K Alum Loves the Babel of Languages

Bruce Maylath ’80 is a man in love with language; and it’s an affair he’ll talk about openly.

Professor Bruce Maylath, founder and coordinator of TAPP, connects with some of his students.

A professor of English at North Dakota State University in Fargo and recognized expert in technical communication education, Maylath was the first K student to study abroad in Norway, helping pave a way for future students, including his brother Glen ’83, to study in Scandinavia. At the time, there were no study abroad centers there, he says.

“I was fortunate to be at K when the designers of K-Plan were still at the college,” he says. “Some of them experienced World War II. That was one of the reasons the program was created. They figured if young people were in other nations and they were learning from each other, we could help stave off another world war.”

Maylath is quick to point out that the root word of communicate is “commune”—to share intimacy, manifest community, enable the interchange of ideas and feelings.

“When we don’t communicate, we make assumptions and give in to myths and stereotypes. We can’t deal effectively or empathetically with each other unless we appreciate the diversity of communication. If we don’t, fear of the other can rise.”

With help from the College’s study abroad endowment, Maylath made his way in Norway, learning the language, making connections and seeing how powerful intentional cultural exchange can be.

Today, with the continued rise of social media and technology, the world is becoming smaller virtually, and so is the diversity of languages used to communicate. But where one may see the benefits of the use of a handful of languages worldwide, such as Chinese, English or Spanish, Maylath sees danger on the horizon.

To illustrate his concern, he points to a critical moment in how language is used in the United States. It was 1917, and with American doughboys fighting the Germans in the trenches of Western Europe, nationalism was high. Germans and German culture generally— including speaking the language—were seen as disloyal, un-American. German language was on its way out.

In Minnesota, for instance, one-third of schools taught their students primarily in German before World War I, and hearing it being spoken on streets and in restaurants was commonplace. That more open language policy in schools there was cancelled soon after the war began.

“It was normal to hear German being spoken alongside English,” Maylath says. “We are still living with the decision to do away with German, in many ways.”

The American education system does not stress the learning of foreign languages nearly as much as those of other nations do, he says. And it’s to our own detriment.

“Why do we wait so late to teach our kids other languages? The truth is it’s a policy meant to prevent learning other ways of communicating,” he says. “It’s the fear of the other. Language is one of the easiest things to denigrate, and big, powerful nations have never had to declare an official language, because of that power.

“English is eliminating languages across the world left and right. We are especially good at wiping out languages here in North America.”

Decades after his experience in Norway and with years of academic expertise under his belt, Maylath is leading some very meaningful work.

He is the co-founder and coordinator of the Trans-Atlantic and Pacific Project, a network linking writing, usability testing and translation classes at 28 universities in 15 countries. The project aims to break away from the growing trend of “monolingualism” and grow appreciation for the incredible diversity of language across the globe.

Students in the program are paired with others in different nations, using Skype or other means to communicate and grow appreciation for how the other’s language is used in day-to-day life in a sort of enhanced translation learning.

“We had one of our Belgian students ask an American participant what a wall outlet was, for example,” Maylath says. “It’s just a completely foreign phrase to them. Another student found out her partner was blind and they both had to develop a plan going forward. In the end, our students don’t just learn more vocabulary, but actually how the language is used. It’s cultural appreciation.”

It’s also a program that Maylath says has tones of the K-Plan ringing through it.

“Learning by doing. Experiential learning. That was a big part of the K-Plan and K’s culture,” he says. “How can students learn by experience? That’s what we should be asking. When they do, they become excited about their experience. It’s a highly energized and realistic way to learn, and in our program, helps them share their humanity.”

And like most authentic learning, the lessons and connections made stick with students.

“Some of our students have become close friends,” he says. “The experiences they have reverberate in ways you can’t plan for. But in a way it makes sense. They are doing what humans yearn to do—they’re connecting. That’s the power of language.”

Forgotten Lunches, 30 Years Apart

Most, but not all, Kalamazoo College students go on study abroad. Most, but not all, do an internship. On the other hand, everyone who graduates does a Senior Individualized Project.

Therefore, the fact that Diane Dupuis ’80 and Fiona Carey ’14 did a SIP is more “Dog Bites Man” than vice versa. But when you consider that Dupuis is Carey’s mother, and that they both studied French and completed SIPs that were both based on translating literature in their second language, things start to get a bit more “Man Bites Dog.”

And the similarities don’t end there.

Diane Dupuis, Fiona Carey and Professor Kathleen (White) Smith

SIP students and supervisor (l-r): Diane Dupuis ’80, Fiona Carey ’14, Professor Kathleen (White) Smith.

Both women studied abroad in French-speaking nations—Dupuis in Caen, France, and Carey in Dakar, Senegal—and both persuaded Professor of Romance Languages and Literature Kathleen White Smith to serve as their SIP advisor, albeit some 34 years apart.

“One needs to know French very well to create a literal translation that reads well,” Smith says. “Diane and Fiona are both extremely proficient in French.”

In the fall of 1979, Dupuis translated Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein by Marguerite Duras, first published in France in 1964. Duras grew up in French Indochina, creating a literary perspective and voice unique from other French writers of the time, Dupuis says.

“There was an otherness to her voice that set her apart,” she says. “I really responded to her style.”

Carey, meanwhile, translated the first act of the three-act play Béatrice du Congo by Bernard Dadié, published in 1970, a work she first encountered in a francophone African literature class at K. Here, too, there are serendipitous similarities between the choices of mother and daughter. Significant themes in both works revolve around colonial imperialism, religion, and native peoples trying to maintain or resurrect traditional ways of living upended by foreign influences.

“I was amazed that our SIPs were almost the same,” Dupuis says. “I wondered why I didn’t think about this sooner. It seemed almost inevitable that we would pursue the same kind of project.”

Both women love language—French in particular. Carey well remembers a trip the family took to France when she was in high school, particularly the admiration she felt for her mother as they walked around towns in Normandy and she heard her mom’s French language skills reawaken.

Dupuis often read French to Carey and her younger brother when they were kids growing up, teaching them how to make the sounds of the words. But she never pushed her children to learn the language, Carey says. It just kind of happened.

“I attribute my love for language to her love for language,” she says. “I knew my mom translated a novel, but I didn’t really think about it until the end of this winter. It’s funny that it worked out this way!”

When it comes to pathways to higher education, the similarities fade. Dupuis, the daughter of two Detroit Public Schools teachers, was intrigued with medicine. In the mid-1970s, some universities were offering six-year programs that, when completed, earned a student a bachelor’s and medical degree, a sort of fast-track to the medical profession.

She applied to these programs at the University of Michigan, Boston University and Northwestern University, among others. Kalamazoo College—where she’d been accepted—was her “traditional-track” top choice, she says, adding, “If I didn’t get into one of those specialized programs, I at least knew I wanted to go to the best school in Michigan, with an excellent rate of med-school acceptances.”

She got interviews at all the universities she applied to, was placed on waiting lists for a few of them, and got rejections from a few others. K was still there, the doors wide open.

“I didn’t like the waiting list idea,” Dupuis says. “K let me know they wanted me.”

She had a passion for science, enrolling in the pre-med curriculum, but it soon became apparent that the rigidity and competitiveness of the traditional pre-med and medical-school trajectory of 35 years ago did not square with Dupuis’s vision of health and healing.  “These days we have terms for what I wanted to explore: integrative or holistic medicine, and alternative and complementary therapies,” Dupuis explains. “Back then, those concepts were generally labeled as ‘snake oil.’  I wasn’t comfortable with the narrow combativeness of the mainstream.”

So Dupuis started down a compelling new path, double-majoring in English and French, diving into creative writing, writing for the Index, serving on the yearbook staff, editing the Cauldron, and helping out in the library’s A.M. Todd Rare Book Room.

Words became her passion. She took an internship on the editorial team at the Chicago publishing house Nelson-Hall, which, at that time, was administered in part by a K graduate. That experience led to a nearly two-decade career in book publishing, taking a job in 1980 at the Detroit-based Gale Research Company and spearheading her own imprint—Visible Ink Press—which she launched and led.

Now, after ten years in nonprofit administration at Interlochen Center for the Arts, Dupuis serves as Charitable Giving Specialist for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, near her home in northwestern Michigan’s Benzie County.

Thinking back to the six months she spent in Caen, Dupuis remembers being routinely mistaken for a native, her last name a fairly common “nom de famille” in France. Then French natives would start talking a mile a minute. She had to try to keep up, and it was hard. The experience has stayed with her.

How can I be always learning to be a gracious presence in the world?

“K was a place where you really could pursue what intrigued you. Things felt possible there. I had gone to Italy when on study abroad, and when I came back I had a strong desire to learn Italian. So Dr. Henry Cohen in the Romance Language department made it happen—just because I asked. Our intellectual curiosity was valued there. The K- Plan is so forward-looking, such a wonderful way to find your place in the world.”

For Carey, things were a bit more streamlined when it came to searching for schools. She applied to Bowdoin, Swarthmore, Dartmouth, MIT, Middlebury, and Kalamazoo College. In the end, says Carey, who majored in theatre at Interlochen Arts Academy, K was a pretty easy choice—thanks in part to her mother’s experience.

“K was always on my radar because of my mom,” Carey says. “I think particularly the study abroad the College offers was mouthwateringly cool, and I love Michigan. I wanted that small, liberal arts experience. The choice to go to school here was pretty easy.”

Graduating this June, Carey has been busy on campus, serving as a Student Chaplain volunteer and spending substantial time and talent on Festival Playhouse theatre productions, including Kahani, a theatre project that toured in India in July, 2012. Carey has always been fascinated with the intersection of culture and the arts, and with art’s potential for creating intercultural dialogue.

It was Carey’s time in Dakar, Senegal’s capital city, that really woke her to the uniqueness of the K experience, as well as her own love for learning foreign languages and navigating between cultures. Dupuis helped out, too.

“Mom’s multicultural awareness and appreciation for other cultures helped shape mine,” Carey says. “She transferred that to my brother and me. I’m very grateful for that.”

The openness and hospitality she experienced while in the West African metropolis astounded her as she learned from teachers, host family, friends, and strangers in a constant flow of culture shock and warm welcome. Carey was able to participate in a give-and-take that was different from give-and-take at home.

“It’s said that you are never more from your home country than you are when you’re abroad,” Carey says. “I experienced a heightened awareness of the importance of generosity. I carry that with me. There’s the saying at K that’s inscribed in the wall of Trowbridge Hall:  “The end of learning is gracious living.” To me, that has a lot to do with responsibility, with respect on a deep level—how can I be always learning to be a gracious presence in the world? I definitely felt myself asking that question in Dakar and growing in that way.”

This September, Carey will start a job teaching English to middle- and high-schoolers on the Caribbean island of Martinique.

So, who’s the better translator? The answers are diplomatic.

“I don’t know,” Dupuis says, “I haven’t seen Fiona’s SIP yet. She’s working with idioms I am probably not familiar with. Fiona is a gifted writer in English, which is just as essential.”

Says Carey, “My mom’s probably been exposed to more French text than I have. She’s got more experience. She just has such a nuanced sensibility with language in general—she’s a really great writer.”

Either way, it matters little. What’s most important? Dupuis has a good answer: “I have always told my kids to pay attention to the things that, when you are doing them, make you forget what you had for lunch, or even whether you had lunch.

“K is a place where you can lose yourself in so many explorations that help you realize your full potential.”