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Hispanic Studies Revives Madrid Semester Program

Students in Spain
A group of students in the inaugural Madrid program visit the Alcazar in Segovia on a program-sponsored trip.

For the first time in two decades, the Department of Hispanic Studies has offered a semester program abroad in Madrid. The revived program made its debut in the spring 2014 semester with nine students and will continue for both fall and spring semesters.

"This program is an opportunity to increase Davidson's presence abroad," said Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies Kyra Kietrys. "In addition, our affiliation in Madrid is with one of Spain's oldest and most prestigious universities, the Universidad Complutense de Madrid."

The semester begins with a three-week orientation and a not-for-credit intensive grammar course. Similar to Davidson, the students then begin coursework in four classes. One of the classes is taught by the Davidson Professor in Residence and only includes Davidson students, while the other three courses are taught by professors from the university and include university students as well as other American students.

English Major Natalie Duda '16 took courses in history, art history, literature and grammar. She had been interested in studying abroad in Spain, and the Madrid program provided exactly what she wanted. "I didn't want it to be a semester off as much as a semester to learn Spanish and step out of my comfort zone," she said.

According to Kietrys, chair of the department and the first professor to teach through the program, she and her colleagues wanted students to be able to have a Davidson experience in a top destination for study abroad. She said, "We decided that the cultural offerings of metropolitan Madrid would nicely complement our students' small-town campus experience here in Davidson."

Travel is another component of the program. Both Davidson and university students go on various excursions throughout Spain during the semester. "I especially enjoyed those trips because we often traveled to small towns that I wouldn't have thought to visit otherwise," said Duda.

In the inaugural semester students lived with host families, but Kietrys said they will be piloting a residence hall option in addition to the host family option this fall.

Outside of class and home, students are encouraged to create research, extra-curricular and volunteer opportunities based on their interests. For example, Duda practiced and performed with the Ibero-Americano choir, while other students participated in activities such as cross-fit and volunteering at local churches.

Kietrys found that as students traveled and lived in Madrid, their literary interpretations reflected a new appreciation and understanding of the culture. She explained, "Their insights became much more nuanced, and they began to make connections not only between the works themselves, but also saw how history and contemporary culture played roles in the lives of the characters and in the authors' choices."

Duda entered and won a short story contest for international students with a piece called Los Cinco Céntimos, or The Nickel, about a street performer and the importance of the arts in everyday life.

While Kietrys spent the inaugural semester with the program, the Professor in Residence position will rotate based primarily on faculty availability. Visiting Instructor Lola Santamaría will be in Madrid this fall, and Assistant Professor Melissa González in the spring of 2015.

Duda said, "Professor Kietrys was really committed to our experience and making sure that we weren't only learning academically but also culturally."

The 40-year-old program, which sent students to Madrid sporadically from 1975 to 1994, has been redesigned, but one fundamental aspect of the program hasn't changed: It is a Davidson program.

"The majority of non-Davidson programs don't duplicate the best parts of the small liberal arts college abroad," said Kietrys. "A Davidson program is a way to give continuity to a student's four years while also allowing the student to branch out and be adventurous."