Students Share About Spanish-Guided Global Studies Education


Special to the Echo

Griffin Harvey’s learning about an indigenous community in the Andes mountains.

Warren Wilson College is known for involving work and service with its liberal arts education curricula. Like other colleges and universities, it also has developed study abroad exchanges and partnerships as a fourth application of student knowledge.

Those who travel abroad are encouraged to study in ways that apply their knowledge and expand their worldview. In some cases, these students find themselves gaining a deeper connection to their topics of study and return feeling changed. This is true for students of Global Studies and Spanish at Warren Wilson College. 

Provided that these students chose abroad programs aligned with their educational interests, it may be helpful to be aware of their educational context. The Global Studies department at Warren Wilson describes its program as interdisciplinary with a strong focus on global phenomena. 

As professor of Global Studies and department Chairman David Abernathy, Ph.D.,  puts it, staff teach with “the metaphors of global flows.” 

Here, he refers to globalization in the economic, political, cultural, and ecological dimensions. Two students shared their perspectives on this general method of teaching.

“I am really glad to be able to do something interdisciplinary in the social sciences,” said Red Herring, a senior on the Photography Crew. “It felt very connected.” 

Herring had an overall positive response to their experience as a Global Studies major, particularly to the intersection of a couple of Latin American Anthropology courses, their required community service with Latine youth, and their time studying the Spanish language — here at the college and abroad. 

Another Global Studies major, Griffin Harvey, had similar opinions. 

“I enjoy how interdisciplinary the program is,” Harvey said. “I have had a lot of freedom to incorporate the classes I want.” 

What Herring and Harvey shared about their experiences in the program revealed that the interdisciplinary component improved their relationship with their educational careers. Both had come to value the connectedness of their classes in multiple disciplines. One of these, Spanish language acquisition, became a guiding focus for them in the form of a minor.

The Spanish minor at Warren Wilson College is designated within the Global Studies department. While it is currently the only language offered, the Spanish courses are all service-learning, incorporating community engagement within the Spanish-speaking communities in the greater Asheville area. 

The Work Program also has a Spanish Assistant Crew whose work consists of  tutoring and leading conversation tables, in addition to offering  several activities that focus on the language and learning about the various Spanish-speaking cultures.

Similar to how the Global Studies program has made their careers more enjoyable and fulfilling, learning Spanish left Herring and Harvey life-changing impressions. Although they studied abroad at different points in their Spanish education, their reflections had a few commonalities.

Herring, after having taken a handful of  Spanish classes at Warren Wilson, studied in Barcelona their junior year, fall of 2019. 

“I was on a conversational Spanish level . . . I got to an intermediate-advanced (level) by the time I left, ” Herring said, in reference to their preparedness. 

While they expressed that they wished they had the opportunity to practice more applicable Spanish such as ordering food, they acknowledged an appreciation for the immersive qualities of the classes that required more conversation, such as Spanish-only class sessions and their service with Spanish-speaking youth. 

“If we weren’t speaking so much conversational Spanish in classes, I wouldn’t have been nearly as prepared,” Herring said. 

Harvey, unlike Herring, went on his abroad trip before coming to Warren Wilson and taking college-level Spanish classes. He disappointedly claimed that high school Spanish didn’t teach him much and that he studied abroad with a “fairly basic” level of Spanish. What improved his Spanish skills, according to his statement, was simply being immersed in Ecuador’s “beautiful culture.” 

“The best way to learn (Spanish) is through immersion,” he said, “I recommend studying abroad in general, especially for longer than a few weeks.”

In addition to his abroad experience, he was also immersed in his community service with educational and abolitionist organizations that work with Latine communities.

Regardless of what level of Spanish they had obtained, neither presented a major language-barrier conflict during their travels that they didn’t learn from. In fact, Harvey said that it was, in part, the challenge of understanding his abroad professor’s instructions that inspired him to continue with the language. According to Herring, many of the people they encountered in Barcelona were always willing to help them learn and be clarified. Based on what the students shared, Spanish served as a mentally-stimulating tool that helped them interact with people who are linguistically different from themselves. Although neither of them felt 100% prepared before travelling, each of them felt a stronger connection to the language.

In addition to the students’ classes and service, the abroad experiences themselves had an impact. Both students shared how studying abroad also impacted their worldviews.

In response to their time in Barcelona, Herring expressed both a change in their worldview and newfound appreciations.

“It helped me to not otherize people in other parts of the world . . . (and) understand how important some things are to me such as public transportation,” Herring said. “Engaging with language learning on a daily basis is really important to me.” 

Harvey gained similar insights. He claimed that speaking Spanish produces a “second level of complexity” and a “social awareness,” saying, “I never want to stop learning to speak other languages and traveling.” 

“I knew this traveling as a younger kid but seeing people who live such a unique life… it’s complex and hard to explain,” Harvey said. “There are so many different people in the world and no one set way of thinking or living is absolute.”