Daniel Reynaud (Assistant Dean of Learning and Teaching at Avondale College of Higher Education) and Lisa Clark Diller (Professor of Early Modern History at Southern Adventist University) are currently enrolled in a year-long faculty exchange program. They recently interviewed each other for Spectrum about the exchange, differences between Avondale and Southern, and between Australia and Tennessee (USA). In this first part of a two-part series, Daniel interviews Lisa about her experience.
Daniel: How familiar were you with Avondale College of Higher Education and the Australian university system before you began your exchange?
Lisa: I knew almost nothing about the Australian university system (including Avondale), other than it was more like the European/British system than ours. I had been on Avondale’s campus twice and had a sense of what programs it offered, its size, and how it “felt” on campus.
How about Australia: familiar territory or new culture?
I’ve visited Australia to stay with good friends eight times since 2006, so I felt like I had a certain sense of what some areas of Australian life and culture are like. It’s a big, diverse country, though, so I still felt I was coming to something new.
What differences between Avondale and Southern stand out for you?
Mostly the size, which contributes to greater campus-wide knowledge. I am meeting a wider range of students and staff/faculty than I think I would if I were going to a school more Southern’s size. There’s also a higher level of government accountability regarding what faculty do in the classroom assessments, and that’s unusual to me.
What are the continuities and similarities?
Undergraduates seem to be very much the same around the world (if we’re just comparing two parts of the world)! I feel extremely comfortable in my classroom and in my conversations with the students. We’re embarked on the same kind of project in the humanities, no matter where we are.
How would you compare the cultures of Avondale and Southern?
That’s a hard one. I still am not sure I know the “culture” of Avondale. There seems to be a strong ethic here among staff/faculty of supporting each other’s endeavours and knowing what the others are doing in terms of research, service, and creativity. I think we don’t always know at Southern what our colleagues are involved with. There’s a similar level of concern among student and staff at both schools with the life of the Spirit and participating in spiritual activities, and there is a similar commitment to sports and staying fit—maybe a bit stronger among the faculty at Avondale than at Southern.
How about Australian culture and American, particularly that of Tennessee?
I’m still learning about rural culture in Australia and may be mostly hearing stories from others rather than observing for myself, but the idea of wanting to do risky “fun” things that involve silly behaviour seems similar. There’s more formality in personal relationships in Tennessee—we are more likely to give titles to professionals and to request that children use “Aunt” or “Miss/Mr.” in front of first names of adults. There’s way more of a culture of healthy food here in Australia than in Tennessee. The humidity is the same! Although Australians are more tolerant of insects and heat—they don’t need to have the air conditioning on all the time.
What have you found to be the biggest challenges/surprises?
It has rained for four weeks straight. Everyone assures me this is unusual. But it has stymied some of the planned outdoor activities on campus and made travel and being outside a bit more challenging. I wasn’t expecting it to be so wet, but am glad for the locals who need the rain.
What would you tell an American colleague who was planning a similar exchange?
Do it. The hospitality is overwhelming. Feeling valued and adapting one’s skills to a new place is empowering. It is more fun to stretch to a new space or requirement when there is so much good will and tolerance for your mistakes due to you being a new-comer.
How has the experience to date changed you?
It has made me more willing to adapt to the changes at my own institution—I’ve already had some practice doing that here, so why am I resistant at home? It’s also made me healthier—I’m eating better and exercising more due to the changed culture of my environment.
Is there anything you would change if you could start afresh?
I would come earlier so I could stay longer. I would bring less stuff. Aren’t those always the conclusions we come to when we travel?
What have been the biggest pluses of the experience? The negatives?
The biggest pluses have been getting to travel around and enjoy both the natural beauty of Australia and the fun and inspiring people I have met. There’s a big health benefit as well in eating locally and being part of the culture of exercise that this little “blue zone” in Cooranbong has. I’ve also appreciated learning more about the different priorities for education in the Australian system. I would say the negative side is how much work it does take on the part of our colleagues to make this happen. The rest of our department bears a heavy burden while we are gone, and we are so grateful to them for helping us have this experience.
Do you have an interesting story or anecdote that comes from your exchange experience?
The first week I was here, we had a beautiful convocation service planned by Dr. Lindsay Morton (English professor) that featured a dedication and communion/foot-washing service. A great many people on campus came to this, and I was reminded of how similar the concerns of Christian higher education are around the world. Students, staff, and faculty all pledged to pursue knowledge in order to be shaped more into the image of God and use their skills to bless the world. The student leaders are clearly both incredibly creative and committed to spiritual growth. I felt inspired and fully integrated into this small but talented corner of the Adventist academic world.
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