By: Julie Wilhelm (Senior Lecturer of Spanish) and Chad M. Gasta (Associate Prof. of Spanish)
January of 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the Department of World Language and Cultures’ semester study abroad program in Cáceres, Spain. Since the program’s inception in 2004, 345 ISU students have studied in Cáceres at the University of Extremadura, enjoying an array of Spanish language, civilization, and culture courses taught by local faculty members. In October 2013, administrators from the University of Extremadura came to visit Iowa State. Prof. María Antonia Paín (or – as our students affectionately call her – Toñi, professor of Teacher Education and founding resident director of Semester in Caceres program) and Prof. Maribel López Martínez (Vice Provost for Extension) spent a week in Ames learning more about ISU, meeting with the university administrators and WLC students and faculty, and exploring additional avenues of collaboration.
In commemoration of the program’s founding ten years ago, students past and present descended on Ames to see prof. Paín and reminisce about Cáceres and the University of Extremadura with WLC faculty directors Julia Domínguez, Julie Wilhelm, and Chad M. Gasta. Many of the alumni who came to Ames were participants of the Cáceres program as far back as eight years ago. Others traveled from as far away as Minnesota in order to get the chance to reconnect with faculty who were so important to them during their time in Spain. While for alumni this visit was a time to meet up with old friends and remember great personal moments, for students going to Cáceres, the visit afforded the possibility of getting to know the resident director and asking questions about what to expect from their first time studying abroad.
Cáceres, with a population of around 90,000, is located halfway between Lisbon, Portugal and Madrid in the region of Extremadura and has some of the most significant historical and cultural attractions in Europe. The old district of Cáceres has ancient walls dating from Roman times. This section of the city also features Renaissance palaces and towers (still in perfect condition) that the conquistadors and colonists returning from the New World constructed in the sixteenth century. In fact, the city’s pristine Medieval and Renaissance quarter has been a preferred location for period films. In 1986 UNESCO declared Cáceres to be a World Heritage City.
Students going to Cáceres take 12 hours of credits including Spanish Civilization and Culture, Grammar and Composition and Spanish for Business and Professions. Other unique classes and academic modules include courses on Spanish cuisine, Spanish archaeology, the Art of Bullfighting, and workshops conducted by local artists. Many students intern at local companies or work with non-government organizations on service learning projects (throughout the years students have had internships in pharmacy, physical therapy, engineering, and business to name a few). Students live with a Spanish host family and participate in excursions to historical sites around Spain.
As part of the program, students – led by faculty from the University of Extremadura – also undertake field research into Spanish history and culture through visits to several different cities. For example, the program includes a trip to Mérida, home of some of the world´s most outstanding Roman monuments as well as a trip to Salamanca—the location of Spain’s oldest university – where students tour the university and nearby cathedrals. A highlight of the semester is a weekend trip to the land of flamenco and bullfighting, Andalusia. There, students visit Granada and its famed Alhambra palace, Córdoba, and its well-preserved Mezquita or the famous city of Seville, a capital of Andalusian culture marked by the gigantic Cathedral and accompanying Giralda tower.
As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the semester study abroad program in Cáceres, Spain, we look forward to sending many more students to Cáceres where they can improve their Spanish and expand their view of the world.