One man, four languages and seven countries

When Jeffrey Reeder first came to Sonoma State University in 1998, it was just a place where he hoped to find a job. Almost two decades later, there’s no place he’d rather be.

Reeder teaches Spanish to Sonoma State students. He also coordinates the Spanish program, is a graduate advisor for the Spanish Master’s Program, a member of the academic senate and works as both coach and advisor to Sonoma State’s archery club. He also advises students for the study abroad program. He says he loves the university’s friendly atmosphere, and encourages his students to travel and experience new things, as he did in his younger days.

Born in Japan, Reeder spent his formative years moving at various points to seven different countries across four separate continents due to his father’s job in the military, and later across seven different states when his father became a gymnastics coach. 

“I remember when I was a child, people would ask me, ‘So what’s it like to change schools all the time?’” Reeder said. “And my question to them was usually, ‘What’s it like to stay at the same school all the time?’”

Reeder’s adolescent dream had been to be a Navy pilot, but a year at the US Naval Academy at Minneapolis showed him it wasn’t for him. His backup attempts included briefly studying geology at a different college.

After also briefly studying international business at University of Texas, Reeder decided on a Spanish major due simply to the fact that he was taking a Spanish course at the time and really liked it.

Growing up abroad gave Reeder a desire to wander. In high school he volunteered to be an exchange student in Brazil and when he was 23, he took a break from graduate school at Texas to teach at a girls’ school in the small town of Saga, Japan.

Reeder is fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese. He is also semi-fluent in Japanese, can understand Mandarin, and knows a little French. Most languages come fast and easy to him, the only exception being Japanese, a language infamous for being difficult to learn due to its complex layers of speech and vast differences to Latin-based languages like English. 

When Reeder first came to the campus for a job, he was impressed with the welcoming and friendly students and teachers, and the beauty of the campus itself. 

“The interview was in spring, and so the mountains were so beautiful and green, and the flowers everywhere — I just fell in love with Sonoma County,” Reeder said. 

When he went to work in August everything had become brown, which was disappointing for a while.

“I got used to the differences in California,” he said.

While the scenery helped convince Reeder to teach at Sonoma State, what has kept him here all these years is the one constant at the campus — the friendly, accepting culture. 

When he briefly taught at University of Texas, he would often get pointed out and mocked for biking to work.  

“They thought it was strange, or odd, or different or just not right somehow,” Reeder said.

 But although he’s been at Sonoma State for much longer, nobody has made a deal about his biking from Santa Rosa, and some students even ask if they can do it too. 

“If you say something that’s new or different or unusual, people [here] don’t think it’s wrong because they don’t do it,” Reeder said. “They think ‘oh, I’d like to try that,’ or ‘oh, that’s neat.’ I think there’s a good, positive attitude toward trying new things.”

Reeder has advised around 200 students to study abroad in his role as advisor for the program, and every time they come back, he always asks them about their experiences — what they learned, and how it changed them. Every single person, almost without fail, has said they were glad they had participated. 

“They always tell me, ‘You gotta tell students [to] go study abroad,’” He said. “‘Don’t make excuses, don’t say I can’t because I have work... There are always ways around it, and it’s a life-changing experience, and it’s so positive.’” 

Outside of Sonoma State, he has worked for the Advanced Placement Spanish program for over 20 years. His current position is chief reader for the AP Spanish Language Exam, which involves leading thousands of Spanish teachers every summer in Cincinnati to make sure exams are fair and correct across the board, as well as helping to determine the questions and design of the exam.

His interests include motorcycles and olympic level shooting. He enjoys the focus and calm required for olympic shooting, comparing it to yoga, which he also does. 

He shares both passions with his son, Andrew, who made State Champion and few times and went to to Junior Olympics when he was younger.

Besides travel, Reeder encourages students to learn other languages, not just to talk to different people, but also because the process itself can be an illuminating experience. 

“What’s interesting is that different languages can sometimes put you in a different frame of mind,” Reeder said. “When you do speak a different language it kinda changes how you look at the world.”