This winter break, while students and faculty have mostly fled Mount Oread, Kansas University officials are using all the empty space to prepare a small group of international scholars for an extended stay in the United States.
It’s part of an initiative called the Junior Faculty Development Program, and KU has been preparing foreign teachers and researchers for the program for six years now.
The U.S. Department of State funds the program.
The professors’ specialties are varied, ranging from business administration to linguistics to sociology. After spending a few weeks at KU, the professors will disperse to a variety of universities across the country, where they’ll work in their own fields. All told, they’ll be in the country for only a few months.
“It’s the chance of a lifetime,” said Margaret Coffey, associate director of KU’s Applied English Center, which is helping organize part of the program.
While here, the 18 professors are honing their English language skills, learning about American culture and absorbing parts of the higher education system in America to take back to their home countries.
They’ll be joined by nearly 60 more professors from abroad at KU in the beginning of January to undergo more preparation before they are sent to their respective universities to study.
The program, Coffey said, is quite competitive, so the professors chosen to participate are real leaders in their home countries. Though they came from across the globe, central Asian countries were heavily represented among the group.
At a Thursday morning session in which they covered stereotypes — both of Americans and of people in their own countries — the professors seemed quite taken with the United States and the Lawrence community.
“We got informed on so many things,” said Gulnamo Dustambaeva, an English teacher from Tajikistan. “It’s very useful. We want to use it when we are going back to our country.”
The group raved about the food in Lawrence and said that the people in the Midwest were so friendly.
People in central Asia can be a little ... one professor began, before pausing to find the right word.
“Rude,” another finished.
Several of them expressed amazement at Internet availability — you can even get it in coffee shops, one person pointed out. And Dustambaeva was particularly taken with the library system on campus, especially with the Spencer Research Library’s collection of rare and old books.
It was clear the professors were intent on making the most of their opportunity. And all appreciated the opportunity given to them. Nana Gogokhia, of Georgia, said she hoped to create a network of contacts while in the U.S. to use to exchange information in the future.
“Our education system is not as developed as Americans’,” said Aigul Yessengaliyeva, a sociology teacher from Kazakhstan, so she’s been absorbing as much information as possible on the incorporation of technology into the classroom. “I like all of this very much.”