Wofford College Dean of International Programs and Associate Professor of Foreign Languages Ana Maria J. Wiseman retired at the end of the spring semester, but she has no plans to stop working or contributing to the cause of cross-cultural understanding.
For Wiseman and her husband, Dr. Dennis Wiseman, provost of the college, Spartanburg has been home for more than 30 years. Still she calls herself a “global nomad.” She grew up in Latin America and Belgium in a Dutch family that encouraged her interest in peoples, languages and cultures. She has presented at various conferences, published a verb conjugation program for the iPod, and team-taught upper level English classes in addition to teaching French and Spanish courses. In the summers, she teaches in the Middlebury College Spanish School in Middlebury, Vt.
Wiseman says she can’t pick a single favorite language, but tells the story of Charles V who said he “used Castilian to speak to God, Italian to speak to women, French to speak to men, and Flemish to speak to his horse.” For Wiseman, different languages are similarly related to different activities.
“For me, Spanish is what I teach – [and therefore] a favorite. I speak Dutch with my family, and so that’s a favorite, too. English is the language of work, so I use it to persuade, and so it’s near and dear to me. French has a fabulous flair, and I like it. German is the language of hard work – my German is not very good, but I value it! And then Flemish – my Flemish is also not that great, but I speak Flemish to babies and pets… not just horses.”
Wiseman first came to Wofford as an adjunct Spanish professor in 1984, and in 1987 she became involved in Wofford’s international programs as the fulltime study abroad adviser. According to Wiseman, only a handful of students participated in study abroad. “It was a one-woman show,” she says. “I did everything.”
At the time there were very few full-fledged study abroad programs, and study abroad was mostly limited to language majors. Now, any Wofford student can travel, including those in majors that offer less schedule flexibility.
“Almost every single major is included in the population of students who travel abroad, including those that people think can’t study abroad. We have a very high percentage of STEM students who go abroad,” says Wiseman.
Wiseman is also a huge proponent of faculty study abroad experiences. In 2009, says Wiseman, a gift from Roger Milliken provided the funding for five years of faculty seminars abroad — Argentina, China, Spain and Morocco, Brazil and Denmark. Wiseman has proposed a similar faculty development seminar in Argentina for CIEE for the future.
According to Wiseman, the way Wofford does international study is unique. “The basic structure… is a consortia approach, which means that we don’t necessarily have our own programs for study abroad. Instead we participate in and are members of bigger organizations (IES, CIEE, SIT, etc.) together with tons of liberal arts colleges and universities. That means we can send students as we see fit, [depending on their interests],” she says. “We can send 100 students or two… we’ve always seen that as one of our unique features.”
Wofford’s approach also allows the college to be very generous with financial aid. “Any student who wants to study abroad can come to us and we can talk,” says Wiseman. “We also have what we call ongoing orientation. At any point in the cycle of study abroad, you have ongoing orientation meetings. This includes before choosing a program, leading up to the program, when students return from abroad, etc.”
Wiseman’s work in the field of international education is well known, so much so that in 2010 she was recognized with a lifetime achievement award from IES Abroad. The award honored Wiseman as a national leader in the field of education abroad and as a volunteer and professional presenter. For IES Abroad, she has served as the chair of the general conference as a member of the board of directors. She also served on the IES Abroad curriculum committee and academic council. She was also the first director of the IES Abroad program in Amsterdam.
While Wiseman struggles to choose a single language as her favorite, her favorite travel experiences are more defined. She tells of two of her favorite experiences: “This past fall I got to go to Tunisia for the first time, and it was very memorable because it was the first country to go through the Arab Spring,” Wiseman says. “It was so interesting (right before elections), and there was a lot to observe. We got to visit the ruins of Carthage, which was fantastic, and it was interesting to be in a country where I really did not know customs and had to observe…. The weekend after we left they had elections, and the secular party won. A few days after, they had that horrible shooting at the museum. All of that together made the experience have a great impact on me.”
Shortly before her Tunisian trip, however, Wiseman was in Buenos Aires (her birthplace) with her sisters. There she visited the Immigration Museum. They were asked to check the database for the hotel of immigrants, where immigrants stayed while transitioning to “America.” Wiseman says that they did not expect to find any family members’ names in the database, but they found her mother’s misspelled Dutch name among the others.
“She arrived in August of 1951. We saw her Certificate of Arrival in America, which was cool — to them Argentina is America! She was 19 when she arrived. The three of us looked at the thing and started to cry, but we were laughing as well. That was a very special moment.”
For Wiseman, it seems that the world shrinks every time she travels, and she intends to see it shrink even more in retirement. Bon voyage! Goede reis! Buon viaggio! … in every language.
by Sarah Madden ’17