Talking to Professors

Ceci M. is currently a senior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Texas.

For the past several weeks, we have been working on Capstone projects, which involve choosing a topic of interest, investigating it, and formalizing the experience and observation in a project that each student presents at the end of the school year. For my Capstone, I am learning more about the pueblos of Aragón. I don’t say “towns” because the pueblo is such a uniquely Spanish concept, which is precisely why I chose it. 

This year, I have spent many weekends visiting Leciñena, my host family’s town. Several other SYA families, and most families in Zaragoza, for that matter, have some kind of connection with a town outside of Zaragoza, which could be anywhere from ten minutes to an hour away. While Leciñena is just thirty minutes outside of the city, it has its own jargon, cuisine, and set of collective values. The insular culture of pueblos and the sad fact of their decreasing populations fascinates me.

At this point in the year, I’ve gotten comfortable talking to the local people of Leciñena. Family lunches on the weekends, always lasting hours on end, have prepared me, in large part, for the work that my Capstone project involved. For my field work portion, I interviewed three local women, two of whom are my host relatives. The conversations were casual and colloquial.

This kind of anthropological work was the base of my project, but I also needed  to present a more academic foundation to research. “España Vaciada”–the trend of Spaniards fleeing towns and moving into big cities–is complicated, and understanding it requires a look at history and data. For this, I turned to a professor.

My dad is a professor, and last year, I did a research project that involved a dozen interviews with other professors. Interviewing academics doesn’t make me as nervous as it once did. But it was different in Spanish. Academic thought and language would add complexity to a colloquial conversation, the kind of interaction I was most used to.

The email was the easy part. Professor Sáez’s quick response excited but intimidated me. Over the phone, I set up a time to meet with him, with my free blocks and a couple useful phrases written down in front of me for reference. I found his office a few days later at La Facultad de Economía y Empresa. I told him more about my interest in his work and I barely had to reference the questions I had prepared. We talked for over an hour. The conversation was animated and engaging. He offered a perspective on “España Vaciada” that was anthropological and humanistic, but nonetheless concrete. He spoke of the issue in a way I had never read about, and I was motivated to learn more about it and reflect on our conversation. 

Not only did the interview inspire me with regards to my Capstone project, but it also accentuated what capabilities living in Spain has allowed me to hone. I gained new confidence to pursue projects–both academic and personal–in a language and culture that have gone from foreign to familiar. Profesor Sáez is an academic, but he’s also a person. Living in Spain has made me more comfortable communicating in Spanish, but beyond that, it has made me more comfortable communicating in general. The humility that comes with making a language and culture go from foreign to familiar can, with the right attitude, expose you to people and ideas that would otherwise be inaccessible. And thankfully, this is a process that never ends. 

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