Billy Acree and sophomore Spanish major Maria Schulz interview each other.
Earlier this month Professor William Acree sat down with Maria Schulz, a sophomore studying Spanish & Biology, to talk about their interests in Latin America and Spain, how they came to the study of Spanish language, and the benefits they see in majoring in Spanish. In the first part of the conversation Schulz posed the questions; and in the second half, Acree interviewed Schulz.
Schulz: Did you grow up around Spanish?
Acree: I did not grow up around Spanish at all. I grew up outside of Atlanta in the suburbs. My mother comes from the Mississippi delta, a very small rural town with 1,500 residents, and my dad is from Gainesville, Fl. So no I didn’t grow up around Spanish at all. I took Latin in high school for three years. I started taking Spanish when I was a junior in college, so it was really late.
Schulz: Do you think it was more difficult to learn since you started later?
Acree: That’s something that a lot of people have asked me, and I’m not sure how it would’ve been if I had started in high school or in middle school. In college, it didn’t seem all that difficult. Not to say that it was easy, but I had a lot of fun with the challenge of learning the language, and I was intrigued by the cultural perspectives to which language learning introduced me. I think the biggest thing that jumpstarted my language learning process was studying abroad.
Schulz: What study abroad experiences did you have?
Acree: In my time in college the option for us was to go to Spain. There was a program in Seville, and I went to that program the summer after I finished my junior year—my first time outside the U.S. So during my junior year I completed first and second-semester Spanish, then I went to Spain after my junior year for a summer—I was supposed to be there for six weeks and ended up staying for nine months. I ended up enrolling in a semester program in Seville and then later at the University of Salamanca. I really enjoyed the courses I took and the ability—the necessity—to use Spanish on a daily basis. Each day there were new language skills opened up new experiences, and becoming part of this other world fascinated me.
Schulz: Do you use Spanish on a day to day basis now, at work or outside of work?
Acree: Well, on a daily basis at work for sure. Most of my classes are taught in Spanish, so it’s a regular feature of work. I have to do research that involves the use of Spanish, whether it’s working abroad in Spanish-speaking countries or writing in Spanish, publishing articles in Spanish. Conversations with colleagues often happen in Spanish. Conversations with students often happen in Spanish outside of class. So, there are plenty of opportunities to use Spanish at work. In the community outside of Wash U, I have lots of friends in St. Louis who are native Spanish speakers—from Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay—and we get together on a regular basis. The immigrant community (of Latin Americans) in St. Louis is smaller than say Raleigh or Atlanta or San Diego, where I was prior to coming to Wash U, but there are opportunities to use Spanish and knowledge of the Hispanic world to interact with the community.
Schulz: Why did you decide to start Spanish Junior year of college?
Acree: Language courses were required, but why Spanish? Because I was into music, specifically classical guitar, and so I was interested in composers and guitarists from Spain, Mexico, Cuba, Paraguay. So that was something that attracted me to Spanish and also the presence of Spanish in Atlanta. I went to college north of Atlanta where the Latin American immigrant community was growing quickly. So I wanted to be able to use these language skills, and I thought one of the best ways to use the languages skills that I learned in college would be to do that through Spanish.
Schulz: What did you end up majoring in?
Acree: First before the study abroad experience I had created my own major. It was a combination of History and Literature, primarily English and U.S. literature. Then, with my experience abroad program I changed my major to Spanish.
Schulz: Why would you recommend learning or majoring in Spanish?
Acree: Why recommend it? Today it’s obviously critical to be able to communicate with people who come from different backgrounds, whether they be social, cultural, economic, geographic, ethnic. At the university we place a premium on the ability to communicate across these differences, and to value cross-cultural exchange in this ever more global world. I think one of the best ways to learn to be able to communicate in that mode is through the study of a new language and the cultures, life experiences, differences that such study permits, because it forces you to think differently; it requires empathy. Anybody who’s tried to study a new language knows that you’re required to see the world through a different lens. Of course language learning can be challenging, but at the same time it can is a process that allows for great creativity and imagination. The study of Spanish language is a step to the broader study of the Spanish-speaking world—beliefs, cultural products, histories, hopes, triumphs, despairs—and that, I think, is exhilarating for students. It gives them a chance to rediscover the way they interact with the world, be it in places far from campus, such as Buenos Aires or Madrid, or with Latinos here in the U.S
Our major gives you the chance to take a rich variety of classes that introduce you to the depth of the human experience in Spain and Spanish America, as well as experiences of U.S. Latinos. Students who major in Spanish have become specialists of sorts in areas of the world that they would not otherwise get nearly as close to or about which they not develop the same level of understanding.. Our majors become outstanding cross-cultural communicators; they understand the power of empathy; they become better global citizens; they learn skills for the interpretation of complex cultural production; they engage in high-level analysis and critical thinking. Such skills are tremendous assets in a wide range of fields after WU—from engineering to business to medicine to the arts. That’s what the Spanish major does.
Schulz: What will you do next?
Acree: Part of my job consists of research, and right now I’m in the middle of writing a book about popular theater in Argentina and Uruguay, and the contributions that popular theater made to modern popular culture in that region of Latin America. So that’s what I’m currently working on. What’s next? I have lots of ideas churning for research projects. And there are many new classes I’d like to develop here, both at the undergraduate level and the graduate level. One of them is a course that will primarily be focused on Argentina, but I think there are lots of contacts with other parts of Latin America. I’m thinking the title of this course will be either “From Gauchos to Goals” tracing rural popular culture to soccer, or “From Martín Fierro (the epic poem of Argentina) to Messi (the soccer superstar).” I’m very interested in the issue of human rights in Latin America, in a very sort of deep historical way. So one course that I would like to teach in the future has to deal with human rights over five centuries. There are lots of ways for students to approach the history of human rights and social justice, from basically the time that Europeans came to the Americas to the present. Usually the issue of human rights is something that’s very engaging for students, although most of the time they get into it via military dictatorships in Latin America or via Franco in Spain. This 20th-century focus is closer to us personally, but I think there are also rich aspects of learning more about previous moments where human rights have been violated and where people have fought to address, curtail or halt, or prevent these violations.
Acree: You decided early on as a student here that you wanted to study Spanish. Where does your interest in the language and Hispanic cultures come from?
Schulz: I came to Wash U pretty sure of what I wanted to do. I had in my mind I wanted to do Biology and Spanish for pre-med, and that probably came from the fact that my school exposed us to different languages since kindergarten. We had Spanish and French from the very beginning all the way up to middle school where we took a quarter each of Spanish, French, Latin, or Chinese, and then could decide which we wanted to continue. I chose Spanish, just based on how active my teacher was and how involved the class was. So I started full Spanish classes in the seventh grade. My teacher was a native speaker from Puerto Rico, so that was really interesting to me, and she immediately said, “we’re only speaking Spanish in class,” which was difficult at the time, but I saw it as a challenge and was really excited about that.
Acree: How often a week did you have Spanish then?
Schulz: It was probably about four times a week. So then I just continued with it throughout high school—Spanish honors classes, AP Spanish, and a capstone project translating the school newspaper into Spanish during my senior year.
Acree: So you came here, knowing that you wanted to continue on with the Bio-Spanish track. Did you declare your majors your first semester?
Schulz: No, I probably could have, but I just declared my Spanish major last week, actually. I think I was holding out because I haven’t taken a biology class yet at Wash U and I wanted to declare them both at the same time, but essentially from my first Spanish class here, I was sure.
Acree: What are some of the highlights of your major in Spanish so far?
Schulz: Focus Argentina was very interesting because we got to go to Argentina and actually see everything we were learning about and observe a whole different culture and pair that with what I had been learning all year in my Spanish classes. It was really fascinating to see a different culture, because that’s what I’m most interested in with Spanish in general—the opportunity to get involved in a different culture—and that there’s more out there than just the United States and English. It was very exciting because I haven’t traveled a lot at all, and so to finally get that opportunity to see the culture that I had been learning about was really cool. Also, I’ve been excited to get into some of the elective classes in Spanish. To read stories and poems every day for homework is a new type of work, and now I can put together everything that I’ve learned in the grammar-focused courses and apply it to literature.
Acree: If you read a lot in Spanish you are able to build vocabulary, and if you have to write in Spanish, you’re going to have to hone your writing skills in Spanish and obviously fine tune you knowledge of grammatical concepts, but ultimately, the ability to do what you’re saying is the ability to engage in this high-level thinking that requires analysis and interpretation of literature, of cultural concepts, or of moments that are defining in a particular place. Those types of conversations translate, I think directly, to other fields that people are studying. So I think the ability to have these conversations in Spanish about why Columbus wrote the letter the way he did to the kings of Spain in 1493—the ability to have that conversation will help you talk to a patient about why the patient seems to be feeling a certain way, or how do you interpret what a patient is saying about this that or the other. How does a business student analyze what’s meaningful for a Spanish-speaking consumer? How does the business person market this product? What’s the way to improve the service for a particular audience? Connections between the major in Spanish and such other areas are a lot more direct than people often think. Oftentimes I tell students if they’re willing to do it, to keep some kind of journal in Spanish, because the more you incorporate thinking about daily life in Spanish, the easier it becomes to utilize those ideas, insights, perceptions and conversations that don’t have to do with your classes necessarily. I think there’s a great value in doing stuff like that, that doesn’t have to do with classwork at all, but can definitely help you with classwork.
Acree: Had you traveled outside the US before the Focus trip?
Schulz: I had not, and not even to many different states in the U.S., just Tennessee and any states where I had a volleyball tournament.
Acree: How do you envision yourself using Spanish in the future?
Schulz: I am on the pre-med track right now, and I am hoping to be able to go to medical school, become a doctor, and then have a large portion of Spanish-speaking patients, because I imagine it would be really disconcerting if you were Hispanic and then you go into a medical environment where you don’t understand many of the words, because certain things get lost in translation no matter your level of English. So I hope to be able to use Spanish in that context. I actually shadowed a neonatologist this summer at Vanderbilt and they brought a translator in every day, multiple times a day, so there’s a great need for doctors who can better connect with their Hispanic patients.
Acree: Recently you’ve taken a lead in the creation of a Spanish club—Club Ñ— as co-president and co-founder—what are some of the goals you have for the group?
Schulz: Our main goal is to create an informal learning environment to get students to be able to practice speaking Spanish around their friends or their professors, but outside of the classroom setting. I’ve personally found that it’s a lot harder to contribute in class when you’re not very confident that what you are saying is going to be grammatically correct. So our idea is to create a space where students can talk or see some of their favorite movies, but in Spanish. Or to learn how to cook certain dishes from different countries, and ultimately to bring a cultural perspective and a fun atmosphere to what they’ve been learning in their classes.
Acree: How often will it meet?
Schulz: We are still working it out, but so far we have a Facebook page where we’ll post weekly facts about different countries, and I think we’ll try do a round table each week, maybe a movie per month, study sessions before big Spanish tests, and some other monthly events.
Acree: Finally, since you came to WU how have you put your Spanish language skills and knowledge of Hispanic cultures in practice?
Schulz: I tutor with Wash U’s Niños program, and although my job is actually to help them with English, Spanish does help me to know what they’re saying to their friends and be able to relate to the kids a bit more. On a day-to-day basis here, it’s mostly used in a classroom setting or when talking with professors outside of the classroom. Hopefully Club Ñ will help me use Spanish more. That’s my main goal. Right now I’ve got the writing and reading at a good level, but the speaking is harder. I want to have more chances to be able to speak Spanish so that I can get all aspects of learning the language on the same level, which is why I want to study abroad.
Bulletin Marcel Proust
Since 1950, the Bulletin Marcel Proust has been the yearly publication of the Société des Amis de Marcel Proust et des Amis de Combray, a French organization devoted to the study of Marcel Proust and his works. It contains letters, documents, articles, book reviews, and a bibliography.
Revista de Estudios Hispánicos
The department is the home to the Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, an internationally recognized, peer-reviewed journal that publishes original manuscripts in all areas of Hispanic literatures, cultures, and film, including essays on theoretical and interdisciplinary topics. The Revista de Estudios Hispánicos has received a grade of A+ from the Australian Research Council ranking of research journals.
According to the ERA 2010 Ranked Journal List definition, an A+ journal would typically be one of the best in its field or subfield in which to publish and would typically cover the entire field/subfield. Virtually all papers they publish will be of a very high quality. These are journals where most of the work is important (it will really shape the field) and where researchers boast about getting accepted. Acceptance rates would typically be low and the editorial board would be dominated by field leaders, including many from top institutions.