Column: GW must promote its Spanish language study abroad programs beyond Spain

Since the seventh grade, I’ve listened to American-born, native English-speaking Spanish teachers describe their metamorphosis after traveling abroad to Spain for their junior or senior year of college. While studying in Spain can be its own reward, I want an equal opportunity to study all the dialects of Spanish in Hispanic countries in the Americas, not just Castilian Spanish, the dialect specific to Spain that has occupied the forefront of my Spanish education.

The dialects in Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas have their own rich grammar and vocabulary that differs from that of Castilian Spanish, and studying abroad in these places is truly the only way to fully master these accents and their nuanced grammar. But GW’s inconsistent and at times patronizing advertisement of study abroad programs in Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas denies its students the opportunity to enrich themselves through study abroad programs in these countries.

GW continues to promote its study abroad programs throughout all of Spain, but it neglects to give its Spanish study abroad programs in the Americas the same attention. The Office for Study Abroad, or OSA, has a duty to ensure that all of its programs are equally enriching and fairly advertised. If GW truly wishes to provide vast cultural and language learning opportunities to its students, OSA must expand its offerings in Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas and stop perpetuating stereotypes about these countries through its advertising strategies.

Excluding medical and graduate programs, GW offers six long-term study abroad programs in Spain and a combined 12 study abroad programs throughout Hispanic countries in the Americas. But GW’s study abroad programs in Spain commonly overshadow the rest in the Western Hemisphere. During GW’s virtual study abroad fair this September, OSA held information sessions on programs in Seville, Madrid, Barcelona and Pamplona – all cities located in Spain. For Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas, OSA only held virtual information sessions for one program in Chile and one in Colombia, leaving 10 other programs unmentioned. Accessibility to information about Spanish study abroad programs and equal representation of the various abroad opportunities in Spanish-speaking countries is critical to where students decide to travel and the learning experiences they receive.

Maura Kelly-Yuoh | Staff Cartoonist

The difference between how the OSA describes programs in Spain and those in the Americas is even more jarring. While both Madrid and Chile are part of GW’s featured study abroad programs, GW’s Madrid program summary discusses the academic curriculum and its partnership with Madrid’s “premier national university.” But the summary for Chile’s study abroad program references how the country is “beginning to play an important role” globally and provides an opportunity to experience both “political and cultural challenges.” While OSA praises the distinguished academic experience offered in Madrid, it depicts Chile through a distant lens, encouraging potential learners to treat them and their country as fundamentally different from GW and its students. This distinction is both unfair and untrue.

The limited opportunities for students to study Spanish in South America likely stems from the widespread but incorrect belief that the region is unsafe. This misconception can push GW students away from Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas and further compound the OSA’s imbalance between abroad programs in Spain and those in the Americas. The U.S. State Department issues travel advisories for countries on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 signifying that travelers should take normal precautions and 4 meaning U.S. citizens should not travel there. Every country in South America where a GW Study Abroad program is based is ranked as a 1 or 2. European countries like Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom currently sit at the same level 2 threat advisory for travel. Not to mention, D.C. has higher crime rates than the cities of Medellín and Cartagena in Colombia and Santiago, Chile.

By widely advertising and glorifying its study abroad programs in Spain through OSA, GW’s Spanish language curriculum pushes students down one particular path of Spanish-language education and Castilian Spanish, the Spanish dialect spoken in Spain. The dialect is commonly regarded as the “purest” form of the language. The Real Academia Española, the authority on Spanish language and grammar, advertises its dictionaries as “providing the linguistic norms” of the language in accordance with Castilian Spanish. The Real Academia Española promotes a Eurocentric view of the Spanish language as a whole, sidestepping the cultural enrichment of dialectal differences in Spanish speaking countries in the Americas. The more GW advertises abroad programs in Spain, the more students favor learning the Castilian Spanish dialect and embody that Eurocentric perspective of the Spanish language. The Spanish language does not belong solely to Spain, and GW needs to help promote this understanding through an equal advertisement of its Spanish language exchange programs.

GW’s Office for Study Abroad must commit itself to a multicultural perspective and promote all study abroad opportunities on an equal footing. Its current bias in favor of Spain and subsequent patronizing attitude toward dialects of Spanish in the Americas and culture are unacceptable. After disregarding them for so long, the office needs to review its approach to advertising study abroad programs in Central and South America and more widely promote the opportunities students have to study abroad in these countries.

Paige Baratta, a freshman studying political science, is an opinions writer.

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