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Online student masters the lingua franca

Image of Luis Benavides reading an upside down newspaper.

Graduating ASU student Luis Benavides cheekily catches up on what's happening in an upside-down world by reading El Mercurio, a Chilean newspaper considered the oldest daily in the Spanish language currently in circulation.

April 26, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Proudly hailing from Antofagasta, Chile — “the biggest city in the driest desert of the world” — Luis Benavides has been interested in English as far back as he can remember.

“I have been an Anglophile since childhood,” he said. “The English language and its culture have always been highly attractive to me.”

Benavides wonders if his father’s study of English as a second language (ESL) was perhaps impactful; his father also introduced him to film and literature in the language. Benavides recalls sitting in the cinema and repeating the English words he heard delivered on screen, and he remembers creating English names for characters in his childhood drawings.

But Benavides was not, and is not, interested in a merely practical knowledge of English. He yearns to know its very essence, “the most complex aspects of English as a foreign language – where it came from and the reasons of its prevalence as lingua franca: the cultural and ontological aspects behind its existence.”

Already a highly educated student when he arrived at Arizona State University’s online campus, Benavides believes passionately in learning. He holds bachelor’s degrees in graphic design and education and a teaching certificate from universities in Chile. He himself has been an ESL teacher for many years. His Master of Arts in English degree, which he is earning via ASU Online this spring, will put Benavides on a path to someday teach at the college or university level.

Instructor of English Julianne White, who taught the capstone course for the online English MA program this semester, was impressed by Benavides’s linguistic sophistication.

“His English is better than many native English speakers,” she said. “He's just freaking awesome.”

Benavides shared some more of his passions and inspirations with us in an interview.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: Good question! I am a sort of Renaissance man. I have studied design and education, and I have always been interested in liberal arts. But English has always been in the center — as a sort of axis. I love reading much history, for instance, but history has one limitation: It is linear. Language allows to deconstruct and see many angles of the same subject at the same time. Language allows an approach to any field of knowledge. Think of Shakespeare, for instance: How many fields can be reached through his work? I think that that “aha” moment occurred long ago. The point, perhaps, is how long I waited for this chance — to start studying a serious postgraduate program like this — to come.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I compare the man I am now with that man I used to be two years ago; there is a huge difference. My productivity as a writer improved substantially! But more important is how wide my vision of the world has become, especially in relation to all those subjects which have always concerned me.

This intense study of the English language, simultaneously, deepened my appreciation for my mother tongue: Spanish. It opened my mind on how important is to understand and better respect other nations and cultures.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: In 2016 I took a writing course offered by Arizona State University through edX. It was a high-level course. Sometime later, researching online, I found out that ASU is one of the greatest universities in the United States.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I must thank [Director of Online Programs in English] Kathleen Hicks, [Teaching Associate of English] Monica Baldonado-Ruiz, [Professor of English] Doris Warriner, and [Associate Professor of English] Christine Holbo. They are the most dedicated and warmest professors I have ever met. They do know how to kindly make you work hard to meet high standards; and they know how to be comforting in troublesome moments. It was of great significance for me, especially in moments of solitude and intellectual weakness.

I cannot fail to mention [Professor of English] Gregory Castle. Without him, I would have been unable to achieve my confidence as a writer.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Don’t give up! This MA opens such a big window to knowledge and personal development that one day — when you can sit and think — you will notice how different you are: how complex is your new way to think, and how much you can do to help other people grow.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: An office chair I took from my daughter’s bedroom. I love to put my feet on the bed and start reading on it. Next to me, I keep a wheeled table where I keep my laptop and type. It is the third place I have tested to study, and it has worked very well.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I should like to work in a tertiary education institution where liberal arts are taken seriously, and where I can have more intellectual challenges. If not, I expect being able to continue writing. To teach writing does not sound bad either!

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: It depends largely on who is the donor. I would not accept money from those companies and/or people who support Donald Trump. Neither would I accept it from Mark Zuckerberg.  If it came from Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk I would carefully think about it. Receiving such amount of money, implicitly, brings conflicts of interest.

But going to your question: If I could concentrate on a problem, I would love funding university students, in economic need, who have the talent and the hunger to learn.

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