2 seminars abroad, 40+ years laterPosted by admin on 7/12/12 • Categorized as Summer 2012
By Lynn Vollbrecht’06
Charlotte Stern Guirao’71 clearly remembers the afternoon she arrived in Granada, Spain, more than four decades ago. She met her host family, realized she was already falling in love with the picturesque landscape, and headed out for a walk—at which point she promptly got lost.
She was surprised at her own reaction. “I didn’t panic, because from the moment I set foot in Spain I felt a sense of peacefulness which I never had in my hometown,” recalls Guirao, who eventually settled in Spain. “I asked someone for directions, and not only did they give them to me, but they also took me to my destination. I began to realize that the U.S. was not the only country in the world, and that there were other people with the same thoughts, feelings, and problems.”
Guirao was part of a group of 19 Beloit students on a biennial, semester-long seminar to Granada in 1969, led by alumna and Spanish professor Nancy Nieman’61. Like so many Beloiters before and after (including participants in an innovative interdisciplinary seminar to Germany and Sweden in 1972), she found that the experience changed her life. These student travelers often wound up learning as much about themselves as they did the local language and the subjects they studied.
These seminars were much more than the academic lectures delivered in the classroom or even the basic cultural osmosis of living in a foreign country. Beloiters found themselves immersed in unexpected lessons that would affect the rest of their lives and form their ideas about history, immigration policies, environmentalism, love, sex, gender roles, child-rearing, urban planning, hospitality, business, politics, and, in at least one case, how to conduct a morning commute.
“When you’re in a foreign place, everything you’ve ever been taught about how to behave is different,” says Nieman, a professor emerita of Spanish at Santa Monica College in California, where she still occasionally teaches. “You eat differently, you hold your knife differently, you stand closer. Things your mother always used to scream at you for are what you’re now supposed to be doing. It frees you.”
Granada’69 and Germany/Sweden’72
By the time Nieman signed on as director for the 1969 trip, the Beloit seminar in Granada had already been through two iterations, initially set up by modern languages professor Don Murray.
“I think college administrators were nervous about sending a 29-year-old girl as the head of it,” she says. “But I spoke Spanish like a native. I knew so much more about life in Spain. The kids, I think, felt safe with me.”
Nieman’s youth and gender may have initially flummoxed her superiors, but her closeness in age made it easier for students to relate to her.
“Back then, in Franco Spain, we were really strict with them—and they were really quite innocent,” Nieman says. Students were given stern instructions to be mindful of the fact that they were entering a conservative culture.