Written By: Jessica (Aoxuan) Cao
A current master student in Applied Communication.
UWC consultant for 6 months.
What’s in my name?
I am one of the 21 IUPUI presenters in ECWCA conference this year. While others may call their ECWCA experience an academic presentation or research experience, I would regard mine as a self-discovering journey.
Back to the time when I decided to be trained as a writing center consultant, I have received many doubts from my family and myself. My family suspects my ability, and even nowadays, they won’t trust me to assist their writings. I, after taking the ENG 600 course, have equipped more confidence. However, as one of the only 3 international consultants in the UWC, I still question myself: Am I qualified enough?
If anyone have made an appointment with UWC, they will know that before session starts, they can only see the consultant’s name and bio, which brings me another question: Which name should I use?
Ok, here is something you should know before yelling “what on earth is this question?”: I have a Chinese and an English name. My Chinese name is Aoxuan, given by my parents. In China, since I was in elementary school and started learning English, I also have an English name for all English-related circumstances, a popular way to start a new language. I know some got theirs by drawing straws, and mine was given by the English teacher. My struggle in choosing names is that: If I use the English name, some students may be disappointed when seeing a foreign face, thinking that I cannot help. If I use the Chinese name, some students may possess cultural stereotypes and biases, thinking that I can only help with Chinese culture related topics, or thinking that I can’t help much with their Shakespeare essay. Ultimately, I decided to use the name makes me most comfortable in the US, “Jessica.” Meanwhile, I mentioned my nationality on the bio but obscured my identity by adding all cultural backgrounds, so my bio tends to showcase that I am a person who have experienced diverse culture rather than emphasize that I am a Chinese.
In a debriefing with Varshini, another valuable international consultant in the UWC, we decided to research the significance behind our names. To understand how names can mark identity, ability, and perception of international student consultants at the writing center, we designed interview questions surrounding students’ views on identity, ability, and perception towards us. Results revealed some interesting ideas from our writers.
When making the appointment, writers read the bio, check the availability, and most of them have no presumptions on the consultant’s identity. Specifically, for returning writers, they consider their experience with certain consultants, and the name leaves a strong impression on them.
After getting the same answers for many times, I met a different writer. When they arrived at UWC, the desk shift staff pointed at me, and I was sitting at a table near them, smiling. However, this writer had a quick glance at me and walked towards a white consultant behind me before I stopped her. They recalled that, when making the appointment, they thought the name “Jessica” “maybe white.” When they saw me, they said, “I was thinking: Oh, she’s Asian. I never see Asian people work here. I was surprised…” In fact, this writer is also an Asian. They continued the sentence, “I was surprised… but also glad. Because we are smart.” Apparently, not every Asian is smart, but we two “smart” Asian were indeed feeling very smart at that moment. The writer explained later, “You know we international people we work harder than normal people, so international consultants also work harder.” I sensed that the language they used reflects a strong sentiment connecting international students and consultants. Even though we were in relationships of consultant-writer and interviewer-interviewee, they used “we” when sharing personal experiences/opinions and rebuilding our relationship as international students. By including me in the same bracket with them, the writer eliminated our power differences. Additionally, apparently, not every international student works hard. However, based on our common identity, the writer connects their experience to me and associates this international consultant with empathy and cultural experience.
When comparing International and American consultants, other writers see from different perspectives. First, some view from age, whether the consultant is young or senior.
Second, some view from specialty, whether is consultant is more in fiction or political writing area. Third, some view from pedagogies. A writer said, “Sometimes American consultants don’t get me, or they understand me in a different way. Like when they read my paragraph, they start asking ‘what do you mean by that?’ But you understand me and explain to me what you understood about what happen, and I can explain to you.” Another writer said, “Some sessions are not very satisfying because of accent. Consultants talk really fast and very difficult to understand.” The difference between International and American consultants here has more to do with consulting pedagogies than with ethnicity/culture.
Fourth, some view from ability or competence. A writer believed there is no difference between two consultants, saying, “I feel like you all have doing the same things and in the same qualities. Not much different.” Another writer though some American consultants don’t have enough ability, saying, “Even though some are American, they don’t know much. Consultation is more about creative, more smart, it depends…”
Fifth, some view from behaviors. A writer commended my work and compared it with other, saying “You are cheering when welcomed me. I prefer more an excited person than ‘I’m here. Let’s work.’” Another writer said, “[You have] Good experience. Face expressions. Most time people in this level don’t have facial expressions.”
Sixth, some view from experience and believe that international consultants are more appreciated due to their common experiences. One said, “It’s easier to understand you especially you are international student… We are both learning English, not like native speakers. We are making process together and you are not judging me.” Another said, “I think an international consultant should be better because they get something more happen outside. Maybe because they pass through the same thoughts with international students. They know how hard it is to learn languages and they know how to better help people with it. Sometimes it’s difficult to explain the issue [leaning languages], but if someone can understand it, it helps them [students] better.”
In conclusion, on the one hand, International consultants and American consultants have not much difference. Most writers said that there is no difference in consultant behaviors and sessions. On the other hand, the existence of international consultants is important. Some writers experienced mutual difficulty in understanding between American consultants and international writers. Neither can international writers easily understand American consultants, nor can American consultants easily understand international writers. Under this circumstance, some English Language Learners prefer international consultants based on their cultural recognitions, strong connections through common identities, and mutual understandings of learning experience. However, these differences can be reduced by improving consultant pedagogies to adapt to international writers.
After all these researches and after our roundtable presentation in ECWCA, I have felt much relieved. We don’t need to find one spot to sit on. Everyone is multicultural and multilingual. This is us. Once we can recognize our culture, we can better embrace cultural diversity. I am a Chinese, Cantonese, and American resident. I speak Chinese Mandarin, Chinese Cantonese, and White English, but I am also learning multiple Englishes: Howdy! Whazzup? Hiya! G’day!