Professor Gene Lakin shares his experience teaching in South Africa

What were you teaching in South Africa and why were you there?
I teach Concept Development, and John Jay Cabuay teaches Model Drawing. This program started as a possible exchange program between Parsons and the Villioti Elite Design Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Due to academic calendars that do not exactly coincide, the approach has shifted a bit to send two teachers to work with a select portion of their student body during two weeks of their 5 week winter vacation. We taught students who wanted the experience of working with two NY teachers, specifically Parsons faculty, to develop their skill sets in an intensive and condensed workshop not dissimilar to our own Summer Intensive courses.

How long were you there?
The course runs for two weeks, typically from June 3rd through July 18th.

What types of students were you teaching?
The students are a select group from the BFA program in fashion design from the Villioti Academy from various regions around Johannesburg. Some make a significant commute to take this course.

How is teaching in South Africa different than teaching at Parsons?
Creativity is a universal commodity.  No matter where the student comes from, the goal is always to nurture and develop an artist that expresses them-selves through the art of clothing. Teaching in NY has many advantages than other schools in the states do not always have.  We have amazing research facilities, the luxury of doing market research in many of the best shopping locations in the country, the amazing stores of the garment district for fabric, trim and notions, as well as basics as great art supplies stores. The cost of a single marker in South Africa can be close to $10.00.  But the exciting thing about teaching is how portable it is.

Being in Johannesburg for two weeks and meeting with the students every day, we are able to develop 2-3 projects based on goals and objectives that stem from our own BFA program. The skill set, creativity and dedication of the Villioti student allows us to, in a short time, challenge their students on a level we would expect in the states. Normally I do not meet with my Parsons students but once a week. The advantage of meeting with a group every day is that I can immediately address issues and offer advice that I can see implemented immediately, instead of having to wait a week.

What classes do you normally teach at Parsons?
At Parsons I teach sophomore and junior Integrated Studio.  I am responsible for the 2D portion, which is research and development for collections.

Would you recommend your experience teaching in South Africa to others?
Definitely. As a teacher, taking on a new challenge and bringing your experience to a new audience is invaluable. As I have been going back (this summer will be my 4th trip), I have seen how exercises and approaches we have brought with us are being applied. And for those who select to do this program, I feel it puts them a little bit ahead of the game.

What is your favorite/least favorite part of the experience?
There are many favorites, but working with a student’s personal vision and mentoring that in a direction where they experience growth and a truer understanding of their potential is very rewarding.

The only drawback is the 15-18 hour flight.  I do the best I can. Our hosts are wonderful people and we have experienced many wonderful things like Capetown, Victoria Falls, safari, etc.,

Anything else?
The program is ever changing.  Last year we added a second section and I am currently working on a syllabus for an advanced course, as well as beginner, for students returning a second time. There are exciting possibilities yet to be explored.