My three cups of tea with Jonathan York

Megan Schiferl

Megan SchiferlJuice Editor

I knew Jonathan York and I were going to get along when he had the gumption in class to boldly state, “Girlfriends are temporary, but cats are forever.” As you can imagine, the hilarity of this statement warranted a follow-up conversation.

We discussed everything, from cats to graduate school applications to more serious topics like the sometimes apathetic nature of our campus.

York spent seven years teaching at the American University at Bulgaria in Blagoevgrad, after receiving his doctorate degree in history. He taught modern European history courses that focused on intellectual history to what he called the “elite” students of Eastern Europe.

“These students were accepted to places like Harvard, but for usually monetary reasons couldn’t go to western schools,” York said.

York said he could defiantly see disparities in learning styles and interests between his Eastern European students and the American students he taught once he was back state side.

“I don’t see the motivation or drive in American students, generally speaking,” York said. “They all want to be lawyers or doctors, but they don’t want to work for it.”

It wasn’t as though the students he was teaching were from exceptionally well-to-do families either. York told the story of a colleague that went to a small Bulgarian village to visit a student’s family. The house he stayed in was nothing more than a one-room shack with a bathroom area curtained off in a corner.

“Their interpretation of middle-class is below our poverty level,” York said.

York said he was amazed by how hard his students worked in the classroom.

“They didn’t take anything for granted,” York said. “They knew this may be their one chance.”

York said not all students are apathetic, but many times he is fighting what he called an “anti-intellectualism” attitude.

“Many times I get the eye roll if I start to talk about some new intellectual theory in a class,” York said.

York said living abroad and traveling is one way people can expand their comfort zone and become more engaged in life. One of the attractions to the Bulgarian teaching positions was extended weekends that allowed ample time for European travel.

“I was 70 miles from Greece, so I would drive there on Saturdays to go shopping,” York said. “And it was super easy to fly places for the weekend.”

Though he misses Bulgaria and his students, York said his favorite things about the South Dakota prairie are simply the beauty of the area and the cold weather.

The other part of South Dakota he is extremely fond of is his cat, Poo!. According to York, the exclamation point is part of his cat’s given name.

As we go forward to the second half of the semester, I challenge the SDSU student population to go to their classes with new vigor and excitement. We wake up every morning with a roof over our heads, food in our fridge (if peanut butter and 3-week-old pizza can be considered food) and walk out the door to get a great education. Don’t waste that opportunity.