SRU and Hungarian physical education school enjoy unique partnership

Wei Bian in Hungary

Wei Bian, fourth from left, Slippery Rock University associate professor of physical and health education, visited with faculty, student-teachers and their cooperating teachers from the University of Physical Education in Budapest, Hungary, last month as part of the University’s exchange program with UPE.

June 19, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - When Wei Bian, Slippery Rock University associate professor of physical and health education, made her first visit to Europe last month to observe teaching methods in Hungary, she suddenly felt as though she was much closer to her native China than a map would show.

"In the U.S. we encourage our student-teachers to interact with students, ask them questions and check for understanding," said Bian, who supervises student teachers in SRU's physical and health education program. "In Hungary, as in China, it's more of a command style (like saying), 'I told you what to do and you follow.' It's not a lot of talking, just do, do, do."

Bian's observation is just one of the many ways faculty, students and administrators are learning from an international exchange program between SRU and the University of Physical Education in Budapest, Hungary. SRU's partnership with UPE dates back to the 1990s, but only recently have the institutions entered into an agreement that is unlike traditional exchange programs.

Not only do students from both institutions enroll at the other for an entire semester, but faculty and administrators also visit the other campus for shorter stays to share ideas and collaborate. The Erasmus Plus program, a grant funded by the European Union, pays all travel and living expenses.

SRU is the only U.S.-based institution that UPE has partnered with through Erasmus Plus. UPE is the top sports and physical education institution in Hungary and the alma mater of Istvan Kovacs, SRU assistant professor of physical and health education. He helped arrange the Erasmus Plus partnership.

"This is one of the most active exchange programs at SRU," Kovacs said. "It allows for both cultural and educational exchanges as well as the sharing of new ideas. It's not only a great opportunity for students to travel to another country as they learn, but students benefit from the faculty excursions since it is a teaching program. Faculty bring different knowledge and some specialize in coaching for a specific sport, physical education teaching or a certain physical activity program."

Each year, up to two students from each institution enroll at the other school for a semester and two faculty teach up to eight hours in the classroom during their weeklong stay. For example, UPE faculty member Kornelia Tuza taught SRU students about team handball for the Secondary School Wellness Teaching Methods class last spring. When Bian traveled to UPE May 14-20, she worked with their student teachers and observed a club volleyball practice.

Daily physical education classes are mandated in Hungarian public schools and the curriculum is focused more on developing sport-specific skills for competition, rather than in the U.S. where some states only have one elementary physical education class per week and the focus is on wellness and physical fitness. However, according Kovacs, the partnership is not about dwelling on the countries' differences.

"We focus on similarities and how we can best utilize a professor who is coming here for a week or a student going for a semester," Kovacs said. "That's the beauty of it; hopefully we learn from the different cultures and teaching methods and can apply what we see as a good fit for our society and education."

"I'm constantly thinking about how we can combine the two (teaching methods) together," said Bian, who earned two degrees in physical education and sport training from Beijing Sport University, before earning a master's degree in sports psychology and a doctorate degree in sports pedagogy at institutions in the U.S. "I have an advantage because I learned both sides. In the U.S., sometimes we are too student-centered and in Hungary it is too teacher-centered. How can we make a balance between the two? It's very interesting."

Dallas Jackson, assistant professor of physical and health education, also traveled to UPE last month. He presented at the Sport and Innovation International Conference, a conference hosted by UPE May 9-10 in Budapest for sports-related professionals. Jackson discussed his collaboration with Wendy Fagan, SRU instructor of physical and health education, about ways universities can facilitate interscholastic extracurricular sports for students with disabilities, such as the SRU-led bocce program in local schools.

"The whole experience was excellent because I got to present at a conference and participate in professional networking," Jackson said. "Another key for me was the positive cultural experience and learning about the people and their history and different perspectives."

In addition to observing classes at UPE, Jackson toured and met with the director at an equestrian facility outside of Budapest that serves people with disabilities, similar to SRU's Storm Harbor Equestrian Center. He also visited an institute for students with disabilities and looked at the country's model for serving that population.

Last fall, Ryan Price, a senior health and physical education major from Souderton, and Emmitt Lehman, a senior health and physical education major from Erie, spent the semester studying at UPE.

SRU staff and administrators have traveled to UPE for additional collaboration, including two members of SRU's Office for Global Engagement who visited last month: Sierra Bell, international recruiter, and Noora Alie, assistant director of international student services. A member of UPE's academic records office traveled to SRU.

SRU and UPE recently extended their agreement for the exchange program through Erasmus Plus for another two years.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 | justin.zackal@sru.edu