Rooted in the world of learning, a faculty member in the School of Education embarked on a 5,000-mile journey in the pursuit of knowledge.
Assistant Professor of Education Alayne Zimmerly traveled to Győr, Hungary with a small group of Arkansans hailing from Monticello and Warren in early September. The group consisted of individuals interested in traveling to Hungary to learn more about the country's education system.
"Our intention was to go as an educational group and observe the different levels of (Hungary's) educational experiences and structure," Zimmerly said.
Zimmerly's group visited three institutions while staying in Győr, including two universities and a high school. The main extent of the trip took place at Széchenyi István University, where Zimmerly answered questions from students, faculty and other members of the campus community about the U.S. and its education system.
Founded in 1968 as the Polytechnic of Transportation and Telecommunication, Széchenyi István did not receive full university status until 2002, partly due to changes to the school in the 1970s and 1980s and the major political shift from communism in the 1990s.
Named after the first king of Hungary St. Stephen, the University reported 7,500 full-time and 2,000 part-time students in 2006. It also employs an academic staff of about 300, including 140 professors and associate professors. The school's curriculum consists mostly of engineering studies, though it does provide studies in business, social work, nursing and medical care, music, international studies and law.
The University established its Institute of Health and Social Studies in 1995. In the academic year of 1996-1997, the institution began its baccalaureate nursing program to accommodate both full-time and distance-learning students.
According to Zimmerly, Csendes Ferenc, first dean, appeared interested in expanding and improving the 10-year-old nursing program through foreign relations with other university nursing programs. Csendes took Zimmerly to meet the vice rector in order to begin establishing a connection that will hopefully lead to a future collaboration within the nursing programs.
After meeting with the vice rector, Zimmerly said, "Dr. Csendes was very excited and said, 'Next time I see you will be at your university to review the nursing program.'"
Zimmerly said all the schools she visited showed interest in collaborating with educational systems in the United States. She said the university even supports an English Club, in which students meet to practice speaking English, to further encourage students' strong interest in the English language.
Nyugat-Magyarországi Egyetem Apácsai Csere János Kar, a teacher training institution of the University of West Hungary that Zimmerly visited, already established educational connections abroad. Members of the faculty at the university also extended an invitation to Zimmerly to attend a conference in October, though distance and time prohibited her from going.
The school, founded as the National School of Győr in 1778, qualified as a college in 1975 and adopted the name of the school organizer and scholarly pedagogue János Apáczai Csere. The school now hosts approximately 4,000 students.
According to the university's site, the possibility to exchange experiences or study abroad with foreign universities increased after Hungary joined the European Union. The school also participates in the Socrates/Erasmus program of the Tempus Public Founds.
Socrates/Erasmus allows the school to form partnerships with foreign educational institutions. The university currently maintains connections with schools in Austria, Germany, Spain, France, Greece, Portugal and Poland. It also established external relations with Slovakia, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Czech Republic and Serbia, in addition to relations with the University of Northern Iowa and Brigham Young University in the United States.
The university reports its teachers visited foreign partner institutions approximately 50 times in the past three years in the areas of health physiology, pedagogy, language pedagogy and research on Hungarians. It also reports about 150 students traveled abroad to study through connections of fine arts, music, sports and sciences.
The school accepted 16 foreign students. In addition, through Socrates/Erasmus it sent three teachers to foreign institutions and hosted seven foreign teachers during the 2006-2007 academic year.
The spirit of international studies showed through Zimmerly as well. She said the trip to Hungary provided her with a great educational experience through comparing university systems and possibly setting up future connections.
"I'm always interested in the different educational institutions and the way they operate," she said. "(Hungary's) teaching program is very different."
Zimmerly encountered several distinct difference between U.S. universities and Hungarian universities during her trip, starting with the availability of alcohol on the Széchenyi István University campus. Széchenyi István also supports a Student Self-Government, which differs greatly from UAM's Student Government Association.
According to the Széchenyi István Web site, "The Student Self-Government asserts the students' legal rights, decides on the allocation of state support and assists in dealing with the educational and social concerns of the students." The student government consists of about 200 students and make decisions about schedules and course offerings, though they do not handle personnel matters.
The student government even handled the bids and plans for remodeling the university dormitories. The Széchenyi István residence halls provide accommodations for 1,300 students and sits on the riverbank, which also allows it to accommodate paying guests.
While the UAM student government plays an important role in student life at the university, it does not juggle the responsibilities of construction matters, course offerings and schedules. However, this independent student-run government does not always operate at maximum efficiency as Zimmerly noticed.
"We came on the first day of classes, but they didn't start because the schedules weren't up yet," she said.
Despite the glitch with the schedules, a student-run government speaks to the enthusiasm Hungarians show towards education. This enthusiasm may result from the reformed education system students must endure, which features more specialized schools.
Beginning at the age of 3, students attend three years of kindergarten or preschool programs. Similar to the U.S. system, the Hungarian system divides general schooling into two sections - primary and secondary levels. Students spend eight years in the primary and secondary levels before moving on.
One major difference between the education system, lies in the steps after general education. Once students complete the lower-secondary level, they move on to one of three different upper-secondary levels, including vocational schools, secondary vocational schools and general secondary school.
The different vocational schools offer students the chance to learn a trade and become certified in three to five years with some additional educational learning. The general secondary school provides general academic education for four to five years and prepares students for higher education through a university.
With the schools specializing in specific areas of study, students choose their path around the time they complete junior high school. Therefore, students can choose which high school they want to attend. However, the pressures of a rigorous education system can take its toll.
While visiting a high school in Győr, Zimmerly heard a tragic story from a teacher at the high school. The teacher held up a picture of a young student as she described the pressures the student felt in school, which eventually led to suicide. The teacher's story illustrated the fervor Hungarians feel towards education.
"Their students are a lot more serious than our students," Zimmerly said.
Zimmerly's trip to Hungary gave her the opportunity to observe, not only the structure and systems of education in a foreign land, but also the experiences and attitudes of the students. Zimmerly described the trip as an exploration to discover what UAM can learn and what it can share.
Zimmerly gave the Széchenyi István University a UAM catalog and hopes the School of Education will have the opportunity to continue the connection she initiated independently.
Zimmerly who obtained degrees from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the University of Central Arkansas at Conway and Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, has lived in Monticello for two years. She traveled abroad for the first time when she visited Hungary and noted the difficulties of language barriers.
"The language just totally blew me away," she said. "I've never been in an environment where I couldn't understand the language or read the signs."
However, despite the trouble with communication, Zimmerly said she enjoyed her trip and the learning experiences and would like to travel abroad again in the future. She may have the chance to revisit Hungary during Spring Break 2008. According to Zimmerly, the Baptist Collegiate Ministries invited her to join their entourage.
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©The Voice 2007
Revised 09/17/2007 07:50:05 PM — http://www.uamont.edu/Organizations/TheVoice/5_8/education.htm