a surprise after reading about hanging with kangaroos and hiking the coasts, my time in Australia hasn’t been a complete walk in the park—I’ve only taken a few! Terrible jokes aside, I’ve had a tough time convincing my friends that in addition to the fun I’ve been having, classwork still exists and my GPA is still real. I understand their reasoning; I felt the same last fall as I double-tapped incredible Instagrams and gained 10-second glimpses into my own friends’ international adventures. All of which, I’ve discovered, were filtered—because I do the same.
No one wants to see a grey classroom or pictures of essay-writing. Posting PowerPoint slides? Forget about it. While they may not be the most slightly part of my experience, academics consume a considerable amount of time. That is, courses run a lengthy 3.5 hours each.
With this atypical length, the evaluation works a bit different, as well. Most classes begin with a quick quiz to ensure we’ve read the material, which I’ve found actually is necessary, since classes only meet once weekly. Most of my classes don’t have a final, rather a project or extensive paper which is produced throughout the semester. While it’s nice not have to worry about large final exams as the semester ends, I do notice myself putting a significant amount of time into assignments throughout the semester as opposed to studying for tests towards the end.
Of my professors, two are Australian and two are from Pitt, providing an interesting assortment of lecture and teaching styles. My International Marketing professor, Al Marshall, is a favorite. Incredibly outspoken, yet a wealth of knowledge; he makes Monday mornings bearable with hilarious examples and sarcastic remarks. Hannah Johnson, my literature professor from Pitt, is warm, friendly, and discovering Sydney at the same time as us. I enjoy starting class by exchanging recommendations of where we’ve gone and what we’ve discovered. Her ability to connect with students is admirable, thus I touched base with Hannah to hear her take on the study abroad experience as a professor:
COLIN GILBERT: What compelled you to teach abroad in Sydney?
HANNAH JOHNSON: Sydney had always seemed far away—a destination I’d get to eventually. When Pitt Study Abroad offered the position to me, the timing seemed right and I couldn’t pass it up. I love traveling. I’ve had previous experience teaching and researching abroad in London and York, England, so Australia was a refreshing change.
CG: How does a professor go about planning an international course?
HJ: I started planning our Graphic Novel course in the fall by doing a lot of research and reading on Australian authors and artists, even consulting comic experts from Australia. When I design a course to be taught abroad, I like stretching my skills and taking advantage of the location we’re in; this involves incorporating local sites in as part of the challenge. I like to choose sites which students will enjoy, but likely wouldn’t visit in other classes or during their free time, such as our visit to King’s Comics. Sydney’s exceptional transit system has made the opportunities for site visits endless.
CG: Why do you consider study abroad a valuable experience for students? For professors?
HJ: For students, I believe studying abroad fosters independence and confidence as they live on their own—some for the first time—and learn to navigate their new environment. It also makes learning more concrete; it’s one thing to talk about international politics and culture—it’s another to be on the ground observing it. For professors, it’s all about personal preference. I personally enjoy being stretched in different ways while learning to teach in more creative ways. It’s exciting to see a new area and explore it with students. It allows me, as a professor, to see a different side of students I don’t usually get to observe on campus.
I found my conversation with Hannah quite enjoyable and noticed we agreed on many of the same points regarding studying abroad. Most notably, her comment about seeing a different side of students, because as a student, I also get to see a different side of professors. For our last Graphic Novel class, we met in Hyde Park, circled around a blanket, and discussed a site visit while enjoying gelato. She mentioned there’s no way a class meeting like that would be possible in Pittsburgh with 20 students. With eight, we were all able to share a meaningful discussion about the Hyde Park Barracks while enjoying a beautiful afternoon together.
Studying abroad is very real. Many of my classes transfer straight into major course credits, affecting my GPA in real-time. Like Hannah mentioned, though, it’s a unique class experience where things can be done a bit differently as opposed to a traditional campus setting. There are days I remain cooped up in a classroom or library watching sunlight stream in, but there are also those afternoons in Hyde Park where I have to pinch myself to remember I’m actually in class.
And yeah, there’s still plenty of time to hit the beach after morning class. Check that out on my Instagram.
Colin's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned!