John’s allowing me a guest spot on his “What’s John Thinking” blog. I just hope everyone understands that when “funny” was passed out genetically, I was standing at the back of the line.
This week (Jan. 13-17, 2014), I’ve had the honor of teaching a 15-hour elective course on the Psychology of Religion to eighteen students enrolled in the WISP program at the University of Warsaw. WISP--Warsaw International Studies in Psychology--is an all-English, 5-year psychology program that leads to a master’s degree.
WISP attracts students from all over the world. Some of my students were Polish; others came from Belgium, the Philippines, Sweden, Portugal, Malaysia, and Finland. To be honest, I’m not sure about the home country of every student. I’ll learn more when I grade their final exams. I offered them a few extra credit points to introduce themselves to my Oshkosh students who will be taking a 45-hour Psychology of Religion class during our May interim.
Some of the students enroll in WISP for the whole 5-year undergraduate/graduate program, and others come for a semester through the Erasmus Mundus program which is run by the European Union. According to its website, Erasmus “aims to enhance the quality of higher education and promote dialogue and understanding between people and cultures through mobility and academic cooperation.”
When John and I were here in October, 2011, for the Alzheimer Europe meeting, I was introduced to WISP when a Polish colleague at UW Oshkosh connected me with the Dean of the University of Warsaw who recommended I contact Dr. Emilia Łojek, director of WISP. She kindly invited me to give a lecture to a class even though it was the first week of the semester and she was burdened with administrative tasks. Afterwards, she invited me to submit a proposal to teach a course of my choosing. I selected the Psychology of Religion since they had never offered it in their curriculum. However, because I was concerned about my mom’s anxieties when I traveled, I told them I couldn’t teach in 2012 or 2013.
As many of you know, mom died in May, 2013, and so I was then free to start talking with the WISP folks about scheduling a class for 2014. This class came at the end of the students’ fall semester and while I’ll know more when I get their evaluations after I submit their grades, I feel like it was a success. Several colleagues with experience teaching European students told me that they tend to maintain social distance from professors. However, from the first hour of the course, the students asked questions, made comments, argued with me, and generally engaged in a lively but respectful way with the ideas I presented.
One big difference between this group of students and my students in Oshkosh is that about half were men. In Oshkosh, I often only had one or two men in my classes.
The WISP students clearly knew a lot about many areas of psychology. A WISP faculty member told me that they are required to take only a few courses in other subject areas. In other words, they lack what we usually call “general education.” Although our US students take many hours of classes outside their major, too often they told me they forget everything they learned in them! Hopefully, the new University Studies Program at UW Oshkosh is correcting that.
Before I close I need to say something about the building housing the WISP program and the Polish Psychology Department. It is located several miles from the main University campus, completely isolated from any other university offices. The University located the psychology faculty and students there in the 1970s because they were considered subversive by the Communist regime.
Before the war, the building had been a hospital and a school, but the Germans took it over and made it their command headquarters when they occupied Poland. It is located in the middle of what became the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw. Across the street is a memorial commemorating the place where the trains loaded Jewish people being taken to Treblinka (the memorial is in the shape of a boxcar). I never entered or left the building without feeling a chill of evil, and yet I then rejoiced in seeing bright young psychology students from all over the world going about the business of learning in the 21st century.