Crossing to a New Culture

April 4th, 2012

Understanding being an “outsider”

Dorca Kisare-Ressler, EMU’s director of International Student Services since January 2012, knows the loneliness of being far from home in a strange culture.

She first set eyes on Eastern Mennonite University when her husband, Dale ’84, enrolled in 1982 to finish his undergraduate degree after many years of mission-service work in Tanzania.

Dorca Kisare-Ressler

Dorca Kisare-Ressler

Dorca had never lived outside her home country of Tanzania before coming to the United States with Dale. When he started EMU, Dorca spent much of her time in their Harrisonburg apartment with their first-born son, Noel, then a toddler.

Back home, where her father was a Mennonite bishop, children were raised amid a proverbial “village” of female relatives. Dorca was the baby in a family of 11 surviving children (out of 14 born to her mother). Dorca was never alone there. She recalls a deep “level of trust” from living among her extended family spread through her home community.

In Harrisonburg in the early 1980s (and even now), people were busy with their own lives, and other Africans were few and far between. Friendships lacked depth to Dorca. “I’ve always felt somewhat like an outsider,” Dorca told Crossroads, speaking in English richly accented with her mother tongue. (She admits, though, that it can be tiring to repeatedly answer the question, “Where are you from?” after people hear her speak.)

Their second son, Kevin ’07, was born in Harrisonburg around the time that Dale graduated. Their third son, Patrick ’09, arrived after the family had settled in Lancaster, Pa., partly to be close to other Mennonites who had lived and worked in Tanzania.

All the men in the family, except for Noel, are EMU alumni, as are Dorca’s brother-in-law Everett Ressler ’70 and sister-in-law Phyllis Augsburger Ressler ’72, to whom she is close.

So, in a way, Dorca was already a member of the EMU family before resigning from a similar position at Messiah College to accept her EMU appointment as chief mentor to international students.

“Both Messiah and EMU are strong on service and serving others, while working for reconciliation in a broken world,” Dorca says. She believes strongly in the importance of a faith-based education that enables students to “take the road less traveled” and to care about humanity.

This belief not only reflects Dorca’s Anabaptist theology (she worshiped at Slate Hill Mennonite Church in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, before moving to Harrisonburg), it fits her academic background. After her sons were all in school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Millersville University and an MS degree in college counseling from Shippensburg University.

“I’ve always been interested in what makes a person become who they are, in their spiritual and emotional journey over their entire life span.”

She is also interested in justice that is rehabilitative, rather than harmful. After earning her undergraduate degree, she worked in the district attorney’s office in Lancaster where she found that young people from impoverished backgrounds often didn’t have the benefit of advocates who cared about them, both before they committed juvenile offenses and after they were caught in the court system.

At EMU now, Dorca hopes to help both international and American students to successfully navigate across cultures, facing issues of diversity and discrimination openly and healthily. And, most of all, she hopes to make attending EMU less lonely for students far from home.