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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

UC Davis professors share experiences teaching abroad

Professors reflect on their favorite moments from teaching overseas

When describing their study abroad experience, a student may mention the country they studied in, the food they ate and the culture they encountered. Amid the travel adventures and awe-inspiring moments, however, lies the academics that students participate in throughout their program. At UC Davis, many professors participate in study abroad programs and instruct students overseas. 

    Tim McNeil, a UC Davis professor in the Department of Design and director of the UC Davis Design Museum, is the instructor for the Design in Europe program. Born and raised in the U.K., McNeil was excited at the prospect of sharing the places he knew so well in an academic setting. Moreover, he passionately believes in the importance of international and global experiences.

    McNeil shared that his favorite experience from teaching abroad was watching the students collaborate on projects with community partners and present their work, whether they designed a project or wrote up a proposal. 

“The people we work with are gaining from the experience of working with a group of students from UC Davis and any other campuses, and getting a different perspective on what they’re doing from a more international audience and from an audience that is not typically one they’re able to […] communicate with,” McNeil said.

Additionally, McNeil said that his program offers students the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom, including in parks, cafés and even on the beach. 

“There’s something about this outdoor classroom, or shall we say traveling nomadic classroom, that moves from where we go from city to city that I like,” McNeil said. “It’s very rewarding in that sense and offers just a different way of teaching that allows for more experimentation and a little bit more freedom.”

    Mitchell Singer, a UC Davis professor and the vice-chair of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and a Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology advisor, served as the faculty of record for the Bio Sci 2A on the Emerald Isle study abroad program. Singer said that he jumped at the chance to participate in a study abroad program because he studied abroad in Brussels during high school. 

    “I think that it’s really important that all students should really have an experience where they’re out of their comfort zone, in a different environment, living with people who don’t speak the same language, who don’t look like them,” Singer said. “I think it’s really important that people have that opportunity, and [studying] abroad is a phenomenal way of doing it.”

    Singer’s favorite part about participating in a study abroad program is getting to know his students in a way that isn’t possible during his usual 500-600 person courses. 

    “I got to interact with 17 students in BIS2A relatively intimately,” Singer said. “We would take a bus ride up to the Cliffs of Moher, and on the bus students were asking me questions about biology. So you really get to interact with them. This is gonna sound really weird, but it was the first time I ever got to take my BIS2A class out for a beer.”

    Looking forward, Singer put in a proposal for a program to teach Microbiology 102 in Brussels which was approved and will take place in Summer 2022. 

    Jeannette Money, a UC Davis professor in the Department of Political Science, taught in Geneva, Switzerland on the politics of global inequality from 2009 to 2018. Money shared that she loves the small learning environment that instructing study abroad courses provides. 

    “My favorite part about teaching abroad is my ability to interact with a small group of students in the classroom and in professional settings,” Money said. 

    Moreover, Money reflected on study abroad’s ability to transcend student’s societal understandings. 

 “The most important part about studying abroad is to gain an understanding of how people live in another society, what their preferences are and how they organize their society, in part because that helps you understand yourself and your own society better,” Money said.

Written by: Nora Farahdel — features@theaggie.org

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