Associate Dean, Instructor Helps International Students Adapt to Academic Culture

Alice Hadler is Wesleyan’s associate dean for International Student Affairs, adjunct instructor in English and coordinator of the Writing Program Language Services for Non-Native Speakers.
Posted 06/03/08
Q: Alice, you’re associate dean for International Student Affairs, adjunct instructor in English and the coordinator of the Writing Program Language Services for Non-Native Speakers. How do you manage these three roles?

A: There’s a huge amount of overlap among the three roles. The most time-absorbing and perhaps primary one is the teaching position. Teaching writing is very labor-intensive, but also extremely rewarding. Developing new writing courses is also great fun but a lot of work. Teaching writing, you get a unique insight into your students’ lives and the workings of their minds. I teach many international students, and the relationships we form in the classroom make a great basis for the kinds of advising required in my capacity as associate dean for international student affairs. Services for non-native speakers means both teaching courses and tutorials designed to include attention to their needs, and consulting with individual non-native speakers, the class deans, faculty, Behavioral Health, as needed, on questions involving language and cultural adjustments.

Q: When did you come to Wesleyan and what were you initially hired as?

A: I came to Wesleyan in 1995, with the first class of Freeman Asian Scholars. I was hired to teach writing with an eye to the needs of international students, which I took to mean a cross-cultural focus, and to look after the academic adjustment of international students. I’m now part of President Roth’s internationalization working group, and part of our charge has been to look into the feasibility of doubling the number of internationals again. This is an exciting prospect. It’s an expression of the kind of progressive attitude that first attracted me to Wesleyan. I have been passionate about international educational exchange and interchange, and languages/literatures/cultures, since I was 16 and an exchange student in Japan.

Q: Where did you attend college and what did you major in?

A: I grew up in Washington D.C., was an undergraduate at Mt. Holyoke, where I majored in German, and went to graduate school in linguistics at Columbia in New York City. I’ve lived and worked/studied in many places, including Japan, Switzerland, the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona, the Samoan Islands, Hunan province in south central China and Beijing in the north, and traveled in many others.

Q: What is your role the Office of International Student Affairs (OISA)?

A: I’m an office of one, which is a little bit of a handful – but well supported by Dean Danny Teraguchi, administrative assistant Janice Watson, and coordinator of international student data Sandy Niemczyk. My main role in the office is to try to anticipate and then meet the needs of international students, taken collectively and individually. So this can mean many things – ranging from running International Student Orientation and organizing seminars on issues of interest, to taking a sick student to the doctor or visiting them in the hospital, to teaching individual tutorials in writing, to consulting with faculty on their concerns about individual students, to being available to students in my office or by email or phone to answer questions or provide a shoulder to cry on when things get overwhelming, to writing letters of recommendation for everything from summer internships to study abroad to medical school, to attending students’ performances, presentations, concerts. I’m always cognizant of the fact that our international students are making huge adjustments all the time, and their parents/families are very far away. I also work closely with Admissions on international student matters, including interviewing finalists for the Freeman Scholarship in Asia each spring.

Q: What are the Writing Program Language Services for Non-Native Speakers?

A: Besides my courses, that are not limited to non-native speakers but that attract many, and individual tutorials in writing, I work closely with Director of Writing Programs Anne Greene and the Ford Fellows in the Writing Workshop, who coordinate the writing mentors program. Many international students, including but not only non-native speakers, use the services of the workshop tutors, and have mentors, who are individually-assigned writing tutors. We do a workshop early in the year particularly for students who attended International Student Orientation, on expectations for academic honesty in the US and particularly at Wesleyan. The concept of plagiarism is quite culturally bound, and standards and practices for source citation are quite different from place to place. Students know that they can bring their questions to me, and I can sometimes advocate on their behalf with professors, if, for example, they can’t work as fast in English as their classmates in order to demonstrate what they know on, say, a biology exam. I work on a regular basis with international students doing the CSS program, especially during the extremely writing-intensive sophomore year.

Q: What are the toughest challenges non-native speakers have at Wesleyan and how do you help them overcome these challenges?

A: All international students, and especially those for whom English is their second (or third, or fourth!) language, are making huge adjustments – most of the time their English is so relatively good that we underestimate the magnitude of the challenges. I speak several languages more and less fluently but still can hardly imagine the way this bends the mind.

Reading tends to take a lot longer, and writing is more painstaking and time-consuming. Speaking up in class, as is expected in most Wesleyan classes, is often difficult – partly because by the time you’ve constructed what you want to say, the discussion has moved on. And in most of the world’s academic cultures, classes are strictly lecture, you’re not expected to challenge your professor’s ideas as we expect here, and you write to show what you know, more than how critically and originally you can think – this last can be a challenge for all international students, even those who have gone to school in English for years. Language may also be a social handicap – so that students may be shy with their hallmates and hesitant to join in, especially early in the first year when friendships are being forged. We hope to work with Res Life to facilitate openness to these differences on both sides, and awareness on the part of both international and American students.

Q: What is the Wesleyan World Wednesdays?

A: With the Office of International Studies, we started a series this year of presentations/discussions/screenings called Wesleyan World Wednesdays, with the express aim of bringing various groups of students and other campus entities together on topics of mutual interest, highlighting Wesleyan’s wonderfully extensive connections with the world.

Q: What do you like best about working at Wesleyan?

A: I like the fact that it’s never the same two days in a row – whether in the classroom or in the office. I love coming up with new ideas for courses, and just wish I had more time to read.

Q: What are your hobbies, interests, family, pets, plans for summer?

A: I have three grown “biological” children (the youngest just graduated from Mt. Holyoke) and many “adopted” ones – exchange students and Wes alums and you name it, who pass through our house all the time, sometimes to stay for a few days or a few months. My husband is about to retire after 24 years as the chief epidemiologist for Connecticut, to consult with the New York City Health Department and free himself up for more international work. I like to read, camp, hike, travel and ride my bicycle. This summer the whole family is going to the wedding of a family friend who happens to be a Wes alum, in a small Austrian village – and then biking the 340 kilometers along the Danube from Vienna to Budapest.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor