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Confessions of a Peripatetic Psychologist

One salient advantage of international meetings is that they are often small enough to allow one to interact with some of the leading figures in the field.

By Danny Wedding, PhD

Danny Wedding is a clinical psychologist who received his PhD from the University of Hawaii.  He is a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and he serves as Director of the Missouri Institute of Mental Health (MIMH) in Saint Louis.  MIMH has hosted international students and visiting scholars from Thailand, South Korea, Iran, Scotland, Australia, South Africa, Bosnia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

I recently had an opportunity to lecture on international psychology to a group of clinical psychology graduate students attending the University of Kansas, and the presentation gave me an opportunity to think about how important travel and international psychology have been in my own professional development.  Without question, my international experiences as a psychologist have been the very best part of my professional life.

My passion for travel developed as the son of a military father stationed in Panama and Germany; moving often and living abroad seemed entirely natural for an Army family.  Later, I served as an Air Force medic stationed for almost three years in Korea and Taiwan; this was during the Vietnam era, and it was easy to catch military flights to almost anywhere in Asia.  I used most my leave--and all my savings--to visit Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Bangkok, typically staying in low-cost YMCAs.  These trips and my military assignments were the impetus for a life-long fascination with Buddhism and Asian culture. 

While an undergraduate student, I spent a wonderful semester studying German and European history at Salzburg College. At the conclusion of the semester, I found myself with six free weeks, a Eurorail pass, and a new girlfriend.  Mary Jo and I traveled throughout Europe, often sleeping on trains and subsisting largely on bread, cheese and wine.  Travel is almost always wonderful; traveling combined with the excitement of young love is about as good as life gets.  

Graduate school at the University of Hawaii offered me another opportunity to learn about and appreciate the richness of Asian culture, and as a “haole,” I experienced firsthand what it feels like to be a racial minority.  While I didn’t have money to travel while a graduate student, I managed to learn a great deal from the international visiting scholars who frequently presented colloquia at the University of Hawaii.

Travel opportunities sometimes occur fortuitously and unexpectedly.  For example, in 2003 I met with and testified before legislators in the Australian Parliament on behalf of the APA/AAAS Fellowship program. The Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS) was planning to develop and implement a Parliamentary Fellowship program  in Canberra modeled after the one supported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (i.e., the program in which APA participates).   While in Australia, I visited the Australian Psychological Society (APS) in Melbourne, lectured at the Australian Academy of Science, and made numerous new friends, many of them psychologists.

My career as a psychologist has opened numerous doors that would have otherwise likely remained closed. I have had the privilege of lecturing to psychologists and graduate students in South Africa, Mexico City, Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten, Italy, Pakistan, Iran, India, China, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand.  In every instance, my hosts, usually psychologists, have been gracious and accommodating.

International meetings also have been an important part of my professional life, and I recommend them to anyone who has vacillated about participating.  Recent conferences I have attended include the International Congress of Psychology (ICP) in Beijing in 2004, the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP) in Athens in 2006, and the Interamerican Congress of Psychology (SIP) in Mexico City in 2007.  I will also be presenting a paper at the upcoming ICP meeting in Berlin—the dollar is weaker than last time I was in Germany, but I hope to be able to spend time eating schnitzel and drinking beer with many of the psychologists I have met at other international conferences. 

One salient advantage of international meetings is that they are often small enough to allow one to interact with some of the leading figures in the field (e.g., both Albert Bandura and Bob Sternberg presented at the recent SIP conference and participated in various social events organized as a part of the conference).

Sabbaticals are one of the best parts of the academic life, and I have had the good fortune to receive two Fulbright awards that supported international teaching.  The first allowed me to teach as a Fulbright Senior Scholar at Chiang Mai University School of Medicine (Thailand); the second will support teaching two courses each semester as a Fulbright Distinguished Lecturer in the Psychology Department at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea during the coming academic year.   A journey I began as a 19-year-old Airman has come full circle, and I am enthusiastic about this upcoming opportunity to once again live and work in Asia.  I am confident my Korean colleagues will exhibit the same grace, kindness and support that I have experienced in dozens of different settings across a lifetime of international psychology experiences. 

Strategies to Make the Most of Your Travel Experiences
I hope my comments have whetted your appetite for international travel.  If so, some of the following tips may be useful:

  • Visit the world’s great universities (e.g., the Sorbonne in Paris, the University of Heidelberg in Germany, and Sophia University in Tokyo) whenever you have a chance, and make it a point to drop by the Psychology Department.  You will be surprised by how welcome your hosts will make you feel.

  • Keep a flash drive with you at all times and make sure it includes several of your favorite presentations (I carry mine on my keychain).  Be prepared to present on a moment’s notice if the opportunity arises. 

  • Volunteer to hold lead discussion groups with graduate students in which you describe life as a psychologist or psychology graduate student in the United States.  Many of the students who come to your talk will be interested in studying in the U. S.

  • Use listservs as a way of making contacts with international colleagues;  in my case, a casual email exchange with a psychologist in Thailand on a Division 12 listserv led to a six month sabbatical teaching at his medical school

  • If you have written a book, take copies with you when you travel to leave as gifts for your psychology hosts—they will cherish the gift. 

  • If you are visiting a large city, write the chair of the psychology department in the city’s largest university and explore the option of staying with a psychology colleague or a graduate student and/or his or her family during your visit.  Your host family is likely to reject payment for their hospitality, but gifts for your new friends are always welcome.

  • Watch recent movies and be prepared to discuss them.  Films are one of the major exports from the United States, and students around the world watch U.S. movies.  I use film clips to illustrate various kinds of psychopathology (e.g., Fatal Attraction provides an excellent illustration of borderline personality disorder), and international colleagues and psychology students have often seen the films I use to illustrate my lectures. 

  • Use the CD-ROM titled PSYCHOLOGY: IUPsyS Global Resource (Wedding & Stevens, 2008) to learn more about universities, research institutes and professional organizations in the countries you plan to visit; a copy should be available in every university library.

  • Read novels relevant to the country you are visiting; for example, I read Don’t Stop the Carnival (Wouk, 1992) before traveling to the Caribbean, and it made my trip much more rewarding.  Anyone going to Paris should read A Moveable Feast (Hemingway, 1964); your trip to Hawaii will be enriched if you read the historical novel Hawaii (Michener, 1959); and you will understand some of the tensions in the Middle East better if you read Snow (2002) by Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. 

  • Join APA’s Division of International Psychology (Division 52).  The common denominator among the members of this division is a passion for travel, and senior members of the Division especially enjoy introducing early career psychologists to prominent international psychologists.  Division members will be able to help you identify psychology contacts around the world. 

  • Consider attending some of the less well know international conferences.  For example, in 2001 I participated in the Southeast Asia Regional Conference on Scientific & Applied Psychology held in Mumbai, India.  It was an unforgettable experience, in part because of the time I got to spend traveling with two eminent U.S. psychologists, Ray Fowler and Charles Spielberger. 

  • Continue to read Psychology International, and learn about the resources available to you through the APA Office of International Affairs. 

Bon voyage!


References

Hemingway, E. (1964).  A moveable feast.  New York: Charles Scribner & Sons.

Michener, J. A. (1959).  Hawaii.  New York: Random House.

Pamuk, O. (2002).  Snow.  New York: Vintage. 

Wedding, D., & Stevens, M. J. (2008). PSYCHOLOGY: IUPsyS global resource [CD-ROM].  East Sussex, United Kingdom:  Psychology Press.

Wouk, H. (1992).  Don’t stop the carnival.  Boston, MA: Back Bay Books.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Danny Wedding, Director, Missouri Institute of Mental Health, 5400 Arsenal Street, Saint Louis, Missouri 63139.  You can also email him here by clicking on this link.