En Español, Por Favor: Undergraduates Conduct Research Projects in Spain, and in Spanish
Sarah Beck (left) and Adriane Lepore go online from a seat in the Plaza de Mina. In many of the plazas of Cádiz, the wifi signal is almost as strong as the sun.
You feel the music, taste it, see it, smell it. Skirts twirl and flash like the jumble of colors in a kaleidoscope’s eye.
Pounding rhythms echo the elevated heartbeats of listener and performer. The piercing, poignant melodies bring tears. Cádiz, and the rest of the Andalusian south of Spain, is flamenco country. Here, it is more than music. For even the most stoic Andalusian Spaniard, flamenco is a gut-wrenching experience.
When Sam Rizzo traveled to Spain last summer with 12 other William and Mary students, he knew next to nothing about flamenco. Then, he and his classmates spent five weeks in Cádiz, the oldest city in Western Europe, immersed in Spanish language and culture. By the end of his stay, his research into flamenco fusion had whetted his appetite for further study of the genre. When he returns to Spain in the spring to participate in the semester abroad program in Seville, he will continue his investigation.
Flamenco is incredibly passionate music, he says. “As the sound was so foreign to me, it didn’t impact me the same way it might a Spanish native, but, I think I can equate the feeling to how I feel sometimes playing jazz,” says Rizzo, a junior Hispanic studies major with a minor in music. “They’re both the kind of music that become so ingrained in the performer’s psyche that once mastered, the music flows out of the guitarist’s hands, like the musician is conversing with the audience almost.”
But there’s more to Spain than flamenco. Each year, under the watchful eye of Francie Cate-Arries or Carla Buck, students take classes in art history and Spanish culture (a total of five credit hours). But a huge part of the experience is conducting research in Spanish using Spanish sources and, at the end of five weeks, presenting their findings in Spanish on paper and orally.
“They’re not just students consuming information in the classroom or reading books about something in the library,” says Cate-Arries, resident director for the 2007 William and Mary Summer Program in Cadiz. “They’re doing that, but they’re also in the streets, knocking on doors, calling up people, making appointments.”
“Students are introduced to a different culture while connecting that introduction to an area of scholarly inquiry at the same time. And they start making discoveries they couldn’t in Williamsburg, Virginia,” says Cate-Arries, a professor in William and Mary’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. She also was one of the College’s two 2007 recipients of Outstanding Faculty Awards from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
She explained that the genesis of the students’ research begins the spring semester before going to Cádiz. They are required to take Hispanic Studies 376, an intense one-credit hour course that introduces them to the social and political issues in today’s Spain and also provides an academic vehicle to explore the historical and cultural background of the program city. But the major focus of the course is the preparation of the research proposal in Spanish, the final assignment of the prep course.
Beyond the Beach
When students begin the prep course, they aren’t sure of what they would like to research. “I tell them to connect to something they care about,” says Cate-Arries. Once students step off the train in Cádiz, they are confronted with a beautiful, picturesque city of narrow streets, Roman and Phoenician ruins, squares with Gothic churches and splendid Atlantic Ocean beaches. In their classes at the Universidad de Cádiz, they start to discover their Cádiz world. But it’s not until they embark on their research that they really begin to understand the culture.
“The key to gaining entry to another peoples’ culture, another community’s life is to be found, academically speaking, in the research activity, conducted beyond the classroom and beyond the beach visible from that same classroom,” says Cate-Arries.
Students read extensively about their research topic. Once in Cádiz they continue to investigate through reading, taking particular advantage of recently published research in Spain.
After amassing a significant amount of material, the students “hit the streets of Cádiz forging the local connections that enhance understanding of their topics,” Cate-Arries says. The local connections allowed the student researchers to switch their inquiries into high gear.
Rizzo’s research focused on a kind of flamenco that emerged after the 1975 death of Francisco Franco, the dictatorial head of the Spanish government. The new flamenco sound melded the pure with other musical forms like jazz, rock, hip hop and punk. “Pure flamenco” is something of a misnomer, Rizzo says, because the genre naturally blends Spanish folk music with French, Arab, Jewish and other foreign musical traditions. During Franco’s decades-long regime, “pure flamenco” was exported as a symbol of Spain. Franco’s very presence discouraged any innovations to the art form.
“In the late ’70s, musicians started integrating jazz into flamenco and from there a lot of interesting things happened,” says Rizzo, a jazz guitarist. “What developed in the ’70s and ’80s was a liberating period in Spanish cultural history known as La Movida.” With it came a rejection of long-established Spanish emblems like flamenco. Artists began to fuse flamenco with other kinds of music. What emerged was a multitude of flamenco fusion styles that showcased new artistic trends as well as the impact globalization continues to have on Spain’s traditional music.
Rizzo developed his thesis through the people he interviewed as much as through written material. Music works well as a research topic because everyone is willing to talk about it.
“My host mother’s brother played the guitar, so while he was renovating his kitchen, I would just go up and ask him questions. He’s actually the one who turned me onto the idea of globalization impacting flamenco,” says Rizzo. “Another day, we had a flamenco guitarist come to class, so afterward I went out to breakfast with him and we chatted about El Barrio, a musical group, and some stylistic elements of flamenco. The bartender at our favorite little establishment loaned me his entire CD collection and turned me onto flamenco fusion music I might never have heard.”
Persistence Pays Off
Not all contacts were as immediately productive as Rizzo’s flamenco circle. Take Sara Beck for example. When she went to Cádiz she had just finished her freshman year, had never lived outside the United States and had the minimum of Spanish classes required for the program. She researched tourism in Cádiz, partly because she hails from a region of Florida that relies heavily on tourism and partly because she became interested in sustainable tourism during her preliminary research in the prep course.
Not at all shy, Beck made cold calls several times on the city’s tourism center and each time explained in her halting Spanish the purpose of her visit—to talk to the director. Each time she was gently rebuffed. Finally, after a number of attempts to interview the director, she told the women at the information counter that she would wait until he was free. Beck sat down to wait and soon was granted an interview.
“It certainly wasn’t easy to make calls and conduct interviews in Spanish,” Beck said. “I always prepared myself beforehand and made sure to write down the questions in case my pronunciation failed me.
“I definitely think I learned more by making the calls myself. It was an eye-opening experience for me,” Beck continues. “I realized how much Spanish I actually knew when I was forced to use it and didn’t have anyone to rely on except myself.”
Talking about sexual mores and sex education can be difficult and even embarrassing in the United States, especially between comparative strangers. So imagine a young woman raised in this country researching and talking about sex—in Spanish—with members of her host family. But that’s just what Larisa Cicila, another Cádiz program participant, did. At first the junior women’s studies and psychology double major found discussing the subject daunting, but she began to appreciate the openness with which Spaniards speak about sex and display affection to one another.
“I realized my host family spoke so freely about sex because it was not seen as something that had to be kept secret. They viewed it as a natural part of life, so why shouldn’t it be talked about,” Cicila says. “After I got over the initial shock, I found it really refreshing to speak candidly to an older couple, to hear stories about when they were young, what sex meant to them then and now.”
She found that not every aspect of Spanish society appreciates such a degree of openness on intimate topics. Cicila arrived in Spain at a time when the Catholic Church and the most conservative Spanish political party were very vocal about their disapproval of a recently passed nationwide law that required the instruction in citizenship in both public and private schools. But the new law’s concept of “citizenship” covers many bases, including information about nontraditional families in which both partners are the same gender and discussing how to practice safe and healthy sex.
The new law stirred up a firestorm of protest. One archbishop near Toledo even threatened to bar children from catechism classes, necessary for first communion, if their parents didn’t renounce the law.
Grounded by a very thorough bibliography of research sources, Cicila had pretty much figured out that the Spanish attitude toward sex and sex education was very different from that in the United States. But it was from observation and from discussions with her host family and school psychologists that she was able to confirm her hypothesis. Being in Cádiz was key to her research, she says.
“I learned the most about Spanish notions of sexuality through direct observation,” she says. “It was only after I noticed that people were much more public and unashamed about their physical attraction for each other, that I even became interested in studying Spanish attitudes toward sexuality, which led me to gauge these attitudes through studying the comprehensiveness of the sexual education system.”
And after Cádiz?
Research begun through the Cádiz program can instill in students a desire to do more, Cate-Arries maintains. She cites the example of recent graduate Laura Smith, who began studying flamenco and issues of gender in the Cádiz program the summer after her freshman year at William and Mary. Under the supervision of Anne Rasmussen, associate professor of ethnomusicology, she enlarged on her research each year afterward and presented her findings at a national conference while still in school. Today she is back in Spain on a Fulbright scholarship studying the cross-cultural influences immigration—mostly from North Africa—is having on traditional Spanish music.
Some of the students would like to use their research in Cádiz and apply their findings to similar problems in the United States. Cicila, for instance, believes that American schools could benefit from aspects of Spanish-style sex-education programs.
Although research done by the students she leads doesn’t directly inform her own work in Spain, Cate-Arries hopes to connect with them by sharing her passion for the discovery, for the chase, for the detective work involved, for the thrill of the hunt for the answers to research questions.
“That’s what I want to help teach my students. I want to provide the opportunities for that to happen for students, that excitement when it all comes together on a problem you’re trying to solve,” Cate-Arries said.
Her enthusiasm must be contagious because most of the students began to echo her excitement. Cicila says it has been rewarding for her to hear that other people are genuinely interested in the results of her investigation and want to learn more. Rizzo is surprised at how gratified he feels that many of his sources bore out what he originally hypothesized.
“It’s nice when thoughts you’ve been formulating for weeks are reaffirmed in published works,” he says. “Whenever I made a concrete connection between one of my own ideas and something I found during my research, I knew there was a point to what I was doing. For example, it made sense that with the fall of the dictatorship, the emblematic music of Spain would change to reject the conservatism of Franco, but actually finding that stated in texts was really satisfying. It legitimized your research in a way, and with a topic I originally knew very little about, that was really nice.”
Sharing those “a-ha” moments with her students happens in Cádiz where Cate-Arries actually has the opportunity to see the process unfold. “I am able to participate in their discovery and watch them emerge as student-scholars.”
By Cindy Baker for Ideation magazine
Cindy Baker and Stephen Salpukas of William and Mary's Office of University Publications were able to join the undergraduate group in Spain to document the experience.