Faculty from abroad enrich NMU experience

sarah.oneill

In countries throughout the world, one characteristic remains constant: the importance of culture. The act of experiencing the world’s many different traditions and societies is a privilege most commonly experienced through travel.

NMU students have the opportunity to get a view of the world without leaving campus by tapping in to the minds of international professors who bring their cultural background and experiences straight to the class room.

Mohey Mowafy, a longtime professor in the Health, Physical Education and Recreation department, is dedicated to educating students on different world cultures, including his own. Originally from Egypt, Mowafy said that many students cannot travel and should still be able to learn about cultures from all over the world.

“I would not be the person I am today if I would not have travelled,” he said. “But there are those who cannot do so because it is expensive, or they are scared. We should be able to bring the world to them.”

Mowafy, who teaches courses on human nutrition, began teaching at Ain-Shams University in a district of Cairo called Shobra. He brings the lessons he learned throughout his life in Egypt to his students.

“Egypt’s philosophies of life are very fatalistic, whatever happens is supposed to happen,” Mowafy said. “Work ethic is also taught very early and is very sacred. If you do not commit time to what you consider important, you are not going to get very far.”

Mowafy conveys this message to his students in hopes it will help them succeed in his classes, as well as everyday life, he said.

In his courses, Mowafy uses many Egyptian words to describe things related to the class, because he finds them more descriptive. He also shows slides from home and often contrasts the way people live in the United States and Egypt.

An Egyptian tradition he uses to personalize his classes with a small amount of students is the act of sharing a meal.

“I invite my smaller classes in to my home for a meal,” Mowafy said. “The act of breaking bread is sacred in Egypt.”

Another professor who shares his cultural background with Northern students is chemistry assistant professor Sergei Slobodzian. Originally from Ukraine, he received his pharmacy degree there before obtaining his Ph.D. from the University of Maine.

Slobodzian, who has taught at NMU since 2005, uses personal experiences while teaching.

“I talk about many chemicals used in Ukraine that may be different than here,” Slobodzian said. “For example, compounds used to treat forms of cancer have been banned here but are still being used in the Ukraine.”

He also uses the strict education he received while growing up in Ukraine, which he said is dedicated more to math and science than in the United States.

“I grew up doing math without a calculator until about seventh grade,” he said. “Emphasis on simple math and science are much heavier [in Ukraine].”

Also using his country’s area of expertise is English professor J. Marek Haltof. Haltof, who is from Cieszyn in southern Poland, uses Central Europe’s abundance of successful filmmakers as an example in his courses on film.

“All of my classes often feature films from Europe,” Haltof said. “I frequently talk about filmmakers related to my background. Many are from Central Europe, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.”

One of his new courses, Authorship in Cinema, focuses on two iconic filmmakers who began their careers in Poland: Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Haltof not only brings the culture of Poland to students but also his experience from conducting research and living in other countries. While completing his masters in the ’80s, he lived in Australia for three years.

“[My courses] are a good experience, both in a cultural and political context,” Haltof said. “I try to be personal, and use my research expertise and many historical references because I was there to see them happen. Plus, I teach about foreign films with a foreign accent.”

History is also a big part of how Hsin-Ling Hsieh, an economics assistant professor, relates the topic she teaches to her students. Hsieh, who is originally from Taiwan, uses the philosophies of ancient Chinese culture while teaching.

“It is beneficial from a student’s point of view because I share something unique with them,” Hsieh said. “I use not only materials from the regular text books, but some things they’ve never seen before.”

One of the stories she tells her students is of the eight Chinese immortals, based on real people during the Tang dynasty, which is seen as the peak of traditional Chinese culture. These people are all from different societies but all possess special powers, showing that people are capable of good no matter where they are from, Hsieh said.

One of the immortals is seen riding a donkey backward, which is based on an ancient philosophy that sometimes when you believe you’re moving forward, you’re actually moving backward.

“The immortal rode the donkey backward to make sure he was truly moving forward,” Hsieh said. “Many times we think we are moving ahead in human society and economic growth, but we really are not.”

At the beginning of each semester, Hsieh asks her students to write the advantages and disadvantages of our current way of life on the board. Many students believe life is better now than it was in the past, but as our current economic downfall shows, they are not always right, she said.

Hsieh shares this with her students in hopes it will help them understand what real economic growth represents, and to distinguish the advantages from disadvantages in today’s society.

“It is a pleasure to share with people,” she said. “[The story] is really enlightening and inspiring, and I hope when they feel stressed they think about the given solution.”