International professors teach at St. Louis campus
Tall with blonde hair just past her shoulders, Elizabeth Knass walked into Sverdrup 205 to teach her first class of Introduction to Interactive Digital Media at Webster University in St. Louis. When she introduced herself to the class that Tuesday evening, she revealed her thick Austrian accent. Knass is a professor at Webster Vienna, but is teaching courses in St. Louis during the Spring II term.
Webster students often have classes with professors of different nationalities. Whether that professor comes to their campus from another country, or whether the student studies abroad, they have the chance to learn from people from different cultures.
Hannah Stadlober graduated from Webster Vienna in 2011. She was a student there for three years. During her time at Webster, she studied abroad two times: one semester in Geneva and one semester in Thailand. She also did an exchange program in high school, which took her to St. Louis. She said her experience learning internationally and having professors with diverse nationalities enhanced her education.
“You learn how to interact with different people from different backgrounds, which is something I definitely consider a big benefit I got from attending Webster. With teachers with different nationalities comes a variety of different teaching styles that you as a student have to adapt to in order to learn,” Stadlober said. “I think it teaches you to be flexible and adaptive; open and tolerant.”
Like Knass, many Webster professors travel abroad to other campuses to teach either temporarily or full-time.
Julian Scaff, an Arizona native, was a professor at Webster Leiden for six years in the art department. This past January, Scaff transferred to the St. Louis campus after learning about an opening for a professor position. While in St. Louis, he noticed a difference in the student-faculty relationship between the two campuses. In Leiden, the drinking age is 16 years old for beer and wine. Scaff said that this could account for the more laid- back relationship between students and teachers.
“It’s considered part of the intellectual culture. Quite frequently after class in the evening, you go down to the local bar or pub and continue the intellectual conversations you had in class. So the intellectual culture carries on in the social realm,” Scaff said. “There’s more distance (in St. Louis). It’s more of a formal relationship.”
Scaff said he’s also noticed that the students have a lot of self-motivation and high academic standards for themselves in St. Louis, more than what he’s seen in Leiden.
Knass has been a student and a professor at the St. Louis and Vienna campuses. She said a big difference between the two places is the amount of diversity amongst the student body.
“Webster Vienna has a very multicultural student body. Most of the students there are not from Austria or the United States. Students are from the Eastern countries and from the Arab countries. It’s really international,” Knass said. “Here (the students) are based in St. Louis, this is their home. There’s not so many international students that come from abroad, or even from other states.”
Visiting professors sometimes have to change the way they teach their courses because the way of life and thinking around the world are different.
Yupa Saisanan Na Ayudhya is a professor at Webster University St. Louis. She is Thai but has always been stationed at the home campus. She said she’s gone to the Thailand campus to shadow other professors and planned to be a visiting professor there. She had her courses prepared, but, due to the red and yellow shirt protests going on the semester she was scheduled to teach there, her classes had to be canceled. She said in planning her curriculum for Thailand, she had to make some modifications to her curriculum because her students’ mindset is different in Thailand than in St. Louis.
“I adapted the content to fit the audience and students… For example, if I want to talk about racism, well over there they don’t have (that issue),” she said. “Westerners tend to think of a noun and Easterners tend to think of a verb because the way of life is different. (Westerners) have a concept to put a label on. Over there, there’s no concept to grab. It’s more of a quest. Instead of saying ‘Hello’, they say ‘Have you eaten rice yet?’… There, not everyone has a full stomach, so the way you greet them is with concern.”
Scaff said he thinks having diversity amongst educators enhances students’ learning outcomes.
“Professors bring not only their academic experience, but also their personal life experience to the classroom. The more diversity they have in their personal experience — either where they are from of places they’ve lived … it brings a certain diversity and experience, and perspective to the way they teach,” Scaff said.
Knass has only been teaching as a visiting professor in St. Louis for three weeks. She said she would like to come back again a second time, but right now she’s just getting used to things here.
“Because this is just the first time; you have to figure out how it works. And the second time you usually enjoy it more because then you know what to expect, and you just set up in a way that makes it go smoothly,” Knass said.