What is your area of research? How long have you been working in this field? How long have you been lecturing at PPCU?
I've been affiliated with PPCU ever since I obtained my diploma from ELTE University (Budapest) in 1998, and mostly I teach courses that relate to American literature. My primary interest has for long resided in examining the subversion of myths in the works of contemporary American authors. Extending this research to speculative fiction writers has led me to focusing on the use of monsters as literary tools addressing life challenges in coming of age fantasy and science fiction. For the past few years I've been teaching courses that include this theme, and presently I'm writing a book on this topic.
Your lectures here, at PPCU, are very popular with foreign students. To what reasons do you attribute this?
I'd like to believe that good reputation counts when someone chooses a course, but to tell the truth, I think mostly choice is usually about practical considerations. I teach at the Institute of English and American Studies, and several of my courses, I assume, are compatible with courses that Erasmus students majoring in English or American studies need to take at their home universities. This might make some of my courses desirable, as they may replace those to be taken at home. I also regularly teach a course on the genres of popular literature, which students like, I think, for a different reason: for this seminar we read and discuss (mostly) contemporary popular literature that is both of high quality and very entertaining for young adults. Many university students like reading fantasy, science fiction, dystopia, crime story, etc. These texts are “trendy,” and young people often read them just for fun, anyway. Although what we do during this course is the same kind of analytical work that we do in any other course on canonical literature, with similar tasks and requirements, it gives the feeling to some that what we do is enjoy consuming literature, discuss things that we would read anyway, and our approach also may provide a revelation that popular texts may be explored with the same methods as classical ones.
How easy is it to find the way to your guest students, to reach them and to get on with them?
I've had no problems with that. Usually, if students have an issue or request, they find me in person or in email, but that's absolutely the normal procedure here – we instructors do lots of emailing and consultations. I think the only real challenge in connection with teaching foreign students has been to me that they could join the course after the courses were, so to say, full, and at times this generated some logistic issue, but we could always sort that out. Now part of this problem is successfully eliminated.
Can you contribute to broadening your foreign students' horizon about Hungary and Hungarian culture?
I mostly teach American literature, so there's little room for speaking about Hungarian culture during the classes, but on a few occasions we did end up discussing cultural differences between Hungary and the countries our Erasmus students came from, because I sometimes use references to Hungarian culture to get a point across my students, and of course, I'm aware that foreign students lack the cultural context in these cases. Teaching literature is always teaching context, at the same time, so discussions on literary works may easily generate remarks on and revelations about differences in culture.
What do you like about teaching foreign students?
Inspiration. Teaching is an exchange of ideas, ideally it is a two-way process, so I love when I encounter an unusual approach. I enjoy different perspectives, and students with various cultural backgrounds can surprise me. They may react differently to questions or certain themes that we discuss, thereby broadening a whole group's perspective and making me reconsider how I read or teach a text.
Could you mention any differences between Hungarian and foreign students in terms of their needs or expectations?
What one may find challenging here really depends on his or her very specific background, so it is difficult to mention general phenomena. PPCU students at this department need to take the courses in a relatively fixed order, but those who come here only for one term may take a course which they might find somewhat difficult because we rely on certain skills or some knowledge that our students acquired earlier in another course. We have, for example, a course on how to write seminar papers, and from then on students need to use the skills they learned there. Foreign students may be used to different standards for essays, so they may need some extra help or guidelines with that. But I often meet students whose English and preparedness are excellent and with that they set an example to their group mates. Whether one is active or silent in a class comes more from one's individual character than one's cultural background, one may think, but actually, I also find that this is tightly linked to what methods of teaching a student has experienced in his or her home university, so partly this is a cultural issue, too. We have had Erasmus students who were simply not used to speaking and writing much in English despite having a major in English studies, and this came from the teaching practice of their home university. These students worked very hard to meet our requirements.
Do you ever give your Hungarian students advice on where to spend their Erasmus scholarship? What aspects do you take into consideration when you do so?
I encourage our talented students to apply for an Erasmus grant, but honestly, once they have made up their mind about applying, they do not seem to need advice from teachers. They like to get first-hand information from fellow students who have been on an Erasmus grant somewhere, and I think this is exactly what they should do.
Last but not least, when you have spare time, how do you usually spend it?
Reading and writing are activities that are inherent part of my profession, so let's say that I read and write different texts when I think that I perform these activities in my spare time. When I really want to relax, I watch television series. And if really had spare time, I would be able to say that I like binge-watching these shows, but alas, this never happens. (Instead, I watch one episode a night, and tell myself it is my professional duty to keep in touch with popular culture...)