GoAbroad Interview

Sigrid Heath - Course Instructor

Sigrid Heath - Course Instructor

After graduate school, Sigrid Heath began her career in the mid-70s in a regional theater movement with many notable actors and other skilled actors, exploring a wide variety of styles in plays by Chekhov, Ibsen, Mamet, Moliere, and Williams. Sigrid is currently an Instructor of Literature and Women's Studies at HISA. Sigrid’s pedagogical approach is more like that of mentor than a lecturer, engaging students in a conversation towards self-knowledge within the framework of study constantly. She helps students expand their creative thinking and encourages them to go out and explore Paros so they can be fully inspired by what lies both in and outside the classroom.

How long have you been working for HISA? How did you end up in your current position?

I have been with HISA for about four years. A Literature teacher had a family emergency and had to return to the States just as the spring semester was entering its last month. I took over his class. I began teaching other courses as needed.

What course do you teach in Paros?

This semester, I’m teaching Archetypal Literature from Homer to Euripides, Modern Writers in Greece, The Goddess, and Introduction to Shakespeare. 

What makes Greece the best place to study abroad?

Greek culture and arts are the foundations of Western culture and arts, from the idea of democracy to traditions of storytelling that have informed the entire Western literary canon. Exploring these things in the Greek world is a unique experience. There is something undeniably moving in learning about an ancient and sophisticated religious system while standing among the ruins of one of its sites of celebration. It’s a powerful experience to walk along a Parian beach and look up at a ridge that Archilochos described 2700 years ago. The generosity of the people reflects an ethic governing the proper way to treat a guest that is described in Homer. The past is very much alive in the present in Greece and that makes it a particularly dynamic place in which to explore ideas, your chosen art form, and what it is to be an evolving human being.

How diverse are your students?

Our students come from all over the United States and represent all levels of economic and social strata.

What essential characteristics do you look for in program participants?

I don’t actively participate in selecting program participants, but the main quality I believe is important in my students is an avid interest and openness to new ideas and others opinions and perceptions. 

Describe the study environment at HISA. What on-campus services are available to make the students feel comfortable in their new country?

The HISA approach to learning focuses on the individual student. We pay attention to each person’s needs, interests, level of expertise, and experience. In most classes, the pedagogical atmosphere tends to be relaxed, with the role of the teacher much like that of a mentor. Material is introduced and explored largely through conversation and students are encouraged to be active participants in this exploration, rather than passive recipients of facts. The classroom might be in a café, on the beach, or in the beautiful Venetian house in which HISA is situated.

The students are housed in a pleasant complex near one of Paroikia’s best beaches. On the way to school, they walk through the old town, passing cafes with live music, shops, churches, restaurants, providing a daily interaction with their hosts, the Parians, and many opportunities to participate in the local culture. 

What makes studying with HISA unique?

The faculty is comprised of people who are working artists in addition to being teachers. Our passion for the visual arts, writing, literature, the theater, informs our approach to engaging with our students. We show them how one can benefit from using the tools of the artist in addition to those of the academic to investigate any pursuit. Few academic situations have the dynamic potential of a HISA class meeting. 

How do your courses benefit students in the long run?

The atmosphere in a typical HISA classroom is one in which there is freedom to fail. This encourages our students to venture beyond their perceived limits and to expand. We’ve found that in this atmosphere they make an effort to look beyond the obvious; they become increasingly comfortable articulating complex ideas and tricky, possibly controversial, points of view. Their capacity to think critically is enhanced.

How does HISA ensure the safety of program participants throughout their stay in Greece?

HISA meticulously plans their program to avoid mishaps. We keep close ties with the community to form a very protective atmosphere for the students, and are always available should a student run into trouble.

Why should students choose HISA over other programs in Greece?

For all the reasons stated above! Also, as an independent program, we are able to offer a much more personalized education. The students are not left in some vast dorm in the middle of the city; they live in Greek style housing in the middle of the town. As teachers, we are at their disposal often, outside of class, to the extent that our students often remark about how appreciative they are of the individualized attention they are receiving. On top of that, HISA students are generally very creative and form great collaborations.