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College of Arts and Science

UN56301 Beyond Study Abroad:
Journeying through Spain and Latin America

capstone program

Elizabeth T. Goizueta

Assistant Director, Curriculum Integration, International Programs

In the BC senior survey, when queried about the experiences that have meant the most to them while at the University, students regularly cite study abroad in their top two responses. Over 1,200 BC students participate in study abroad; students studying in Hispanophone countries constitute the largest study-abroad cohort. As one might expect, students report significant academic, cultural, and linguistic gains while abroad. In addition, however, most point to personal growth as one of their most surprising discoveries. Consequently, a forum in which the student engages in reflection on this experience is as integral to the learning process as is the experience itself. This course, then, is an attempt to examine the Spanish-speaking study-abroad experience through travel literature of the 20th century.

Arguably the earliest example of modern Western travel literature is Cervantes’ Quijote. A contemporary correlate is John Dos Passos’s Rosinante to the Road Again, Dos Passos’s great philosophical treatise on his travels through Spain in the 1920’s and his quest to capture the essence of the Spanish identity. Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, an account of the quintessential Spanish tradition of bullfighting, tackles the challenge of describing Spanish fascination with life and, ultimately, death. Both American authors were drawn to Spain and to each other, uniting talents and tales while joining Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39. There, the relationship eventually grew bitter and became estranged when ideological differences drove these companions apart. The friendship and eventual estrangement are examined in Stephen Koch’s The Breaking Point. Finally, in his book The Buried Mirror, Mexican writer and statesman Carlos Fuentes reflects upon the relationship between Spain and Latin America. A Mexican having spent many years of his life in the US, Fuentes gives an account of that relationship in the light of his own experience as both insider and outsider. Both perspectives, as an outsider looking-in and an insider looking-out, provide the framework for discussions on work, relationships, our place in society and, indeed, the world.

Through the eyes of these great writers, students will explore how external events interact with personal choices to affect relationships and life-commitments, often with serious moral consequences. More specifically, the course will examine how the experience of cultural displacement itself impacts the challenge and process of vocational discernment. While focusing on Spain and Latin America, the course will appeal to any student who has studied abroad. All readings and movies will be in English.

Book List

  • Rosinante to the Road Again, John Dos Passos (Spain)
  • Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway (Spain)
  • The Breaking Point, Stephen Koch (Spain)
  • The Buried Mirror, Reflections on Spain and the New World, Carlos Fuentes (Latin America and Spain)
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez
  • The Motorcycle Diaries, based on the book by Aleida Guevara (Latin America)
  • Even the Rain (movie), Iciar Bollain (Latin America and Spain)
  • “People and their cultures perish in isolation, but they are born or reborn in contact with other men and women, with men and women of another culture, another creed, another race. If we do not recognize our humanity in others, we shall not recognize it in ourselves.” Carlos Fuentes

Requirements

Participation

Active participation is crucial to the success of the seminar (25%). All readings must be read by the date indicated. All papers must be handed in on time. Five points will be deducted for every late paper turned in within the week of the assignment.

Papers

Students will write two 10-page papers involving research on a specific study-abroad topic identified in the seminar. (50%)

Students will also write ten 1-page reflections on specific topics, to be read in class. Students will be called on at random to share their reflection assignments, which will be used for in-class discussion. (25%)

Class

The first 60 minutes will be devoted to the readings, the second 60 minutes to the personal experience and discussions generated by the written assignments. The professor will review the following week’s assignment and there will be time for a short 10-minute break.

Films viewed in class will be discussed during the following session.

Week 1

Study-abroad experience reviewed: Getting acquainted

Overview of course: syllabus, readings and assignments

Getting acquainted in class: What were some of the places in which students studied abroad? What were the reasons for those choices? How did the experience add/detract from students’ studies at BC? What were some of the tangible vs. intangible benefits that arose from the experience?

Week 2

Reflections on Identity in Dos Passos’s Rosinante on the Road Again

At what point does the student try to assimilate and identify with the cultural and linguistic norms of the host country? To what extent is the student motivated to adapt to the culture?

In his book, Rosinante to the Road Again, Dos Passos creates a story of two travelers making their way by foot from Madrid to Toledo in post-World War I Spain. The two foreigners are on a quest to discover the “gesture” that defines all that is Spanish. On their journey, they meet all types of common people. In their contact and interaction with these peoples, the travelers attempt to identify the essence of the Spanish character. At what point did the BC program give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the host country’s world? Did you feel accepted? If not, what were the barriers? How did the culture in which you were raised contribute to feelings of acceptance? What elements of Dos Passos’s wanderings resonate with your experience? Were you ever motivated to determine what the essence was of the people whose country you shared? Why or why not?

Week 3

Meditations on life, love and death in Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon

Why is life abroad experienced so sharply in a way that it cannot be in the US? Why is every gesture or smile or reproach magnified in the experience? How does the intensity of the experience affect us? Hemingway captures this sense of intensity by looking at the bullfight, the quintessential Spanish dance with death. Sacred to Spanish identity is the figure of the bull, first drawn in the caves of Altamira some 30,000 years ago. Mythology has it that the first Athenian matador slew the Minotaur, half man, half beast. His contemporary, Hercules, came to Spain to steal the herd of red bulls. In so doing, Hercules crossed the narrow strait between Africa and Spain, appropriately dubbed The Pillars of Hercules. Recognizing the gracious hospitality that had been rendered to him during his stay in Spain, Hercules returned some of the cattle. Deeply grateful, the ruling king established the ritual of sacrificing a bull to Hercules each year and the ceremonial tradition of slaying the bull was forever linked to the Iberian Peninsula. It is there depicted in Goya’s paintings, in Picasso’s Guernica and in the dramas of every plaza de toros.

What was your reaction to Hemingway’s depiction of the bullfight? What had you heard/read about the bullfights? Did his account veer from what you had heard/read? What are your own thoughts on the bullfight in light of Hemingway’s treatise? Does Hemingway try to defend it? What does he ask of the reader? Which experiences abroad caused you to assess your reaction to a situation, to force a deliberate choice and defend that choice?

A polemic practice in modern Spain today, the bullfight has been abolished in certain parts of Spain such as Catalonia. How can it be defended in light of the cruelty and inevitable death that it champions? How are the Spanish people able to justify such a brutal experience? What particular fascination does death hold for the Spaniards? Why are their Jesus on the cross, their saints in the wilderness, their warriors in battle bloodier and more “sufridos” than those in other countries? What is it about the Spanish character that lends itself to an open recognition of death during life? Is it a reminder that life is tenuous and must, therefore, be lived to the fullest? How is that different from the American experience of death? Think about some of the images from Spain that reflect upon these questions, either through personal experience or through paintings or sculptures in museums, churches, palaces, etc. Were there any experiences or reflections that you as students had that resonate with the Spanish experience of life or death?

Weeks 4 and 5

Careers and Friendships

Drawn to participate in the Spanish Civil War, Dos Passos and Hemingway set out on a journey of friendship and professional complicity to support the left-wing Republican cause. Stephen Koch’s book, The Breaking Point, draws the readers into a tale of conspiracy, where the most basic concepts of friendship and ideals are tested. How did these two friends find themselves at odds with each other? What were their reactions to that realization? Was the fact that they were in a foreign land contribute to the intensity of the feelings? How did their understanding of foreign events trigger certain reactions? Does being away from a familiar tradition or culture in moments of tension influence one’s actions?

The events in Spain caused both men to reassess their morals, their careers and, ultimately, their friendship. Amongst the Lost Generation, at that time, these two authors shared equally strong literary reputations. By the time the war concluded, however, the strong moral choice that Dos Passos felt obliged to make, along with its consequences, all but ended his literary career. How did the internal events of the war force Dos Passos and Hemingway along individual paths of moral reevaluation. Often, moral choices are inconvenient truths. How did each author grapple with those truths in light of their own careers? What was the ultimate price that each paid?

First paper due

Weeks 5 and 6

Viewing: Even the Rain

The movie, Even the Rain, produced by Spanish director Iciar Bollain, is a film within a film, shot in Cochabamba, Bolivia.The Mexican director in the story, Sebastian, and the Spanish executive producer, Costa, travel to Bolivia to make a movie about the conquest of Christopher Columbus. They hire local actors to play the parts of the indigenous tribes, families and leaders who first to received Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors. Unexpectedly, Sebastian and Costa find their lives increasingly intertwined with those local members of their film, including conflicts arising from strikes directed at privatizing the town’s water. Conflicts between career expectations and personal obligations intervene. Alongside the reevaluation of Columbus’s legacy, Bollain’s explores what happens to relationships when people open themselves up to unexpected situations. Each individual must confront their own humanity, their own choices, their own limits.

Weeks 7 and 8

Life callings

Viewing: The Motorcycle Diaries

Through the film The Motorcycle Diaries, the life of revolutionary leader Che Guevara is examined from a unique perspective as a youth in search of his calling. Portrayed as a charismatic young medical student of 23, we accompany Che on a symbolic 9-month motorcycle road trip through Latin America. Here we explore with the young doctor the disparate social and political conditions prevalent throughout Latin America. His understanding of this reality form the philosophy that eventually converts him into the iconic Marxist revolutionary. Guevara’s is a voyage of discernment and self-discovery.

How did your desire to travel and explore other cultures affect possible life callings? Did study abroad afford time for reflection on life calling? Did it introduce new ideas into the discernment process? How did the student’s experience abroad affect life choices? Name five careers that you would have considered before study abroad. Name five careers that you would consider now.

Week 9

Our place in Society

In his book, The Buried Mirror, Carlos Fuentes celebrates the great culture found in Latin America, always recognizing that the roots of this culture must be found in Spain. Fuentes asserts that if a human community wants to understand its roots, then continuities have to be examined. Spain transplanted the Spanish language, the Catholic religion, and an authoritarian political tradition. It came into contact with a new indigenous element that forced an amalgamation of races, ideas and cultures. If the debate between Spain and Latin America, once yoked together under monarchy until the 19th century, seems at times dramatic it is because it is a debate with great emotional stakes: a debate not with others but with themselves. Questions of national identity, colonialism and injustices always draw lines of demarcation but, ultimately, it is precisely in that heated debate that one fact emerges: the relationship exists. How they decide to engage is an ongoing question for both societies.

As students face graduation and their own place in society, what are the pushes and pulls that influence that decision? How do factors in one’s own culture play into deciding one’s place in that society?

How did the study-abroad experience as a foreigner in another country affect one’s feelings of placement in society?

How do we feel towards the issues of immigration, education, employment with respect to the Latino/a in our society?

Weeks 10 and 11

Spirituality:

The other in the Mirror

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Paper 2 due Week 10

What is the responsibility of caring for the other? As Fuentes states, “If we do not recognize our humanity in others, we shall not recognize it in ourselves.” The study abroad experience, ultimately, is designed to put the student in the place of others, to look outside of themselves and to grow spiritually. This growth often comes as a result of uneasy alliances: uncomfortable situations, difficult struggles, vulnerable challenges. To be seen as the “other” for a determined period and to be open to that position implies, most basically, bravery but more importantly, empathy. The ability to empathize with the other is the single most important factor affecting change in the world.

How does the student meet the challenge of integrating those experiences and relationships when they return to this world? What is it like to return to the home country and see it as an “outsider” must see it? As an insider looking out, what are the challenges that arise in assimilating those experiences?

Week 12

This week will be used to review the course and its main objectives. The journey through Spain and Latin America with some of the literary giants of the 20th century is intended to provide a catalyst for a final, open discussion.