Temple Times Online Edition
    NOVEMBER 4, 2004
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Latin American program teaches with total immersion

For Ryan Linton, it was his love of travel and language. Jessica Rodriguez, who plans to pursue a career working for a nonprofit serving the Latino community, saw it as an opportunity to improve her Spanish and learn more Latino history. Max Lovitz-Wolfson, a Spanish major also pursuing the certificate in multilingual business and governmental studies, said it is a powerful vehicle for opening students’ eyes to the world.

They are among the Temple students who have completed the 15-credit Latin American Studies Semester, a “total immersion” experience in the study of the Spanish language and of Latin America through social science, literature and film. The program also offers the enticing bonus of a “field trip”: travel to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula over spring break.

“The Latino community is the fastest-growing sector of the population in the United States,” said Rosario Espinal, professor of sociology and director of Latin American studies and the LASS program. “Whether it’s for personal development or career goals, students who learn Spanish and Latin American culture through the LASS semester will be infinitely better prepared for life in the multicultural world of the 21st century.”

The program, taught entirely in Spanish by native or near-native speakers, begins with intensive language study each morning, followed by two hours of learning about Latin American culture and history through lectures, literature, films and discussion each afternoon.
“By students speaking only Spanish in the program, they learn more quickly the subtleties of the language and significantly boost their confidence,” Espinal said.

Linton, with a double major in international business and e-marketing, plans to go on to law school and study international corporate law.

“This program has the ability to provide you with a whole new way of learning,” he said, an assessment echoed by other LASS grads.

Ginny J. Barahona, now a graduate student in history and international affairs at Georgetown, looks to a career doing reconstruction in Latin America. As a Temple undergrad, she found LASS to be a vital experience for strengthening her Spanish and introducing “an international perspective to my undergrad degree that is fundamental to pursuing this kind of work.”

For junior Debra Crowe, a Spanish and anthropology major from Collingdale, Pa., the program clarified her career goals.

“I had been trying to decide whether to go into paleontology to hunt for dinosaur bones or archaeology and go crazy over ancient ruins and human history. When we were visiting the Mayan ruins, such as Uxmal and Chichen-Itza in the Yucatan, I just realized that dinosaur bones weren’t going to hold my curiosity nearly as well as archaeological sites and ancient peoples.”

During the weeklong trip to Mexico, students stay with Spanish-speaking host families, where they can practice and test their language skills and experience the culture firsthand through the activities of daily life. Their itinerary, which includes lectures on the geography, culture and the arts of the Yucatan, is also packed with sightseeing, shopping, swimming and socializing with their classmates and their new Mexican “families” and friends.

“LASS changes you,” Crowe said, pointing to a project she did the following fall for another class. “I was researching the roots of the word ‘deception’ and its Spanish counterpart, engaño. What was awesome was when I had a conversation [in Spanish] with a professor that I had never spoken with before [on] a really academically philosophical topic … 30 minutes back and forth, with him speaking at full speed.

“I was so awed when I was done that I had held my own in the conversation. After a whole semester in LASS, I had managed to make that jump from the everyday conversations of greeting to a deeply involved conversation within academia. … I can only hope that other students have had the same type of awesome experience during and after the program.”
“I believe the effect on students [is] enormous, showing the importance of traveling, seeing the world and appreciating the value of other cultures,” said Lovitz-Wolfson, who grew up in the West Mount Airy section of Philadelphia. “On top of all that, it was really a lot of fun, and I met some really cool people. The semester I spent doing LASS was probably the most fun I’ve had in my entire college life, and I will never forget it. I really wish there was a LASS No. 2 so I could do it again!”

For more information on the Latin American Studies Semester program for spring 2005, contact LASS director Rosario Espinal at espinal@temple.edu or 204-7713, or visit www.temple.edu/LAS.

- By Harriet Goodheart