From the Tower of Babel

Christine Ersig-Marcus, professor, posing for a portrait in village room 8112 on Nov. 16, 2016, at Pierce College, Woodland Hills, Calif. Photo by Amy Au
Christine Ersig-Marcus, professor, posing for a portrait in village room 8112 on Nov. 16, 2016, at Pierce College, Woodland Hills, Calif. Photo by Amy Au

Professor Christine Ersig-Marcus has been teaching for 20 years, first in Switzerland, then in the United States. Ersig-Marcus was born in Switzerland and learned how to speak Swiss-German from birth.

“I make a point of that because Swiss-German can only really be understood by Swiss-German speakers,” Ersig-Marcus said. “For a Swiss person this is a very strong identity marker because Germans don’t understand us, and there are so many different dialects.”

Ersig-Marcus and her family moved to England where she learned how to speak, read and write English at six. Later in life, she moved back to Switzerland and had to learn standard German because Swiss-German isn’t taught in a reading and writing manner.

In school, standard German is the rule of the land, according Ersig-Marcus.

“Swiss children learn standard German in school because we can not in our little Swiss-German dialect languages. There’s really no way we can read or write,” Ersig-Marcus said. “We can’t write and that’s why we don’t read texts that are written in that dialect.”

Ersig-Marcus has been interested in teaching since a young age. A teacher she had increased her interested by giving her an opportunity to do something for him.

“Once I was in middle school, maybe first year of high school, I had an absolutely fantastic history and German teacher,” Ersig-Marcus said. “He was passionate, he was fun, and he was knowledgeable. I told him that I aspired to be a teacher too.”

He taught a class of 12-year-olds and offered her the opportunity to prepare a lesson and teach the class to see if that’s what she truly wanted to do.

“I totally took him up on it and I absolutely loved it,” Ersig-Marcus said. “It was clear from then on. It really cemented my dreams.”

17 years ago, Ersig-Marcus immigrated to the United States, and has been teaching ever since. When she arrived, she already had a doctoral degree in English-German linguistics, but could not apply her teaching studies in the United States due to German language programs closing.

She went back to school for her master’s degree in communication studies which was something she wanted to do. She wanted to learn to communicate better and how to help students communicate better with not only her, but others around them.

Ersig-Marcus has been at Pierce for five years and received tenure last semester. She teaches interpersonal communications and public speaking but hopes to teach intercultural communications and argumentation in the future.

Janette Sanchez is a student in Ersig-Marcus’ interpersonal communications course, who took interest in the subject after enrolling in the class.

“I absolutely love her. I’m more aware of my communication skills and I’m more aware of just how to be a better speaker in general,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez attributes some of her new communication skills to Ersig-Marcus.

“There’s a lot of different ways to communicate in different environments and you have to be aware of which one to use in which situation,” Sanchez said.

Yeprem Davoodian, a faculty member and director of the Pierce College Honors Transfer Program, has worked at Pierce College since 2007, and has been a full-time faculty member since 2013. He works closely with Ersig-Marcus, not only within their department, but also on other projects.

They work on a project for culturally responsive training that has gotten others involved. About her teaching methods, he has nothing but praise for her.

“She is fluid, when I say fluid it’s fluid and flawless,” Davoodian said. “She is eloquent, she is engaging, and she brings in new ideas and explores old ideas and makes them just pop. I say make meaning she makes new ideas come out of old ideas.”

Ersig-Marcus enjoys teaching interpersonal communications because it allows her to open up a student’s mind about communication with themselves and others.

“It’s a course about you, about how you communicate incompetently and competently, effectively and ineffective, and to really sort of find out where your strengths are and where areas of improvement are,” Ersig-Marcus said. “To be able to have satisfying relationships, which then become a source of your happiness.”

She hopes to teach intercultural communication for reasons more than for students, but also for herself.

“I engage in it everyday,” Ersig-Marcus said. “I did have a consciousness that when I came to the United States 17 years ago that the way that I teach, the way I communicate in the classroom, the way I communicate to my students, the way I communicate to my friends, and what I observe, is not quite the same that I’m used to.”

She has to analyze and adapt to become more effective. One of the most important concepts that Ersig-Marcus would like others to know, is the idea of perceptions.

“It’s how we perceive us and how we perceive the other person and how those perceptions influence our communication,” Ersig-Marcus said. “I think that an important thing about communication is the ability to reflect on yourself.”

She believes that communication is really at the root of what we do everyday in communication, from skills employers look for, to everyday conversations.

There are many sayings, quotes and ideas that she enjoys and lives by, but one stands out to her more than others. It is the inscription on a temple in Delphi, Greece. The top of the temple reads, ‘Know thyself.’

“I very often go back to that quote because it’s tough, it’s a journey, it’s challenging,” Ersig-Marcus said. “To tie it back to interpersonal communication, it’s so important to know yourself, and as a communicator, it is to know who you are and to be honest with yourself.”