Jeremy Wildenberg is a first-year student at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, who serves as a reminder that non-traditional students often bring a knowledge that adds to the academic experience.
In his case, he's teaching Arabic to UW-Green Bay educators.
Wildenberg, age 35, a Little Chute native, spent 14 years in the U.S. Army as a linguistics expert — studying Russian and then Arabic at the Defensive Language Institute in Monterey, Calif.
After returning to the area, Wildenberg began teaching a non-credit course in Arabic at St. Norbert College. Among his students were members of the UW-Green Bay faculty and staff who are involved with the establishment of the Center for Middle East Studies and Partnerships.
"I love working with language and learning about other cultures," Wildenberg said. "And once you're exposed to another culture, it shatters the stereotypes."
Wildenberg joined the Army Reserves while still in high school and when he signed up for active duty, he was set to become a mechanic. However, an aptitude test showed that he has a remarkable proficiency for language.
He was assigned to the program in California, which he calls one of the most prestigious language programs. Not only do students learn to write and speak a language, they learn the history and culture of other nations. Wildenberg's specialty was Russian.
However, it's a changing world and as U.S. interests expanded to other parts of the globe, he was asked to switch to another language. Five days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he chose to learn Arabic, which is especially difficult because not only does it flow right to left, it doesn't have a familiar alphabet. He served out the rest of his enlistment putting his language skills to use on behalf of his country.
After leaving the military Wildenberg and his wife Maleina decided to return with their four children to their hometown of Little Chute. Yes, they were high school sweethearts.
Because there isn't yet a great call here for Arabic and Russian linguists, Wildenberg decided to pursue a degree in education. He has chosen to add Spanish to his linguistic palette.
"It dawned on me that I can make an impact by promoting cultural awareness through language," Wildenberg said. "I believe that a Middle Eastern studies department is critical and it is essential to learn other languages."