More than 20 Hobart and William Smith students studying abroad in Seville, Spain, are advancing their Spanish-language skills and cultivating a deeper understanding of Spain’s culture as they use their new surroundings as an extension of the classroom this semester.
“There’s truly no better way to learn a language than to be fully immersed in it and using it every day,” says Jeremiah Piersante ’18, a geoscience and Spanish double major. “I chose to study in Seville not only to better my proficiency in the Spanish language, but also to see the world from another perspective. The lifestyle and overall culture in Spain are so different than in the United States, I wanted to experience it firsthand.”
The Seville study abroad program is offered through the Colleges’ affiliation with Academic Programs International (API), and is based at the Universidad de Sevilla. As one of two fully immersive Spanish abroad programs offered by HWS, the program places students with host families and requires four courses taught exclusively in Spanish, allowing students to refine their language skills and gain a contextual understanding of Seville’s cultural practices.
The students are enrolled in four courses taught entirely in Spanish, including three elective courses at the Universidad de Sevilla, ranging from contemporary Spanish cinema to women in the history of America and even the traditional Flamenco dance. In “Spain: The Making of a Nation,” the required Faculty Director’s Seminar taught by HWS Associate Professor of Spanish and Hispanic Studies Juan Liébana, students are introduced to essential elements of Spanish history, literature, art and music, in connection to a program of cultural activities that include a rich array of excursions, concerts, and visits to museums and historical landmarks in Seville and other Spanish cities.
“This is a teacher’s dream,” Liebana says. “Instead of showing a picture of a gothic cathedral, you go to the gothic cathedral; instead of just talking about Jewish history or gypsy culture in Spain, you go to a medieval synagogue in Toledo or attend a flamenco show in Granada.”
Outside the classroom, the local accents and idioms are guiding students to move beyond their comfort zones and develop their confidence around language skills, says Austin Letorney ’17, an international relations major.
“Being here is a learning experience every day, 24 hours a day,” adds Madeline Balman ’16, a biology and Spanish double major. “When I eat with my host family, I am learning about Spanish culture. When I talk to anyone, I am practicing Spanish. … I’m learning what this culture values and I’m learning why. I get to be a part of the culture, and I think that is really amazing and valuable.”
Tyler Fuller ’18, a double major in biochemistry and Spanish, agrees that the “opportunity of receiving a full immersion into the Spanish culture cannot be matched in the slightest in any classroom.” So far, Fuller’s favorite part of the experience has been “being accepted” into his host family. After only five days, he says he felt like “a part of the family.” Just one week in Seville, he says, expanded his understanding beyond what he’s experienced in a traditional classroom.
Upon arriving in Spain, the students spent a week in Madrid, the nation’s capital and largest city, for orientation and the chance to explore historical sites and monuments like the Royal Palace of Madrid and Spain’s national art museum, Museo Nacional del Prado. The trip also integrates several other experiential excursions, including extended trips to Toledo and Cordoba, as well as day trips to historical sites around Seville, such as Real Alcázar de Sevilla, a royal palace in Seville, and Catedral de Sevilla, the third largest church in the world.
While the program is geared towards Spanish majors, the students in the program represent many academic areas. From pre-medical students to aspiring geologists and international relations majors, all of the students are hoping to apply the bilingual skills gained through their immersive experience in future endeavors.
Balman, who is blogging about her experiences, plans to enter medical school upon graduation and says that she wants to be fluent in Spanish because it will make her a better doctor. Michael Conroy ’18, a biochemistry major and Hispanic studies minor, says he’s using the experience to “leave college with a life-skill outside the world of biochemistry.”
“Studying here is the best way to improve my Spanish, which I hope will serve as a door not just to how life is here in Seville, but to the whole Spanish-speaking world,” Conroy says. “I wanted to get the real liberal arts experience.”