Meet Our Staff: Shirley Be

by Katharine Reece MFA '12

As director of international admission and international student advising, Shirley Be spends 28 days a year traveling abroad, recruiting top-notch students to attend SLC. (In fall 2011 alone, she traveled to Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Portugal.) Her efforts are paying off—in 2011 SLC welcomed a record number of students from abroad: 14 percent of the class of 2015. To this day, her favorite words are “Cabin crew, prepare for take-off.”

Shirley Be

SLC: What is the greatest challenge of your job?

SB: Explaining SLC—our pedagogy can sound complicated even to people familiar with the American education system! The outcomes of a liberal arts degree sometimes sound more nebulous than they are in fact. Students from the rest of the world, after high school, usually go directly into professional schools (to study subjects such as law or medicine) and don’t study a broad-based curriculum. The word “small” also often connotes “weak” in other parts of the world—prestige is going to a large university in a big city. But more people now are beginning to understand what the liberal arts entail.

SLC: What is the biggest adjustment international students make?

SB: Some students from tropical climates are surprised by the cold. Sometimes I take them shopping for coats and explain the concept of layering. Others are surprised that they must engage in discussion and debate, and speak to their professors on a first-name basis. They’re used to a much more formal system.

SLC: What has been your favorite place to travel?

SB: Besides Vienna, where I lived for a year after college, India was my first long solo trip. It was pre-Internet and I had no communication with home except for the occasional aerogram. I traveled around by bus and train with a tiny backpack and stayed in very simple hotels. The area that moved me the most was Ladakh, in the far north, near the Tibetan border. It is very remote and austere—an unearthly landscape. I am always happy when I return to India for work, and hope to travel there sometime during the monsoon season with my family, perhaps staying on a houseboat. Also, I went to Omaha, Nebraska, last year to visit my brother and, strangely, I loved it. I found it so exotic—the prairie, cottonwood trees, the Missouri River, wagon ruts from the 19th century. I would love to go back there!