Before They Were Educators: Michael Caudill

(Editor’s Note: The following is the tenth part of a series of articles looking at the lives of WCU faculty and staff before they were educators.)

Before settling in North Carolina and becoming a professor at Western Carolina University, Dr. Michael Caudill’s education and passion for intercultural communication allowed him to travel to 46 countries and live abroad for seven years.

Being a native of California and growing up in Orange County, Caudill explains his childhood as living in another world.

“It was absolute suburbia,” saidi Caudill. “You could ride your bike to the beach and Disney Land. It was a long ride, but definitely possible.”

After high school graduation, Caudill joined the military in 1973 to follow his early dream of becoming a police officer. Caudill began his work by being a military police officer and then a traffic police officer for three years where he was stationed in Hawaii.

Being stationed in Hawaii at this time was not paradise Caudill explains.

“It was a place where Vietnam veterans were held. It was a decompression base filled with angry PTSD troops who wanted to go home,” said Caudill.

While being stationed in Hawaii, Caudill realized being a police officer was not the career for him. He then began training for the fire department where he received emergency medical training and was drawn to the medical field.

Caudill began work as an EMT and became an RN at Los Angelos County Hospital in the late 70’s. Caudill worked in the largest ER in the country and his interest in the medical field only grew from there. He was in charge of the evening shifts in the ER, taught courses in emergency medicine, was a mobile intensive care nurse, and also a flight nurse.

“I did everything you can do emergency medicine wise,” said Caudill.

Working in the largest ER in the country, and speaking fluid Spanish, Caudill was able to communicate with and be exposed to many different cultures.

“It opened my eyes to different ways of seeing the world. It definitely made me aware of my whiteness,” said Caudill.

Fueled by his interests in healthcare and culture, Caudill decided to get his Bachelors in International Relations at California State. He then attended graduate school at American University in Washington D.C where he entered the International Communication program and obtained a degree in Intercultural Communication.

After graduation, Caudill allowed his education to carry him in several directions. He interned with the American Red Cross and was hired to work in crisis communication. After three years, he decided to become more active and switched to disaster services. He then worked for Pan American Health Organization where he worked for the UN for about two years.

His excitement for intercultural work led him around the world. Latin America, the Carribean, Turkey, the South Pacific, West and East Germany, are just a few destinations from his long list of 46 countries.

“Travelling is life-changing,” said Caudill.  “It is easy to stay where you’re comfortable but travelling allows you to see the world through others points of views.”

Caudill’s intercultural excitement also led him to meeting his wife. Caudill and his wife met on a disaster assignment and there mutual love for adventure and intercultural work led them to the Virgin Islands.

“We got an offer to run a new eco resort, so we sold everything and moved to the island,” said Caudill.

In 2001, after spending five years in the Virgin Islands, Caudill and his wife decided to move back to the states.

“We had never been to North Carolina but we heard very good things,” said Caudill.

After teaching English as a second language at Southwestern Community College, Caudill made contacts at WCU.

“I was very grateful to be hired here in 2004,” said Caudill.

Caudill now teaches courses in human communication with area specialties in crisis communication and intercultural communication. Caudill views teaching students about the intercultural world and workplace as his way to give back.

“I am happy the communication department has made intercultural communication a part of education. We wouldn’t graduate people without computer skills, being without intercultural skill sounds incomplete to me,” said Caudill.

Caudill continues to be active in healthcare by teaching seminars in culture competence in healthcare and training hospitals in understanding Latino patients. He has also been a keynote speaker at several conferences and is a managing partner of Intercultural Advantage, a consulting practice that helps clients manage the challenges and opportunities of the multicultural workplace.

“I want to prepare people to work in a multi-cultural workplace. There are real challenges and real opportunities if you are prepared for it,” said Caudill.