Student Comments about Spanish and Latin American Studies

Matthew Bilsborough (3rd year student. Double degree: Arts/Laws)

My name is Matthew Bilsborough and in November 2007 I finished my final class towards my Spanish and Latin American Studies major at Monash Clayton. I began at Spanish studies 1 in March of 2004 with a basic knowledge of French, and no knowledge of the Castilian (Spanish) language or Hispanic culture, and through a great learning experience I feel that I have gained an excellent understanding of both, which has brought about many wonderful opportunities. After three inspiring semesters at Monash, I ventured to Monterrey, Mexico where I studied for two semesters on exchange. For the first five months I lived in a modest and basic two story house with a large Mexican family: two parents and their teenage son Mario. I also shared the house with four other exchange students: two from Chile and one from Spain and Canada, we all continue as great friends today. We travelled throughout Mexico together, spent lots of time playing cards in the 40 degree heat on the roof of the house, and studying of course. Through the University, I was also able to volunteer my time teaching a large class of local students a course in life values with my Spanish housemate Javier, which was an extremely rewarding experience. In the second semester, I rented a small house with four other international students, and also took three Spanish electives classes: there were about 30 students in each class of which I was the only foreigner.

After a fascinating year in Mexico, I lived in La Antigua Guatemala for 3 months teaching English, then took a three day bus trip across Central America to San Jose, Costa Rica. There I undertook a five month legal internship with an International Human Rights NGO, where I was the only male amongst eight lawyers and seven other interns from across Latin America and Europe. Throughout my time away, I was also lucky enough to travel through Cuba and the Central American Nations. I returned in February 2007 to continue my studies at Monash Clayton. This semester I took the class Spanish studies 8 (Translators and Translation) which challenged both my language ability and critical thinking ? I highly recommend this class.

Spanish and Latin American Studies has given me a solid understanding of the Castilian Language and Hispanic culture. Moreover, it has opened many doors professionally and socially and taken me to many wonderful places around the world. !Buena Suerte!

Natasha Zanrosso (3rd year student)

I started my undergraduate degree studying a Bachelor of Business and Commerce at the Monash campus in Frankston. During orientation, a representative of the Hispanic studies department spoke to the business students about the opportunity of studying the Castilian (Spanish) language. I had always wanted to study Castilian (Spanish) so I chose it as an elective in my business degree in my first year. As it turned out, I liked studying Castilian (Spanish) so much that the following year I transferred to an arts degree and have since made Hispanic studies my major.

Not only have I found Hispanic studies extremely fascinating and fun, but also very practical in activities such as conversing in Castilian, listening to Hispanic music, reading in Castilian or just reflecting on what I have learnt. I have met many great people through undertaking Hispanic studies, whether they are teachers, fellow students, or members of the Hispanic community here in Melbourne. Initially, I really only believed that I would be learning the Castilian language, but the various subjects that I have selected over the past three years have incorporated cultural studies, linguistics and history, and have really broadened my perspectives and knowledge of not only Hispanic culture, but of my own culture and language.

Philippa Ross (3rd year student)

I decided to study Spanish when I was in France at the end of year 11. I was at school in a Spanish class where I couldn’t understand a single word but it just sounded like such a wonderful language; animated, energetic and passionate. Three years later I am majoring in Spanish and enjoying every minute of it.

Starting at beginner level I wasn’t sure what to expect but the program was very well structured and didn’t move too quickly. First year concentrated on learning basic grammatical structures and vocabulary and there was a good combination of reading, writing and speaking exercises. Having already learnt French I was lucky as much of the grammar was the same but Spanish is not too distant from English so first time language learners would manage very well too. I also really appreciated the emphasis on speaking Spanish, as at school there is not much focus on oral work, which makes it far more difficult to put what you have learnt into practice when travelling or studying abroad.

In second year the grammar tutorials continued and taught more complex grammatical structures however there was also a culture component. The culture component was very interesting as it allowed me to learn more than just the Spanish language but also the history surrounding Spanish speaking cultures, their people, their politics and their arts. I really loved learning about the conflicts in Spanish history particularly the Reconquest and the Franco dictatorship. In regards to Latin American culture I was especially interested in the motivations for nationalist movements, Latin American revolutions and I enjoyed exploring the film ‘Fresa y Chocolate’ which discusses the Cuban revolution.

Learning about the cultures of Spanish speaking nations has only encouraged my desire to travel and see these fascinating places. It’s one thing to know a language but it’s much more interesting and inspiring to know about the cultures that have developed around it. I look forward to improving my linguistic abilities in Spanish and continuing my cultural studies in particular in the area of contemporary Latin American history. I would recommend Spanish studies to any student as it is an intriguing and multi-layered area.

Craig Burgess (Honours student)

My name is Craig Burgess and during the course of 2003 I undertook the adventure of Honours with the department of Hispanic Studies at Monash.  Apart from greatly enriching my academic life, the year as a whole lead me down a path of great personal growth.  I spent the first half of the year in Spain studying at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and experiencing the thrills of Spanish life.  I lived in a central area of the city in a household of Spaniards who were to become some of my closest friends.  My main interest academically was immigration in the Spanish press, and this choice of topic took me on an incredible journey working alongside experts in the field, the Association of Human Rights and school children in different areas of the city.   I met some inspiring people and through their influence felt the strong connection between myself and the world in which I live which continues to grow alongside my enthusiasm for life.

Upon my return to Australia I found myself with enough material to write a PhD (!) and the experience of converting the knowledge gained from my time in Spain into an Honours thesis became a challenging but extremely satisfying task.  Holding the completed document in my hands proved a rewarding testimony to the fascinating year through which I had just passed.

Above all, Honours year has focused and centred what interests me in the world.  It has given me the stimulation I needed for a greater life journey, a journey which I will continue in the future in Spain and now, as an offshoot of my experiences, in Northern Africa and Portugal.  The possibilities and opportunities of life are like an ever-expanding and thriving tree.  In many ways Honours year is what planted the seed for me.

Stephen Gartlan (Diploma of Language)

My name is Stephen Gartlan and I am currently a Monash Master of Nursing Practice student, having already completed two diplomas of languages in Spanish and Korean and a double degree in Arts and Science at Monash majoring in Japanese and Chemistry. Although my previous degrees are generally considered very ‘general’, they have served me greatly as I embark upon a career in nursing. During my hospital placement, I met a Spanish patient who was in Australia visiting family on holiday and was quite weighed down by the whole experience of being in hospital in a foreign country. By just saying a few things in Spanish and by being able to understand her responses without relying entirely on her daughter, I was able to brighten her day. When she left in the afternoon her whole family were much happier as they were smiling, talking and giving me good-bye kisses on each cheek (which is usual in Spain).

I have also benefited enormously from the few subjects I did in linguistics, especially the discourse analysis unit ‘Spanish communication in a global world’. Through this subject our lecturer was able to share her passion with us and opened up our minds to how language works past the mere words and grammar. This has been invaluable in picking up subtle cues that patients give out so as to better connect with them, address their concerns and centre the my nursing care around their needs. It has made me a better listener and given me invaluable tools for communicating better with people – from different cultures and languages as well as my own. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.