CEHHS Faculty member spends summer as visiting fellow in Germany

8/23/2017

What's a professor to do when, at the end of a course's first class session, the students begin rapping in unison on the seminar room desktops? Ask Dr. Paul Fossum: This was one of the cultural curiosities he encountered during his time as a guest professor in Germany.

Professor Paul Fossum at the Westfälische-Wilhelms Universität in Münster, Germany
Dr. Paul Fossum between classes at the Westfälische-Wilhelms Universität in Münster, Germany.

MÜNSTER, GERMANY. - College of Education, Health, and Human Services' Associate Professor Dr. Paul Fossum spent this 2017 spring and summer in Münster, Germany  as a Visiting Fellow at the Westfälische-Wilhelms Universität (WWU).

Dr. Fossum, whose guest professorship placed him within the International and Comparative Education section in WWU's Institute for Education (IfE), taught a graduate-level seminar on comparative trends in teacher professionalization, met regularly with master's and doctoral level students affiliated with the institute, and assisted as a participant and occasional leader of the colloquium held regularly within the IfE.

In the classes he led and observed, Fossum says he didn't anticipate the diversity of the student body he found at WWU—something he hadn't generally encountered during prior time in the country.  His seminar class, for example, included students from Brazil, Turkey, and Greece (and the mother of one student on the roster hailed originally from Michigan and graduated from UM-Ann Arbor, Fossum learned).

Dr. Fossum  and WWU doctoral students
Dr. Fossum with WWU doctoral students on a break between Institute for Education seminar activities.

Community diversity—an abiding strength of UM-Dearborn—is a strength that increasingly characterizes German universities like WWU as well, Fossum says, making the German university's already-strong students sharper and more capable and experienced as thinkers.

Fossum also benefitted through the inside look at administrative and other out-of-the-classroom activities he gained as a visiting member of the IfE community, enjoying the unique opportunity to meet both formally and informally with faculty, staff, and administrators elsewhere at WWU.

In addition to these learning opportunities, unexpected cultural quirks drove home the value of the trip for Fossum such as the curious matter of the desk rapping at the end of the class.

What may at one time have functioned as a sort of applause seems nowadays to serve as a group acknowledgement not only that a learning activity over for the day but also as a gesture that the learning opportunity just ended was a privilege worthy of noting collectively in some way.  It's a kind of academic group "Huzzah!" Fossum concluded.  As disarming as it seemed initially, he says, "I soon decided I liked the custom.  And anyway, 'vive la différence' as they say."