Tamás Karáth

What is your area of research? How long have you been working in this field? How long have you been lecturing at PPCU?
My research area is medieval English literature. For over twenty years now, I have been doing research on medieval literary and religious cultures. I had projects related to medieval theatre, authority and heresy in late medieval England, and mysticism. But only a smaller portion of my courses is related to the Middle Ages. I am also teaching classes on British and American history and society. I gave my first classes at PPCU in 1999 as an undergraduate part-timer. I have been a full-time teacher of the Institute of English and American Studies since 2003. I am especially fond of teaching courses on contemporary British challenges (Brexit, immigration, and religious diversity in Britain); more particularly I like courses that combine my medieval and contemporary research interests (such as encounters of Christianity and Islam from the Middle Ages to the modern period in Britain).

When you were a university student yourself, did you ever study abroad? If you did, what courses did you take?
I was an Erasmus student at Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich in the spring term of 2000. I was an English-History double major, and in Munich I attended classes of the English Department. A year later, I enrolled at Sorbonne and the Ecole normale supérieure, Paris with the scholarship of the French government. I did an MA (DEA) in medieval history.

How did you choose the country and the university, and how much information did you have about the courses and the lecturers before your visit?
As for Munich, I did not have much choice. In the late 1990s when I was an undergrad, Erasmus exchanges just started to loom on the horizon. The largest state university, Eötvös Loránd University, from which I graduated, offered this single opportunity in the few years around 2000. Munich was a demanding place to apply, as students were required to be fluent both in English and in German. At the same time, it was ideal for the first Erasmus experience, as Ludwig-Maximilian University had had an outstanding foreign relations service, a good online record of academic affairs, had shown much care for international students, and not the least had provided very good accommodation and programs for the incoming students.

Have you got any recent teaching experience at foreign universities and with the students of these universities?
I cannot imagine the making of science and academia in a closed environment, that is, without an international context. There is no branch of science that should be predestined to a homogeneous community. And this is what I represent in my work. I have been teaching at the universities of Lausanne, Padova, and Warwick on invitation or in frames of the Erasmus mobility program. I have been part of an international research team with colleagues from the same universities with whom we have established Erasmus cooperation. For a couple of years I was teaching joint online classes with an American college in Vermont. Currently, I give medieval English classes at Central European University, which recruits students from all over the world. I am also eagerly following the teaching activity and innovations of my foreign colleagues at other European and American universities to mediate good practices.

Your lectures here, at PPCU, are very popular with foreign students. To what reasons do you attribute this?
It's most probably due to the fact that the themes of my courses match my students' academic needs and interests. As the Institute of English and American Studies launches classes only in English (except for the translation classes where another language besides English is necessary), we represent a more accessible platform for foreign students. My courses on contemporary British and American social issues are also relevant for international studies students. Students keep returning from the same universities to my classes, which I hope to explain with the "rumour factor", i.e. my former international students may pass on news of my courses to future candidates.

How easy is it to find the way to your guest students, to reach them and to get on with them?
Initially, I have to contact the International Office to find all potential students who may be interested in my classes. As soon as they are in, they are easy to contact; they are responsive and often attend university events that I recommend to them. As our international pool reaches beyond Europe, sometimes I am struggling with bridging linguistic and cultural gaps – not always very successfully.

Are you able to make time for your foreign students out of the tight timeframes of the lectures?
Very rarely, but sometimes I do. I have had a few memorable conversations outside classes and I am very grateful to these students.

Can you contribute to broadening your foreign students' horizon about Hungary and Hungarian culture?
I hope I can, even if the profile of my courses is never Hungary per se. But what I can contribute to their learning experience through our discussions of social phenomena (transformations, identities, diversity and dialogue) is the way they reflect on themselves and on the differences they encounter in Hungary.

What do you like about teaching foreign students?
Foreign students are practically my co-teachers. Suddenly it gains significance that we speak English not only for the sake of formality, but for the sake of necessity. Erasmus students give their best of their performance, so do Hungarian students in these classes. Erasmus students easily refute common stereotypes of what is self-evident and what not, what is known by all and what not. They bring in their various educational backgrounds with an openness to share ideas and to ask questions, which is very stimulating for the entire class.

How can you introduce your foreign students to our university, its past and its spirit?
Just as I do to my Hungarian students. In this way, I do not see any difference in my presence in a homogeneous or an internationally diverse class. I am inviting students to a joint work and discovery without imposing myself on them. And I simply show them what we as a scholarly community are doing at Pázmány.

Could you mention any differences between Hungarian and foreign students in terms of their needs or expectations?
I come from Hungarian public education, which has not changed much since my childhood. I know the background of my Hungarian students, and I know what is direly missing from this system which I try to compensate. I only theoretically know some other foreign educational systems, which makes me never expect anything particular from my foreign students.

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?
Usually Hungarian students do not ask me with such dilemmas. When I see them before they are off, they have already taken their decisions. Since many of our Erasmus exchanges are built on prior personal cooperation, I could speak for the universities I myself know. My students usually profit more from my advice concerning the choice of courses at the host universities. Occasionally we are browsing together the course descriptions and offers, and I can immediately comment on how and why certain classes fit our curriculum or in what ways students should cease the opportunity to take some of them.

Last but not least, when you have spare time, how do you usually spend it?
With my wife and with our three kids. I have a family with second shifts spent on the playing ground, by hiking and riding in the forests, in the household, and by engaging myself in the funniest conversations one can ever have – with children. I am also giving classes at other universities whose invitation I cannot turn down as they profit from many other aspects of my medieval expertise I cannot always show at my home university. I also translate modern British and American fiction into Hungarian, and put my translator's experience into teaching practice in our Translation and Interpreting MA program. I play the cello and I am part of a semi-professional quartet. I also have social duties and look for ways in which injustice could be prevented or treated in our communities. And above all, I observe things and help others to get along their ways.

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