Name: Janice Gunther
Location of Study: Madrid, Spain
Program of Study: Enforex Madrid
A brief personal bio:
I grew up in Maine, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 with a BA in biochemistry and MS in chemistry. At Penn I also discovered the fields of intellectual history and after history of science. I worked for a government contractor in the DC area for two years after graduation doing what I call “chemistry-related administrative work,” but kept feeling drawn towards further pursuing my interests in history. Thus, I entered the history MA program at the University of Connecticut in 2010, and am have now finished my second year in Notre Dame’s PhD program I history.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
Near-fluency in Spanish will be fundamental for writing my dissertation, conducting research in Spain, and successfully engaging with the Spanish academic community. My dissertation will examine intellectual life in sixteenth-century Spain, and therefore I need a strong command of Spanish to read primary and secondary sources. I am able to read Latin, but many Spanish scholars also wrote in the vernacular and I wish to be able to consult archival documents in Spanish. Conducting research in Spain, for my dissertation and beyond, requires familiarity with the country and strong communication skills, as well. Studying in Madrid will also give me the opportunity to visit some of the most important research libraries in Spain to more effectively plan future trips. Furthermore, I need to communicate fluently with Spanish scholars and encounter Spanish interpretations of their past to make my work relevant to their academic community and appreciate their contributions. Particularly because my work encompasses some of the most contested periods of Spanish history, such as the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims and expansion of their empire, I wish to understand what shapes their research agendas and how my work might be received in Spain.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
First and foremost, I hope to be as fluent as possible in Spanish by the end of the summer, in speaking, reading, and writing. I believe that fluency also encompasses more subtle cultural understanding: for instance, how to conduct oneself, order in restaurants, ask people questions, and what to expect in terms of living conditions, food, transportation, and given that it’s Spain –when to eat! Fluency, in this broader sense, is important to me because I am studying Spanish history, and need to read and interpret material in Spanish libraries and archives, interact with the staff at these locations, and live in Spain for extended periods of time doing research. I will visit museums and other historical sites in order to learn about how the Spanish interpret their own past and what historical issues are important to them. Studying Spanish this summer will not only help me communicate better in a myriad of ways, but also help me gain a deeper understanding of this different culture.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- By the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Spanish with native speakers on academic topics, particularly sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish history.
- By the end of the summer, I will have a better appreciation and understanding of Spanish culture and be able to live there alone for extended periods of time in the future. As part of this cultural awareness, I will also have a deeper understanding of how the Spanish interpret their own past and what historical issues are important to them.
- By the end of the summer I will know the procedures for using Spanish archives and libraries and have experience in doing so.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I will be taking an intensive Spanish course of twenty group lessons, five culture classes, and five conversation classes per week at Enforex Madrid, a language school. These classes will help me improve my Spanish from a variety of angles and promote cultural awareness. I will also visit archives and libraries in the afternoon, including the Biblioteca Nacional, the Archivo Histórico Nacional, and the Real Academia de Historia in order to find sources pertinent to my research interests in sixteenth-century Spanish natural history. Using these resources and conversing with librarians and archivists will help me to learn the logistics and etiquette of doing research in Spain. I will also visit museums and other historic sites in order to learn about how the Spanish interpret their own past and what historical issues are important to them. Finally, I will be living with a host family, and have at least one meal with them per day. Hence I will engage in Spanish conversation on a regular basis and learn more about Spanish culture.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
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Reflective Journal Entry 4:
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
I could tell in Madrid that my Spanish was improving; I found it easier over the course of the six weeks to interact with store clerks, waiters, archivists, and librarians, and I could even understand most of Felipe VI’s speech. I also developed a thicker skin about my language skills; it can feel very embarrassing when you have difficulty understanding what someone is saying to you and when your own statements come out mangled, but perseverance is necessary for improvement. By the end of the trip, I had more confidence when interacting with Spaniards, and received several comments on my good language skills.
I also gained a greater appreciation for some of the differences between Spanish in Spain (and specifically, Castile) versus Spanish in Latin America. I knew beforehand that there are differences in vocabulary and pronunciation, and that Spaniards use the vosotros form of verbs (a specific you-plural conjugated form). However, I had not realized that Castilian Spanish uses certain tenses much more often and in more complicated ways than Latin American Spanish, and that it even has different names for certain tenses! Knowing these distinctions will help me in understanding Spanish academic writing and speaking more professionally when in Spain.
On the level of cultural interaction, among other things, I learned the lesson which every American traveling Castile (and much of Europe in general, I think) must confront eventually: Americans, even those from New England (such as myself) smile a lot. Europeans sometimes note how much we smile, and at times think it’s at least a little weird. And just because the waiter or store clerk isn’t smiling at you doesn’t mean they’re not being friendly! You just have to learn to read people differently.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
I like studying Spain in part because the culture there is so different from what I’m used to. This challenging situation spurns me to better understand what is around me. I learned a lot about life in Madrid this summer with respect to the logistics of living there and getting around, and how to interact with people in restaurants and stores; and of course, I saw many historical sites and old neighborhoods. But all of these experiences also drove home many things with which I am still unfamiliar and have yet to learn. For instance, from my teachers and host family I heard about some of the political and social issues facing the country and the way they view these situations, but I can in no way claim an expert’s perspective on what it’s like for the people in the country to have gone from Franco to democracy, and now the economic crisis and its ramifications. I know that many people face economic hardships right now, and I heard talk of “the crisis” all of the time, but I have yet to grasp all of its dynamics. On the cultural front, one thing among many I noticed is the prominence of Don Quixote, at least in Madrid (perhaps because Cervantes was born nearby)– there is a large statue of Don Quixote and Sancho in the Plaza de España, for instance, and you see references to the work in exhibitions, advertisements… Not until going to Spain did I realize that Cervantes and Don Quixote might be celebrated in this way, even including the large statue in one of the most prominent places in the city. Still, I can observe this, and frankly admit that I have yet to appreciate exactly what Cervantes and Don Quixote mean to Spaniards (or at least, some Spaniards) and why. Learning that I have much more to learn is valuable indeed!
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
I will be returning to Spain for many years to come (I hope!) for dissertation research and beyond, and so this experience in Madrid has laid the groundwork for future work by providing me the chance to improve my language skills, live in Madrid for an extended period of time, and become familiar with important libraries and archives. These language skills will also help me interact with Spanish professors and read primary sources. I will be reading Golden Age Spanish literature for my upcoming comprehensive exams, along with many early modern books and archival material in Spanish for my dissertation proposal after that. Without having spent this time abroad, I would have a very difficult time using these sources or planning a research trip to Spain. I also traveled to important historical sites which previously I had only known through reading, like Alcalá de Henares, the Escorial, and the Royal Palace in Madrid. Visiting these places brought them to life for me, and also showed me some ways in which the Spanish interpret these sites and their own history. I now better know the culture of the country and people I study. For all of this, and more, I am incredibly grateful for the generosity of the SLA program and its donors!