What is your area of research? How long have you been working in this field? How long have you been lecturing at PPCU?
I started teaching at PPCU a long time ago, in 1995, when the the institution was still in its infancy. I became a full-time assistant professor at the Institute of English and American Studies in 1998, so I celebrated my 20th anniversary at Pázmány last year.
From the very beginning, my main responsibility has been teaching British and American history to English majors. From 1997 on, I developed two new courses entitled Introduction to British Culture and American Culture (later simply Introduction to Britain and the United States), which provide a grounding for 1st year English majors in the geography, society, government and other institutional structures of the two largest English-speaking countries.
Besides these core curriculum courses, I have taught various electives, mainly on American politics and culture as well as English-language fantastic literature, my earliest research interest (and the subject of my PhD dissertation). In the past decade, I have also given courses at the International Studies BA and MA and the History MA programs related to American government, foreign policy and history. My recent research has focused on church and state relations in the United States and the constitutional interpretations of related disputes by the Supreme Court.
When you were a university student yourself, did you ever study abroad? If you did, what courses did you take?
Yes, I studied for a semester at a US college in Iowa as an undergraduate exchange student, and spent a year in Belgium on a scholarship as a PhD student. Both opportunities were crucial in the development of my personality as well as my academic career. Studying abroad is an adventure, a challenge and a discovery all at the same time.
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?
Well, in my case I did not choose the target institution since I applied for programs that involved a specific university in a specific country. But my application was motivated by obvious considerations: the language of instruction (in my case, English), the quality of higher education in the target country and the target institution, the cost of the program and the country, the opportunities offered by the institution and the program. In case of the exchange program, I was supplied with plenty of information about the college since it has been a long-running program, I could even ask older fellow students about their experiences. In case of my PhD scholarship, it was more of a jump in the dark, especially concerning certain aspects of my stay (accommodation, for instance), but ultimately everything worked out fine.
Have you got any recent teaching experience at foreign universities and with the students of these universities?
I never was a guest lecturer abroad (except for short-term visits) but I spent two semesters as a research fellow at American universities, so I’m familiar with their system of education both as a student and as an academic. And or course, the Institute of English and American Studies of PPCU has hosted several guest lecturers over the years, mostly from the United States via the Fulbright Program. I have taught joint classes with several of them, assisted them during their stay, and we often remained friends to this day.
Your lectures here, at PPCU, are very popular with foreign students. To what reasons do you attribute this?
From the very beginning, I’ve been trying my best to make my lectures and other classes reasonably interesting and entertaining. In the 1990s, I used printable transparent plastic slides and OHPs, but since the advent of digital projectors I have been using computer presentations with plenty of images, occasional moving pictures and other illustrations. I also consider it important to structure the information clearly to help students take notes and separate essential facts from additional details.
How easy is it to find the way to your guest students, to reach them and to get on with them?
I enjoy teaching international students, especially in seminars, where their different cultural background and experience provides a welcome new perspective in the company of the Hungarian students who make up the majority of the class. Sometimes they find the courses challenging, especially if their English skills are not quite up to the standards, or if their previous studies have not prepared them for the courses. But I and my colleagues always try to devote special attention to them and help them cope with the tasks.
Are you able to make time for your foreign students out of the tight timeframes of the lectures?
Well, we are expected to be available, all of the full-time professors have regular office hours at all the venues of Pázmány. Since I often teach at different locations on different days of the week, I cannot be as accessible to my students as I would like to be, but I’m always available via email and I’m happy to make individual appointments for students whenever necessary.
Can you contribute to broadening your foreign students' horizon about Hungary and Hungarian culture?
Since I teach mostly British and American studies, I can’t focus on Hungarian culture at my classes, but every few semesters I offer a special class for international students entitled Introduction to Hungarian History, which provides a brief survey of the country’s history from the origins of the Hungarians to the end of the 20th century.
Could you mention any differences between Hungarian and foreign students in terms of their needs or expectations?
For someone who teaches history and culture, being aware of your students’ cultural background is vital. Since the great majority of our students are Hungarian, we often take their education and background for granted, but as soon as international students are present, a professor has to modify their preconceptions and expectations. After many years of teaching Hungarian history to foreign students as well as teaching Erasmus and other exchange students at my English studies courses, I think I have gained quite a lot of experience in this area. Perhaps the most difficult task has been educating non-European students, whose differ in a cultural sense considerably more from Hungarians than Erasmus exchange students coming from other European countries.
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 regularly propagate our Erasmus scholarship opportunities to our English majors and encourage them to apply, which they should do in larger numbers in my opinion, since the benefits of a semester abroad at another university far outweigh the potential drawbacks, such as the possible delay in their degree studies. I find that they are often afraid of the challenges of spending a semester in a foreign country, far from their family and friends, and they are also worried about how to finance that semester. But those who chose to apply and spent half a year in Ireland, Holland, Finland, Germany, or several other countries where they can apply, they came back with lots of positive experiences, new energies and new friendships.
Last but not least, when you have spare time, how do you usually spend it?
As is the case with many university professors, my job is often my hobby, so I read a lot in my spare time too, and I like watching good movies and TV shows. I used to play tennis weekly, but after a protracted heel injury and operation, I prefer to swim and attend tai-chi trainings, which are excellent for your health and your mental condition too. And I try to spend as much time with my family as possible.