From Egypt to Illinois: the travels of a Parkland professor
From the cold of the Baltics to the scorching heat of the Sahara, one of Parkland’s professors has seen the world and encourages others to do the same.
Joseph Walwik is a social sciences professor and the department chair of the social sciences and human services department. He has lived in many different countries and interacted with many different cultures throughout his life.
Walwik’s first experience living abroad came in 1993, which saw him travel to the ex-Soviet state of Latvia, a small country situated in the cold Baltics of northeastern Europe.
Working toward his doctorate from the American University, Walwik and other graduate students from other universities under the auspices of the then-newly-founded Open Society Institute went to Latvia to learn about the ex-Soviet educational system. He taught at the University of Latvia in the practical philosophy department, which he said at one point in time was known as the Marxism department.
“There I was in what would have been the department of Marxism teaching the history of American philosophy,” Walwik said.
It was a tumultuous time for the country during Walwik’s stay. It was a time of great political instability, as different factions—not all of them reputable—struggled for influence in the virgin political system.
Despite this, he said it was an interesting time to be in the country, as the political environment fluctuated and the descendents of people who emigrated when the Soviet Union took control of the country flocked back.
“It was a fascinating kind of time to be there,” Walwik said. “In the midst of all of this, you had people who were trying to revitalize and democratize the Soviet model, and that’s what my job was.”
He returned to Washington and continued his doctorial work in 1994. However, he was not done travelling and living abroad. The next year saw him in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he helped to orchestrate a study abroad program.
Like in Latvia, the political climate in Argentina was shaky. The country was still rebuilding and reorganizing itself in the wake of a 1976 military coup which held power for eight years and its campaign of anti-communist, government-sponsored terrorism aptly known as the Dirty War, where political dissidents were targeted, oppressed, and even eliminated.
“Our students were having to navigate all these political waters not really knowing enough about it,” Walwik said. “Most of them were righteously indignant about all things having to do with the disappeared and the junta, and they would talk about it way more than anybody there would … they didn’t know that it was something you couldn’t quite talk about.”
Walwik enjoyed the beauty and diversity of Argentina, citing the splendor of the city as well as the natural landscape.
He returned to the United States after Argentina, working for the internet wing of Public Broadcasting Service when the web was still in its infancy. He taught part-time in Washington during this time and eventually found full-time teaching positions in Florida and Kansas City.
In 2001, he received a Fulbright fellowship which sent him to teach in the Muslim-dominant Kyrgyz Republic in Central Asia, another ex-Soviet state. Walwik was in Kyrgyzstan on Sept. 11.
On the walk to work the day after, Walwik said he felt everything but hostility from the Kyrgyz people, who would stop him and express their sorrows and sympathies for the disaster. However, Walwik said the environment changed when the United States and its coalition invaded Afghanistan.
“It was one thing to be sympathetic towards us because of what happened in New York and Washington, but then they could start see on television Americans bombing people who looked a lot like them,” Walwik said. “It wasn’t like there was any hostility about it, but there were attitudes.”
After Kyrgyzstan came Egypt, where Walwik taught at the American University in Cairo for three years. He said he and his family eventually adjusted to the ups and downs of life in the city.
“It was where I lived,” Walwik said. “Cairo was … full of difficulties, but at the same time every day was a fascinating trip.”
South Dakota was the next stop for Walwik, but he would be returning to the Sahara. He taught at an English-language university in the mountains of Morocco from 2008 to 2009, but was forced to return to the States when the school his children were attending fell apart.
Coming back to a weak job market, he considers himself lucky he ended up at Parkland. He does not think he simply settled for the job and loves the Champaign-Urbana community, but has not ruled out possibility of doing another teaching abroad program.
Walwik encourages Parkland students to pursue their dreams and see the world.
“Just go do something,” Walwik said. “There’s a big world out there, and you only think you don’t have the ability to go out and find it and explore it.”