Life of Adventures
Many exchange students who come to SFUAD may speak English as a second language, which can result in insecurities and confusion. But Andrea Patterson, the new director of English Language Programs, wants to make international students feel welcome and make their stay in Santa Fe more comfortable.
“The English program we have here is interesting because we have these huge network of schools all over the world,”Patterson says. “It is very exciting to be able to work with students from everywhere.”
Patterson was born in Delaware, but moved to New Mexico with her family when she was six. Her parents moved around the state often while she was growing up, so she became used to not be in one place for too long.
After finishing high school, Patterson wasn’t ready to attend university because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study. Instead, an advertisement for a career as a travel agent caught her eye, and she pursued that career for several years. With the rise of the Internet, however, Patterson’s job was no longer secure. At that point, age 23, she decided to attend college and pursue studies that would her to keep traveling; she decided to study German.
“I knew I wanted to travel, so I chose something that I knew would allow me to have that international experience,” Patterson says, “So I started out with German at [University of New Mexico], and I ended up loving it.”
During Patterson studies, she took part in German conversational groups through which she made many friendship. When the opportunity to travel abroad came, she went on a one-year exchange program to Austria. Being in a foreign country was sometimes difficult, but Patterson already had many friends waiting to help her and to take care of her. She speaks very fondly of these years and of the relationships she built.
“The friends you make during exchange programs become very close, very quickly, “ Patterson explains, “Because they are like your surrogate family, and they will be your friends forever.”
After finishing her bachelor’s degree in German at UNM, Patterson decided to start her master’s degree in TESOL, in order to keep having a Second Language Acquisition and to get more opportunities to keep traveling. And the opportunity came when she accidentally took an English teaching position in China.
“I was applying for so many jobs that I didn’t realize I had applied for a job in China,” Patterson says. “So when they called me to take the job I was very surprised, but I took the opportunity. It wasn’t something that I planned out to do, but it was definitely one of the most amazing things that I have ever done.”
Her experience with foreign countries and languages make her perfect for the English program of SFUAD
“Once you start to travel it becomes like a sickness, you have to keep traveling,” Patterson says. “Even though I stopped traveling now, I still have internationals come here, I get to have this experience over and over.” And it is with this enthusiasm that Patterson is making changes to the English program so they meet the students’ needs.
“We want to make this program stand out more,” Patterson says. “We want to build a safe place for international students, like a home.”
Some of her ideas include computers labs with language programs, conversation groups and expansion of the tutoring programs. Patterson also understands how students feel because she felt it herself, and knows that sometimes they are embarrassed when they don’t understand things. She wants to make them aware of the help that she is offering, to have a direct influence on them, and for them them to have the courage to look for help if they need it.
Patterson especially wants students to realize the advantages of learning a second language: It helps people multitask; they can become smarter because of the way a second language is processed in the brain. Learning a second language also makes people more respectful of others and different cultures, while also providing more confidence and job opportunities, she says. When students realize the benefits, they become aware of the importance of learning and practicing a language that is not their native language.
Patterson´s program is new, but her ideas are fresh and exciting and she is just warming up. Many changes will occur to the program and they are all directed to the well being of the students.
“I’m super excited, I love the vibe of the university, I love the vibe and I want to help international students feel at home and supported,” she says.