Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Pace Quickens

The Pace Quickens

After spending roughly our first week here in Poznan getting settled and making all the necessary preparations and arrangements for everyday life, our official activities have begun at rapid speed.  I think I can tell the story best through photos for this post, so let me sequentially describe activities in recent days.

First Day of Classes

On Monday, I had my first class meetings with students, leading an 11:30 a.m. course in Internal Communication Management and a 1:15 p.m. course in International Public Relations.  Each class is 90 minutes, so there is just a 15-minute break between classes.  Fortunately, they are held in the same room. The classroom building is a magnificent new facility just recently completed, and the classroom itself is state-of-the-art.  A bit distracting is the fantastic view of the castle across the boulevard, but I can electronically lower the window shades from my hi-tech lectern, so I can deal with that.  

Because I'm teaching in English, my classes are particularly aimed at international students attending the university (for whom English is the common language).  My classes are for graduate students, so their language proficiency is excellent.  I'm disappointed that I have no Polish students in my classes, but I expect I will have other opportunities to work with Polish students, perhaps providing thesis and dissertation assistance.  

First day of class
As has been my tendency for 20 years of teaching, I prepared far more material for each class than I could possibly present, but the students seemed quite engaged.  I think many will return for the next class!  

The challenge for me lies in finding the right level to pitch my material given the extraordinarily varied backgrounds represented by the students.  Not only do they come from Spain, France, Romania, Italy, Ukraine, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Taiwan, China, and elsewhere, but they come from varying disciplines such as human resources, management, finance, economics, etc.  Establishing common ground for a discrete discipline such as public relations in this context introduces complexities.  

First day of class

Regardless, the classes went extremely well, and I'm eager to step into the classroom again and guide these great students through the remainder of the term

Fulbright Gathering in Warsaw

On Monday this week, there was an orientation meeting for U.S. Fulbrighters in Poland.  Because of my teaching schedule, I was unable to attend, but my wife, Robin, took the train to Warsaw (about 3 hours) to represent me at the meeting -- and, of course, take detailed notes to share with me later.  She had a wonderful time meeting the other Fulbright scholars and student grantees spending a various number of months here in Poland.  Other faculty members are either teaching, conducting research or mixing the two.  Student Fulbrighters are either conducting research or serving as ETA's -- English Teaching Assistants.  The meeting Monday covered issues such as Polish culture, the Polish system of higher education, and more routine issues such as opening and maintaining a Polish bank account or obtaining medical treatment if needed.

All U.S. student and faculty Fulbrighters serving in Poland, 2015/16, plus the Polish Fulbright Commission staff.  Photo taken at Poland's Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

I was able to take the Express train (just 2 1/2 hours) to Warsaw following my second class on Monday, arriving in Warsaw in time to attend the Fulbright dinner at a great restaurant -- a splendid opportunity to meet my fellow Fulbrighters in an informal setting as we enjoyed schabowy, smalec and pivo.

On Tuesday in Warsaw, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education hosted a graduation ceremony for Polish Fulbrighters who had spent time with U.S. universities during the 2014/15 academic year and had now returned home to Poland.  It was wonderful to hear of their experiences and impressions.  All the U.S. Fulbrighters now serving in Poland were invited, and it was a privilege to be part of this impressive ceremony.  Of course, like most ceremonies here, it was followed by a sumptuous lunch.
Welcoming remarks by Polish Fulbright Commission Director Aleksandra Pawłowska.
Welcoming remarks by Mr. John Law, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Warsaw.

The Ministry of Science and Higher Education hosted Fulbrighters for lunch following the graduation ceremony.

Organizers soon realized there was a shortage of seating for Fulbrighters enjoying the lunch, but Fulbrighters are problem-solvers.

Robin and I returned by train to Poznan Tuesday evening -- a pleasant 3-hour ride that brought us to Poznan around 10:30 p.m.  Despite the late hour, the Poznan train station is still a vibrant place, and public transportation in the city is superb -- a short walk to the tram station, a 10-minute ride and a short walk, and we were home around 11.

The University Launches the Academic Year

At my home university, UNC Charlotte, we have an annual tradition of beginning each academic year in August with an event called Convocation.  It's an opportunity for faculty and staff to gather as the chancellor, provost and others welcome us back and chart a course for the new year.  At the Poznan University of Economics, a similar event is held, but it is considerably more formal.  I attended it Wednesday and was fascinated by the highly structured and ceremonial character of the occasion.  There were instrumental and vocal music, presentations of certificates and flowers, and a succession of speeches of various lengths by distinguished guests and university leaders.  A representative group of students recited an oath, pledging themselves to the pursuit of knowledge and to respect university staff.  There are several formalities incorporated into UNC Charlotte's convocation, but this event in Poznan was considerably more formal.

Poznan University of Economics Convocation. 

The university rector (equivalent to university president or chancellor in the U.S.) presided over the Convocation ceremony.  Note the formal academic regalia worn by the rector and university leaders.

Following the 2-hour ceremony, a buffet lunch was served, and this was an excellent opportunity to meet many of my new colleagues in an informal setting.  I spoke with both the rector (equivalent of a U.S. university president or chancellor) and pro-rector (equivalent to provost); they were both warm and welcoming.

So, it's been a full week, and I still have a good deal of prep work for my next classes.  I'm also trying to master the slightly different version of Moodle used here at the university.  Moodle is a web-based class platform that permits the instructor to post class materials such as schedules, assignments, reading materials, etc., and to interact with students in the class.  I've used it for years at UNC Charlotte, but I still need to learn the unique features of the system in place here.  Fortunately, I've received extensive assistance and instruction from my great colleagues in the department here.

Thanks for visiting this blog, and I hope you'll return!

I must note that a number of the photos in this entry were taken by official photographers of the Fulbright Commission and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Arrival in Poznan

Getting Settled

We arrived in Poznan Wednesday, September 16, after a pleasant and uneventful journey – direct from Charlotte to Munich (about 8 ½ hours), a short layover, then a direct connecting flight to Poznan (less than one hour).  Weather through Saturday was quite warm and sunny – reached 88 F on Thursday (31 C).  Since Sunday, it’s been cooler but pleasant.

We’ve been quite busy getting settled in our apartment and making the necessary arrangements for everyday life: opening a Polish bank account, activating mobile phones, arranging for Internet in our apartment, etc.  Every step takes time to navigate.  During my military career, moving to other countries was fairly easy; we were stationed in Germany, England and Belgium for about 10 years collectively.  In each case, there was infrastructure in place to accommodate the transition for active duty military members.  With a Fulbright, we obviously need to be much more independent, and we find that our overseas experiences in the military permit us to be much more flexible and resilient now in that regard.  We expect challenges, and we’re prepared to deal with them. 

Nevertheless, because we enjoyed a 6-month Fulbright assignment here in Poznan in 2012, we feel very much at home here.  We’ve already reconnected with great Polish friends, and we comfortably use public transportation like natives.  Well, we did make one mistake our first full day here, taking the wrong bus.  Being flexible, though, we simply got off that bus, took the next bus heading back to the point of our mistake, then caught the correct bus – total time lost was around 10 minutes.  For convenience, there’s an excellent website for trip planning on public transportation in Poznan and even an “App.”  Click on the image below, then click on Journey Planner if you’d like to plan your route ahead of your visit to Poznan.

For example, if I enter my apartment as the starting point (by clicking on the map) and my host university as the destination, the site tells me instantly to walk five minutes to the Nr. 5 Tram, ride it for seven minutes to the St. Martin stop, then walk five minutes to my university – a 17-minute journey.  The site/app will also tell me when the next tram is due, but they run so frequently that I really don’t think about timing at that level.
Of course, living here ten months means we needed a “set of wheels,” and we have made that significant purchase.  The only “wheels” of our own we plan to use is this handy trolley.  It’s sturdy, lightweight and carries a substantial load of groceries and other purchases.  It’s easy to lift on and off trams and buses and folds conveniently for storage.  Excellent gas mileage as well.

Robin with our new set of wheels.

Enjoying Poznan

It hasn’t been all work.  We took advantage of the splendid weather during our first days as well.  On Friday evening, we made the 15-minute journey on foot and by tram to the Stary Rynek – the Old Market Square that is the heart of Poznan’s Stary Miasto – Old City – area.  For a good part of the year, the square’s many fine restaurants and cafés are augmented with outdoor seating where visitors can enjoy food, beverages and the picturesque setting.  We did our part.

Alan taking advantage of a pleasant Friday evening on the Stary Rynek -- Old Market Square

Next Stage

Next week, classes begin for the Poznan University of Economics where I will be teaching.  I’m slated to teach two graduate classes: one on Internal/Employee Communication Management, and one on International/Global Public Relations.  I will also be expected to provide regular guest lectures on a variety of public relations topics at PUE and at other universities in Poland, perhaps even in neighboring countries.  I will also be called upon to provide advice and counsel to graduate students preparing master’s theses and doctoral dissertations.  I have no doubt my plate will be full during our time here. 

Thanks for visiting my blog!  Talk to you again soon.