Tell us about your very first travel experience.
I traveled to London in 1997 (I believe) for my first study abroad class. It was the start of something very special and fed my passion for being immersed in a different culture. Our hotel at the time was very cozy and friendly and had a lot of nooks and crannies for teaching spaces. We were in the heart of London, zone 1. I was surprised by many different things on my first visit—the ubiquitous sandwich offerings, Marks and Spencer’s orange juice, the gates of Buckingham Palace, the London underground, castles, cathedrals, Hyde Park, my seats for the theater, the wonderful backstage tours of famous dramatic venues. Most of all, I enjoyed the wonder and excitement of the students as they prepared to experience one of the world’s greatest cities. My first travel experience that was perhaps most meaningful was leaving India to travel to the United States to begin work on my doctoral program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. You’d have to call me about that as this was a life-changing, epiphany-filled experience in many ways. This was the summer of 1982 that began it all. I had not even flown ever before. Dang. Double dang.
What made you decide to teach in Europe’s most moving classroom?
My first meeting in Clarksville was with Doug Mackaman who was extremely amiable, very informative, and interesting. I love good communicators. Period. Doug is that guy. As I researched Catalyst online, I realized that this was a program offering great independence to the students in several aspects. I liked the “daring” model of Catalyst. My previous experience has been more with a “hand-holding” model with everything orchestrated down to the last detail with extraordinary safety considerations at the top.
I sense Catalyst is a more open model allowing freer expression and exploration while learning the material. It’s a program that would teach a student some of the exploration and discovery skills and allowing them perhaps to use their own best judgment on figuring out how to get from A to B. There’s good communication, good groups to join, people participate [and they do it with enthusiasm].
What makes your class on The Catalyst different than a course set in a traditional classroom?
I love being outdoors with my students, and when Doug explained that we don’t use traditional classroom settings, I was intrigued, but also excited to try a new model (actually, it’s very old school to sit at the feet of the guru at the base of a large tree). It will be fun not to worry about projectors and laptops. I look forward to being out and about in London and Paris just talking about Shakespeare, his life and times, and the works that have cemented his reputation (arguably) as the greatest playwright in the English language. London is a perfect location for studying the business of theater and the options for field trips are endless. Why spend them within 4 walls? Walking 6-9 miles a day is de rigueur for me in London with my students. Who knew weight loss would be an added bonus?
What is your favorite city on The Catalyst and why?
I have visited Paris more as a tourist rather than as a professor and have not been to Berlin or Prague. So, for now, I would have to say London would be my favorite city because you could not ask for a more natural fit between the world of Shakespeare and the metropolis that is London. England is a naturally picturesque location in so many aspects. As Dr. Johnson noted so aptly, “Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
Tell us about a travel moment that changed your life perspective or worldview.
While study abroad can be a lot of fun, it works best when learning and knowledge also become part of the equation. One great travel moment was the day we had a class with Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. Being taught Shakespeare by Wells is like having Stephen Hawking teach your physics class. That was truly a magical day because we also got to see some of the amazing treasures and rare artifacts of the Birthplace Trust that are locked in a vault.
How long have you been going overseas to teach? How do your travels enhance the way that you teach and what you have to offer to Catalyst students?
I grew up in India and have traveled to Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Hong Kong, and Australia. I am a true international professor in every sense of that word, so I have much to offer in terms of (I have taught now for 37 years) leadership, knowledge, and experience. What I have to offer Catalyst students is a friendly, yet scholarly, approach to learning. I challenge my students intellectually and hope their curiosity never wanes when it comes to learning about our world. The one word people associate with me quite often is “passionate” when it comes to my subject and “enthusiastic” when it comes to my style.
I love making connections with the world around me, whether it’s a cathedral misericord or a tiny statue of Peter Pan, Little Ben, or the smallest version of St. Paul’s in London. I can see tourist boats on the Thames and can instantly launch into a lecture on the historical importance of this mighty river relative to London and connect all of that with merchant trade with the rest of Europe! Walking around with students, and stopping along the way to have micro lectures: Priceless!