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Susan Boland
, Tidewater Community College 

I always have to laugh the first day of classes. While other instructors scurry around the halls looking for their classrooms, I am able to walk directly to mine, for it is always the noisier room. ESL students talk – loudly – to one another.

Talk about different worlds.

Last summer I attended the NACADA Summer Institute (SI) as a team member from my community college. There were about 130 participants in this SI; about twenty were faculty members. Of those twenty faculty members, I was the sole ESL teacher. I asked a lot of questions, and I did a lot of listening. Once again, I was struck with the dissimilarities when it comes to ESL students.

Academic advisors, I was told, repeatedly pose this question to the student sitting across from their desk: “What do you want to do here?” The usual reply is “I don’t know.” But, when I address this question with my students, I have to preface it with this statement: “We are now going to have a discussion. I am going to ask the whole class a question. Do not shout out what you want to say.Raise your handand I will call on you, one by one.”

ESL students have BIG plans. This semester I am teaching everyone from a future heart surgeon to a future auto mechanic. I have no doubt that these students have the ability and determination to make their dreams come true, but they will need an academic advisor to help them find their way.

Some of us may recall our own experiences with academic advising as a professor who helped put our schedules together and ensured that we took the right courses in order to graduate. Academic advisors do much more than that; my academic advisor helped me make one of the biggest decisions of my life.

After completing my freshman year, I did not feel connected to the college I was attending. I decided, as an English major, to do my sophomore year at a university in England. I felt connected there; in fact, I felt so connected that I remained in England for my junior year as well. At the close of my junior year abroad, I found a university stateside that would accept my freshman credits as well as the 60 credits I accumulated during my two years abroad – every one in English Literature.

Upon my arrival back in the states, I was scheduled to meet with an academic advisor to review my transcript and set up my schedule for my final year. The advisor asked me several questions: what were my plans after graduation? I don’t know. He pursued his line of questioning: when I graduated, would I be going back to England or staying in the States? I don’t know. There was a long hmmmm, as he considered my circumstances. He then wisely advised that I take some courses with the word “American” in the title. Together, we came up with Early American Literature, American Political Thought, and another A – Anthropology – because clearly I had an interest in different cultures.

That semester I read James Fennimore Cooper’s tale of pioneers immersed in the uniquely American experience of the Adirondacks in the early 1800s. As I worked my way through The Federalist Papers for my American Political Thought class, I began to understand the Constitution. This was all stitched together in Anthropology, which allowed me to step back and understand the origins and development of culture, and how cultural values are manifested in things like the Constitution. After graduation, I did not go back to England. Instead, I remained stateside and went on to become an ESL teacher.

My academic advisor saw that much more was at stake than just the completion of a degree. He saw a young woman who was lost between two shores; with his guiding wisdom I found the tools to make a decision that would impact the rest of my life.

Our students will make similar life-defining decisions as they transition from ESL classes into programs in which they will learn the skills that will enable them to reach their goals. This can be a complicated progression through the labyrinth of an institution of higher education as well as through the, at-times-impossible, challenge of crossing cultures. As their ESL teachers, we want them to be prepared. Academic advisors will not only assure that these students take the right courses; they also will be on stand-by to assist these students in making decisions that must be faced on this difficult road.

As much as there are dissimilarities between student groups, there are similarities between ESL teachers and academic advisors. As I watched these good people at Summer Institute devise Action Plans to take back to their campuses, I witnessed the same passion that I witness whenever I get together with my ESL colleagues. The critical role of academic advising is not understood nor appreciated enough by institutions of higher education. Academic advisors are trained professionals; they are ready. Trust me, academic advisors CAN and DO help our students solve some of life’s more complicated dilemmas.

Susan Boland
Tidewater Community College
[email protected]

Cite this article using APA style as: Boland, S. (2006, February). Advising in a different world. Academic Advising Today, 29(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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