Q&A: Visiting Professor Dr. Jack D. Arnal looks back on time well spent in Budapest

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By ShuanDan Lin

One of Dr. Jack Arnal’s main hobbies as an undergraduate was performing stand-up comedy, which he says has come in handy for teaching by giving him increased confidence in the classroom. He believes that any psychology course should provide students with information that can be applied to daily life and tries to include demonstrations and activities in class to enhance the lectures and discussions. Beyond teaching psychology, which included the Cognitive Psychology and Methods I course at McDaniel Budapest this semester, he is a keen runner and ran the Nike Budapest half-marathon earlier this semester. “I now hold the McDaniel Westminster Faculty European record for my finishing time,” he quips. Dr. Arnal is also an avid hiker and hopes to spend a portion of his spring break hiking part of the Appalachian Trail.

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Q: Why did you choose to study psychology?

A: I became interested in psychology for a number of reasons, many of which have long since faded from memory. The most significant contributions came from a desire to work in law enforcement at the federal level. I entered college as a psychology major, but soon decided I wanted to pursue options beside law enforcement. I added a second major, mathematics, and decided that graduate school would be my most likely path.

 

Q: What made you want to teach psychology?

A: One of my main hobbies as an undergraduate was performing stand-up comedy. I continued to perform when I went to graduate school at the University of Arkansas. Unfortunately, Fayetteville, AR isn’t the center of the comedy universe, which meant there weren’t many opportunities to perform. I did find, however, my stage time made teaching a much less intimidating task. I continued to train as a researcher and an instructor during my graduate tenure, and found that I really enjoyed teaching as much as research. I decided that I wanted to pursue a career at a smaller institution so that I could continue teaching.

 

Q: What made you decide to teach Cognitive Psychology in Budapest Campus?

A: When I agreed to serve as the visiting professor this semester, I did not know which courses I would be teaching. The needs of the Budapest campus were greatest for Cognitive Psychology and Methods I. I enjoy teaching both courses, so it was an easy decision.

 

Q: What did you first feel when you first planned to come to Hungary?

A: I was certainly very excited for the opportunity. One of the experiences I push my advisees to pursue is studying abroad. There is a great deal of opportunity to learn about the world and yourself when you put yourself in unfamiliar positions. It would have been a mistake not to do so now that I had the opportunity. I was also very excited to help with the implementation of the new psychology major on campus. I have experienced psychology departments at a number of institutions as both a student and an instructor, and I believe McDaniel’s major to be the strongest I have seen. I am fiercely proud of our major, and I leapt at the chance to help shape it at the Budapest campus.

 

Q: When did you arrive in Hungary?

A: My wife and I arrived in Hungary on July 31st. My position as a faculty member at McDanielCollege brought me here.

 

Q: How do you like it in Bp? And was there any cultural shock when you first arrived to Bp?

A: I have enjoyed my time and experiences in Budapest.

I wouldn’t necessarily say there was any major culture shock when I arrived. The most difficult issue to overcome was, not surprisingly, the language barrier. Whenever I visit a new city, whether in the US or abroad, my first goal is to try and understand the layout of the city and the public transportation routes. Given the language barrier, it took a little longer than usual to figure out the transportation system, but it wasn’t overwhelming.

 

Q: What do you like the most about Hungary?

A: I’m not sure I can completely answer that question yet. My guess is that my longest lasting memories will be of the people I have been able to interact with during my stay in Budapest. I have had a number of rewarding and interesting interactions, many of which were enhanced by the people I was with at the time.

 

Q: Are you used to the Hungarian cuisine?

A: My ancestry includes lines from a number of different European countries, and I grew up with a number of friends with similar backgrounds. The types of food I have experienced during my travels in Hungary and in other parts of Europe have seemed quite familiar, and comforting.

 

Q: What is the most exciting thing you have done in Bp?

A: I ran the Nike Budapest half-marathon earlier this semester. I now hold the McDaniel Westminster Faculty European record for my finishing time.

 

Q: How long are you planning to stay in Budapest?

A: I will be leaving Budapest around December 20th.

 

Q: What have you missed the most from your hometown? Where is hometown for you?

A: My current home is in Reisterstown, MD, about 15 miles from the McDaniel campus. I miss my wife the most, and I also miss many of the creature comforts of our home. We have lived in Maryland for five years now, so we have had time to settle into our lives there and arrange everything to our liking.

 

Q: What are your hobbies? Is there any of them that you can’t do in Hungary?

A: I have a number of hobbies, but my main focus recently has been skewed towards fitness. I started running as a hobby when I moved to Maryland, working my way up to completion of the Baltimore Marathon. I moved on from regular running to focus on obstacle course races like Tough Mudder this past spring. I also plan to join a new parkour gym in Baltimore when I return.

I also very much enjoy hiking and exploring the wilderness. I hope to spend a portion of my spring break hiking part of the Appalachian Trail.

 

Q: What did you think psychology meant (before college)?

A: I’m not sure what I thought psychology meant that long ago.

 

Q: How has your interpretation of psychology changed over time?

A: My interpretation of psychology has certainly changed a great deal over the course of my academic career, and I’m sure it will continue to change. The basic definition of psychology that I use in my courses is: Psychology in the scientific study of behavior and mental processes and the application thereof. The definition serves as an excellent frame to teach from, but it is very difficult to distill a field as large and diverse as psychology into a single sentence. With each new research paper I read, every new talk I hear, and every course I teach, my understanding and respect for the field grows. Psychology is a fascinating discipline, and I think we will be seeing an explosion in its growth over the next few decades as our method and procedures become more sophisticated and precise.

 

Q: Do you think you are a strict teacher?

A: I don’t think of myself as a strict teacher, but I do try to challenge students. My goal is to push students to perform to the best of their abilities by challenging them to think in new ways.

 

Q: How do you think taking a psychology course will help a college student in their daily life?

A: It really depends on the course, although any psychology course should provide students with information that can be applied to daily life. Cognitive psychology is the study of human information processing, which is something we are constantly doing. My hope is that students who completes my course in cognitive psychology has a better understanding of how they process information and can use their knowledge to help them better interpret the world. I also hope students have learned to be more critical consumers of information. There are a great deal of pseudoscientific claims and misleading information in the world, and I hope my students are more able to resist those claims after they have taken my course. At the very least, I hope the students are able to use techniques they have learned from my course to help them learn material in their other courses.

 

Q: How do you feel teaching in McDaniel Budapest Campus? Is there any differences regarding teaching in the Main Campus and Budapest Campus?

A: There are a number of differences between the two campuses, but there are also a number of similarities. The biggest obstacles from my perspective were the shorter semester and the differences in resources that are available or utilized. The semester here is one week shorter than on the main campus, which meant I had to trim the material covered and the number of assignments in my classes. It also meant that I had to reshape the general structure of my courses. In terms of resources, many of the resources I use when teaching on the Westminster campus aren’t used in the same way on this campus. Blackboard is used by most of the instructors on the main campus, but doesn’t appear to be used by many on this campus. That required additional time in terms of making sure all of the student accounts were working properly. It wasn’t a great hardship to deal with the those and related issues, but it certainly changed the way I handle a number of things in my courses.

 

Q: What do you think is the best way to teach classes?

A: That very much depends on the class. I have taught a variety of courses, both in the Psychology Department and as part of the SIS program, and each course has varied in some way. Larger classes tend to lend themselves to a lecture style. Smaller classes may lend themselves to something closer to a seminar. In either case I try to include demonstrations and activities in class to enhance the lectures and discussions. Science focused courses like Cognitive Psychology are also best taught with a lab component, allowing student expanded time to work with experiment demonstrations. My SIS on the zombie apocalypse, which included and SI tag, allowed for variety of activities given the collection of disciplines included (i.e., psychology, biology, physics, math, exercise science, computer science, political science, and environmental studies).

 

Q: If there is an opportunity to join the student-organized activity (trip, movie, pub etc.) do you take part?

A: I have joined a number of activities, although I have refrained from joining some of them. I would never want students to feel like they couldn’t fully enjoy themselves because they felt their professor was present.

 

Q: Do you like travelling? If yes, where have you been?

A: I love travelling. So far this semester I have visited Prague, Venice, Vienna, Edinburgh (my favorite), London, and Lake Balaton. I hope to squeeze in one more short trip before I leave Budapest at the end of the semester.

 

Q: Do you have any plans for the upcoming long holiday?

A: I will take a week or two to relax and catch up on errands I have been unable to complete while away. I will also spend plenty of time with my family during the holiday season. After that it will be time to start preparing for the upcoming semester.

 

By ShuanDan Lin