Williams International

Cornelius Kubler, Professor of Asian Studies

1.) What, specifically, is your field of study? And how does it relate to international issues?

My fields of study are Chinese linguistics and Chinese language pedagogy. I study the linguistic structure of, and help Americans learn, the most widely spoken language in the world — Mandarin Chinese. My hope is that through better language teaching and learning, I can help improve communication between the peoples of the U.S. and those of the various Chinese-speaking countries and regions, and thereby contribute — in however small a way — to promoting world peace and understanding.

2.) What brought you to Williams?

I had previously served for 11 years, both domestically and overseas, with the Foreign Service Institute, U.S. Department of State. What attracted me to Williams was the opportunity to join the College as a department chair and, working with my colleagues here, help build and expand the Chinese and Asian Studies programs. Of course, having summers and some winters — as well as sabbaticals every couple of years — free for research and writing was also an attraction (government service is year round with basically no breaks at all).

3.) What is one of the best things about teaching at Williams?

The chance to teach very talented, hard-working, and polite students in small classes.

4.) Despite being in western Massachusetts, is Williams a place that encourages dialogue about international issues? Or could Williams be more supportive in this regard?

The Williams of 2011 is definitely more internationally-minded than the Williams of 1991, the year that I arrived. The College has certainly tried hard to internationalize the curriculum and, at least until the economic crisis of 2008, was very supportive of the Chinese Language Program. Nevertheless, it is a fact that we are in some extent limited in what we can do by our geographic location; were we in New York City or Boston, some things would be possible that are not possible here. However, we make up for them the best we can.

5.) Do you believe Williams students are interested and knowledgeable about international issues?

Many Williams students are interested in international issues, but some are not. Some Williams students are knowledgeable in international issues, but others are not. Compared to institutions of higher learning in Europe or Asia, we still have a long ways to go in terms of strengthening international education, and strengthening the foreign language proficiency and foreign area studies knowledge of Williams students is part of this. To give an example, not too long ago, a graduating senior who had taken several Asian Studies courses expressed surprise to me on learning that China was a communist country; he had somehow gotten the impression that China was no longer communist!

12.) Do you speak more than one language? If so, which one(s)?

What do you mean by “speak”? I’ve learned or studied an even dozen–German, English, French, Latin, Spanish, Italian, Esperanto, Classical Greek, Mandarin, Classical Chinese, Taiwanese, Cantonese, and Japanese. But I now believe that quality trumps quantity, that less is more; if I could go back, I would learn fewer languages, but learn them to a higher level.