Dr. Liliana Wendorff, chair of the World Languages Department and associate professor of Spanish, began her academic career early, studied in Peru and America, taught for a time in Russia and is currently teaching at Queens. Although she loves to travel and has lead a varied life, she says she would like to teach until she no longer can. Her own life is certainly very interesting, but she also has a message for students today: being a good citizen is important and traveling abroad can widen your perspective.
Wendorff entered university in Peru when she was 16 years old, two years younger than most people in Peru. She studied economics before marrying and moving to the United States. The move was made easier by the fact that her father was from New York and already had American citizenship.After having two children, Wendorff decided to finish her education, beginning with studying psychology at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She changed paths yet again when she decided to study Romance languages and earned both a master’s degree and a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Wendorff’s specialization in her PhD studies was Spanish-American narratives and she has published short stories in both Spanish and English.
Now that she has settled in Charlotte, she says she loves to teach and loves the city. She says that Charlotte has a lot to offer for people who spend time here.
Wendorff has also traveled to 20 countries, mostly in Europe. She has two sisters in England and one in France, as well as family in Peru, which has afforded her an opportunity to travel to many other places in those areas. She also taught for some time in Tomsk, Russia, and was very impressed by the country.
Wendorff’s travels, and especially her own education in both Peru and America, have given her a unique view of different education systems.“I’m going to talk to you from when I was in school,” Wendorff noted. “Because it has changed.”
She said that Peru’s education was very structured. At the end of their sophomore year of high school students chose to enter the humanities, the sciences or a trade. Once students chose their path, they would begin applying for universities.
“We do not have the equivalent of the SAT there,” she said. “The way it works is you take the test that the university that you want to attend offers.”
Wendorff said that she did not take electives in school. Every student took the same classes.
“I think since then it has changed more toward the American system,” she said.
One difficulty of the Peruvian system when Wendorff was attending school was that changing careers was very difficult. Another was that students who did not get accepted to the school they applied to would have to wait another year to take the test. This made entering university very difficult.
She said she sees some advantages to the liberal arts approach in many American universities – especially at Queens. One advantage she mentioned was the general studies program that many schools have, because this helps students explore their interests when they are young.
“Also the flexibility of switching careers is something that I like,” she said.
Wendorff said that she feels it is important for students to learn to be good citizens. The Core program in the humanities is part of what drew her to Queens in the first place.
“I thought that was really really cool,” she said. “It’s really beneficial. I love the humanities.”
Of course, it did not hurt that the chair of the foreign language program at the time had also earned a PhD from UNC Chapel Hill and had the same advisor that Wendorff had while she was there.
“I found the perfect job for me,” Wendorff said with her characteristic laugh.Now, Wendorff is chair of the languages department herself. She said that she especially sees her travel and her birthplace as advantages when she is teaching classes in Spanish because she is a native speaker and knows a lot about the cultures.
“And put cultures there,” she said. “Because it is several cultures.”
And Wendorff has experienced many cultures, from Peru to America, from Spain and Portugal and to England and Switzerland. She loves to travel and has had many experiences abroad.
“What I would love for everyone to do is to spend some time abroad,” she said.
She said that experiencing other cultures is important because it helps students to appreciate what they have and to critique what should be changed in our own culture.
“I really think that opens your eyes to a lot of stuff,” she said.
Even after all she has seen and done, Wendorff says she prioritizes the people in her life. She said her greatest accomplishment is having strong connections with her family and her friends.
“I feel like you can measure one’s success by the number of affections one can get,” she said.