Trading places a success

May 02, 2002, vol. 24, no. 1
By Marianne Meadahl

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When SFU English professor Paul Budra received an email last year from a graduate school colleague now teaching at the National University of Ireland, wheels began to turn.

Lionel Pilkington's wife had a sabbatical and wanted to spend the time in Vancouver where she had attended university. Pilkington was agreeable and put out the call to acquaintances. Did anyone want to exchange jobs?

The idea was attractive so Budra decided to investigate the possibilities. He and wife Karen agreed that living in Europe would be a unique opportunity for the family. With kids aged nine and 13, the timing seemed right. “We thought that if we waited too long we'd never get our older child out the door,” reasoned Budra. “You know teenagers.”

Budra got permission for the exchange from the department chair and dean. Karen, who teaches at Langara, applied for a leave. She has also taught two courses at the university in Ireland, which helped out financially. Schooling was arranged for kids on both ends. Not only were jobs exchanged, so were houses, even cars.

Since January, home for the Budras has been a duplex in an estate west of the city of Galway, a town of about 60,000 on the west coast of Ireland. “The most difficult adjustment we had to make was getting used to being in a suburb and having to drive everywhere,” reports Budra. Though away from his urban lifestyle, he's content to get around “in a neat little diesel Citroen with a manual transmission.” Learning to drive on the left-hand side of the road was surprisingly easy. “Dealing with Irish drivers and narrow roads remains a challenge.”

Budra says his children adjusted remarkably well. “Both of their schools have been super. Our older son is on the high school rowing team. The youngest son got to march in the St. Patrick's Day parade.”

On the flip side, Pilkington, his wife, Elizabeth (who lived in Vancouver while studying for her MA at UBC in the 1970s) and eight-year-old son Colin have felt right at home, living close to the sea in the Budra's West Vancouver bungalow. Colin also adapted well to school life and learned to skate and ski. Pilkington, a long distance runner, found plenty of new running ground.

“I was delighted to discover the many trails and pathways in West Vancouver, and to see how well they are used and maintained,” he says. Pilkington also participated in his first marathon, the Vancouver Sun Run. He finished 1,564th. “Not bad,” he says, “considering there were 42,000 of us.”

Like Budra, Pilkington says working out the logistics was worthwhile, given “the amazing time we've had here.”

“It's the kind of arrangement many might dream about, but we're living proof that it is also very possible,” says Pilkington. His only complaint is the 75-minute bus ride from home to the office. He never quite adapted to the routine.

In terms of the university experience, Pilkington is impressed by the diligence of students and calls it a reflection of SFU's emphasis on teaching. But he misses the interaction between staff from different departments, something common at the National University.

Budra says his teaching and marking loads have been light. “From a professor's point of view it's a very nice system.” He also revels in the history of the university, which dates back to the mid-1800s. But he notes that students get little contact time with professors. Their entire grade is often based on a single assignment, and terms are too short to cover much literature. “And since, in general, Irish students are very reticent to speak in class, seminars can be rather stultifying.”

Both agree the exchange was eye opening. They return to their respective worlds at the end of June.

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