Language & Culture, Spring 2014, Issue II
“What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions. Life is plurality, death is uniformity. By suppressing differences and peculiarities, by eliminating different civilizations and cultures, progress weakens life and favors death”: these words by Mexican poet Octavio Paz truly reflect the role of difference and otherness as keys for developing intercultural learning and intercultural competence. LC students are enjoying a unique opportunity of discovering and interpreting cultural specifications through volunteering: this semester seven students are volunteering as English Teaching Assistants at a prestigious high school, Escola Pia Nostra Senyora, which is located very close to our study center.
As Emma, from the University of Iowa, wrote on our blog: “Every Wednesday I get to act as a student teaching assistant at Escola Pia. There, for an hour, I get to help ten Spanish students learn and practice their English. After one session, I can already tell that it will be my most rewarding experience here. My teaching partner, Vivian and I were impressed with the students’ English speaking abilities and intrigued by their impressions of American culture. We had interesting discussions about the differences in our two countries’ education and health systems; a small conversation about American slang, of which we will expand on next week; and the Greek system in American universities. I’m incredibly glad that I chose to take part in this wonderful volunteering opportunity and am excited for the rest of the semester to unfold!”
Volunteering is indeed a powerful resource for intercultural learning: through teaching their own language, our students are reflecting on its peculiarities and comparing it with Spanish language. And, while sharing facts, traditions and habits of their own culture, students are understanding from a new perspective specific aspects of Spanish culture, experiencing life in its plurality.
…through the arts…
The last weekend of January, LC students enjoyed a fantastic opportunity of appreciating cultural differences in Madrid. A walking tour of the city center opened the doors of history, introducing the glorious past and the birth of the Spanish monarchy. But it was through the arts that students could discover historical facts (wars, adventures, the relationship between Church and State) and contemporary events and attitudes. In the Prado Museum, students were able to see firsthand masterpieces by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya. Las Meninas and Goya’s Black Paintings provoked several questions from our students on the relationship between painting and illusion, the artists’ intention and the critics’ interpretations. The discussion continued at the Reina Sofía Museum, where we analyzed and interpreted the famous Guernica by Picasso. Finally, in Toledo we visited the magnificent Gothic Cathedral, the Synagogue Santa María la Blanca and the Church of Santo Tomé, where El Greco’s The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is displayed.
And the history of the city.
This journey through cultural differences continues every day in Barcelona: language exchanges with local students, art, history and political science classes. For instance, we recently had a field-trip to the Ciutadella Park, which was renovated for the 1888 International Exhibition, which allowed our students to explore the relationship between sculpture (the beautiful waterfall fountain), urban landscape (the structure of the park), history (the pavilions built for the exhibition) and politics (the Parliament of Catalonia).
Moreover, looking at the map printed on the ground outside the main entrance to the park, we compared Barcelona as it was in 1714 with the current distribution of the city. And the Arc de Triomf, the entrance to the 1888 Exhibition, was the starting point for a discussion on the symbolic value of this area of the city.
From our Students
Check out these great posts from our students:
- John, from Providence College, on why he is glad that he chose a homestay.
- Emma from University of Iowa on volunteering.
- Ellen, from University of Colorado Boulder on her host mother.
- Hannah, from University of Colorado Boulder on enjoying life (with some incredible photos!)
This is just a taste: we will keep you informed with more updates!