Maria Paredes Mendez: Associate Professor and Chair of the Modern and Classical Languages Department at Western Washington University.

What brought you to Bellingham?

I came to Bellingham right after I finished my PhD at the University of Kansas. I was looking for jobs on both coasts, and in the Chicago area. This one popped up, and all I knew about the Northwest was from Frasier. I knew it was green and rained a lot, and that’s what it’s like where I’m from. I figured it would feel a little like home.

I was invited to campus after interviewing for the position. The minute I stepped off the plane, I was like, “Oh my gosh, please hire me!” I hadn’t even seen the campus, but it literally felt like home. It smelled like home; the air felt like home. That was twelve years ago.

It was my first real job out of grad school. I love it here. I really like Western. I love Western students. They are pretty amazing. Very different from the type of student I was used to at KU.

Really? What’s different about Western students?

WWU doesn’t have a language requirement. The students actually want to be in class. They’re motivated. I always say that Western students are world naive, but world curious. They want to learn. You would think for college students that would be a given; but it’s often not.

The best Western students could really be anywhere; literally anywhere. They’re that good. It’s really exciting to have students like that. 


What’s your favorite spot in Bellingham?

I love Fragrance Lake, Larrabee State Park, Boulevard Park, and Fairhaven.

It’s counterintuitive because the weather is so bad sometimes, but in Bellingham, people like to be outside. There’s a sense of community on the street not common in the States. That’s something I miss about Spain—walking places and seeing people out and about. Bellingham has a little of that.

What do you like best about your job?

I actually have two jobs right now. I’m the Chair of the Modern and Classical Languages Department, so I spend a lot of time on administrative duties. My other job is a professor—teaching and doing research.

What I love most about my professor job is teaching and interacting with my students. I love opening doors and windows for them, so to speak. It’s great to see the spark in their eyes when they get it. As the Chair, I like to make things happen—to explore new avenues, do new things, and see how we can be more effective.

What do people not understand about your job, or about Western?

There’s this perceived division in Bellingham—the people up there on the hill—on campus, and the people down here in the city, like we are in some sort of bubble. Which to a degree is by design. Students need to take their first steps of independence in a protected, somewhat controlled environment.

At the same time, we all teach up there, but we live down here. We are here because we love Bellingham, because we love the Northwest, because we love to teach, because we like to engage with the community. Some people think of professors as people who are in their heads all the time. Most of us are not like that. We have a very social job and interact with people all the time. We have families, we like good food, going to coffee shops, and going on hikes. I think that’s the most important thing for people to understand about the WWU faculty.

What does Bellingham need?

I would love for Bellingham to have more big businesses, in the sense that they’re growing, they’re changing, and they’re open to hiring young people who have new ideas to contribute. That’s one of the issues with Bellingham. It’s a great place to live, but it’s really hard to find a job here. Many of my students would love to stay but it’s just not an option unless they want to get a job at a coffee shop. We are so privileged to have so many young people here. It would be amazing if we can take full advantage of that by facilitating entrepreneurship in whatever way possible.

Is there a book you’ve read recently that you’re really excited about?

I just discovered a new author, Kazuo Ishiguro. He’s Japanese British. He explores themes found in science fiction or futuristic literature. His book, Never Let Me Go, was made into a movie.



What is your favorite spot downtown?

We are downtown a lot. I like Avenue Bread, Avellino, Woods, La Fiamma Pizza and Burgers, and Boundary Bay Brewery.

If you have an empty day, and it’s beautiful out, where would we find you?

Early morning, you would find me in Fairhaven having a cup of coffee at Tony’s, maybe reading a book or grading papers. Then I’d go for a walk, either at Boulevard Park or up in Fragrance. Afterwards, I’d get lunch downtown.

What are people always surprised to learn about you?

Most people are surprised to know that I got my paella recipe from the Internet. They all think it’s this family recipe passed down from generations. I actually didn’t grow up eating paella.

Is paella from another region of Spain?

It’s a very traditional dish from a region called Valencia, on the eastern side in the Mediterranean. It’s not easy to find a restaurant in the north that serves it. It’s great though—I love it, and love serving it at parties. It looks beautiful and you can feed a ton of people with it. But I got my recipe from the Internet!

If you had to go back and enroll at Western, what would you study now?

That’s a good question. I got my undergrad degree in Spain, and always wanted to be a journalist. At the time, there were very few journalism schools so I would have had to move to Madrid and my parents just didn’t have that kind of money. If I had to start again, I would probably end up doing sort of the same thing—probably a degree in English. I love reading, and reading about literature. The other thing I wanted to do back in the day was social work. That might be another piece of the puzzle.

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