Coming to America
- By Craig E Wells
“What are some of the differences you notice between Salamanca and Vermont?”
“EVERYTHING!” exclaims a young man in the front row.
Recently, Romance Languages and Linguistics Professor Tina Escaja and her two sections of Spanish 201 (Advanced Conversation and Composition) hosted some very special visitors: a group of high school students from Spain who are participating in an exchange program with South Burlington High School, and the new Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Antonio Cepeda-Benito. Every other year, students from the Collegio Montessori in Salamanca, Spain visit South Burlington, and in 2010, for the first time, they toured the UVM campus and participated in Professor Escaja’s Spanish 201 sections. This year, a new group of Spanish 201 students was excited to welcome a new group of Spanish visitors and the Dean, who is also a native of Salamanca.
“Having high-school students from Spain mingle with UVM students in my advanced Spanish classes was a genuine treat,” said Professor Escaja. The interaction was lively, and, of course, took place entirely in Spanish. (The question and answer quoted above were translated.) “It was so cool to talk with native Spanish speakers. It made me realize how much I can understand and how comfortable I am speaking the language,” said Theodore Klein, a sophomore from New York.
“Dr. Cepeda-Benito interacted with students with ease, answering questions about his origins, his journey to the U.S., his presence at UVM, his perception of multiculturalism,” Professor Escaja explained. Her students really appreciated his presence.
“Meeting the dean was not like I expected it to be at all,” said Thomas Renner, a junior and Public Communications major. “He was very friendly and a lively conversationalist. When speaking with him, it felt like speaking to a fellow classmate. The dean’s story of his adventure to America and the journey to becoming dean was very inspiring.”
Elementary Education (with a concentration in Spanish) junior Marcy Solomon agreed. “I very much liked getting to meet Dean Cepeda-Benito. It was really interesting to hear his story of how he came to America. I never would've known about him and how UVM is made up of so many interesting professors and deans with stories of their lives. I loved how he told the exchange students to not compare America and Spain [with a “we do it better” mindset]. I think that’s something that a lot of people probably do when they are visiting somewhere new!”
“I thought that the presentation done by Antonio Cepeda-Benito was very interesting,” said Kylie Brown deGroot, a nutrition major and Spanish minor from Charlotte, Vermont. “It provided a cultural glimpse into Spain that we, as Spanish learners, don’t receive on a class basis. I appreciated the personal tone he took with every question—telling us about how he met his wife and also the things that are greatly different between Salamanca and Vermont. He brought humor into the conversation.”
Professor Escaja believes that the session was a wonderful opportunity for the Americans and Spaniards to share the language and their cultures. She commented, “Looking at the group of students, despite the often comic differences highlighted by students from both sides of the Atlantic—the size of the houses (here houses are huge); the schedule for food; tapas vs. pie; cars; the educational system—the fact is that all students share the same enthusiasm, aspirations, interests, and anxieties. Antonio Cepeda-Benito’s message at the end was that students should avoid prejudgments and be aware of the similarities that connect all of us.”