Dr Janusz Sysak has spent over two decades teaching international students how to navigate their own path at Trinity College.
When Janusz Sysak arrived at Trinity for a job interview in 1994, he found a welcoming and positive community that he knew he wanted to be a part of. ‘I was interviewed by the director and deputy director of the Foundation Studies program, and I couldn’t get over how they were both smiling at me the whole time,’ remembers Janusz. ‘They made me feel very much at ease.’
With a PhD in the history and philosophy of science, focused on Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his thinking about science, Janusz was the perfect candidate to teach History of Ideas (HOI), a cornerstone subject of Trinity’s Foundation Studies program.
True to its name, the History of Ideas subject looks at ideas in their historical context. It could be how political ideas intersect with scientific theories, or how religious or philosophic ideas affect social developments. Along with Trinity’s drama subject, HOI takes students out of their comfort zone and encourages them to form opinions for themselves, which can be confronting for some international students. Janusz says it can take a while for them to ‘get the hang of our interactive style of teaching, which is very different to what they’ve experienced before.’
Janusz was born in Nigeria, Africa, to a Polish father and British mother. The family moved to Kenya and Janusz lived there until he was nine, before moving to Australia. After graduating, he taught in France for a few years, so understands the implications of living in a foreign environment, where the nuances of culture and language are unfamiliar, albeit manageable. He therefore appreciates that Trinity is so supportive of students moving from abroad, yet also doesn’t hesitate to challenge them.
Janusz recalls that one of his first students was from a country that was ruled by a military dictatorship. Janusz was teaching democratic concepts and the student was convinced that his country was a democracy. Janusz didn’t call the student out in situ, rather, he taught the course in his usual way; an interactive style of teaching with an emphasis on broad critical thinking. The same student approached him after the final lecture to concede that he had been wrong when he said that his country was a democracy. The course had made him realise that it was not. Janusz was pleased that the student had learned to think for himself. ‘This is what we’re trying to do here. The students are going to need that at university.’
Janusz has taught across a number of programs during his 26 years at Trinity and is now the Associate Subject Leader of the History of Ideas (HOI) program. His role includes lecturing, assessment, pastoral care, and a co-curricular music program where he organises concerts. ‘As a teaching job, it’s a very fulfilling one,’ he says. ‘Students are motivated, keen to learn, and bright.’
In 2006, Janusz travelled to Singapore with a colleague to present a number of workshops for principals and secondary teachers. The ‘Creating Thinkers’ course was partly designed to showcase what Trinity teachers do and also encourage Singaporean educators to adopt a more interactive style of teaching.
Education systems are vastly different around the world and students studying Foundation Studies often have to adapt to a whole new way of learning. ‘For a lot of them, they find that their minds are opened for the first time. You get the sense that, in their education system, they’re not encouraged to express themselves very much. When they know that we are interested in what they think, their confidence really starts to build,’ says Janusz.