Study abroad experience changes course of student's academic career

Vera Coleman

Vera Coleman, a doctoral student in Spanish literature in the School of International Letters and Cultures in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was inspired to take a new direction with her academic studies after living and studying abroad. 

Having lived in Korea, Japan and the United States as a child, Coleman says her early experiences “fostered (her) love for both urban and natural landscapes” and nurtured a deep appreciation for multiculturalism. She was inspired to pursue a degree in Spanish after studying abroad in Spain for a semester, following her sophomore year.

“Although I began pursuing bachelor’s degrees in biology and pre-medicine, after two years of undergraduate work and one semester abroad in Spain, I realized that as much as I loved the natural sciences, Hispanic literature and culture were my true passion,” Coleman says.

Coleman’s research has examined the correlations between the natural sciences and the humanities in Latin American poetry.

“Vera's interdisciplinary master’s thesis, ‘Body and Universe: Post-humanist Approaches to Materiality in the Poetry of Cristina Peri Rossi and Cecilia Vicuña,’ breaks new ground in Latin American theory and criticism as it intertwines poetry, chemistry, biology, quantum physics and material feminism, all in plain language,” says Cynthia Tompkins, professor of Spanish and Coleman’s master’s thesis committee chair.

In support of her doctoral work, Coleman received a Graduate Education Dean’s Fellowship for the 2013-2014 academic year. The fellowship provides financial support to regularly admitted first year graduate degree students who are Arizona residents or underrepresented in their discipline, and who demonstrate academic excellence. 

The School of International Letters and Cultures offers courses in more than 20 languages and cultures, making it one of the most dynamic international humanities programs in the United States. The school offers master's and doctoral degrees in Spanish with either a literature or cultural studies concentration. With world-class faculty members from Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and other Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries, graduate students in the programs have opportunities for not only interdisciplinary study, but cross-cultural study as well. The school’s Spanish graduate programs are highly regarded by the international academic community.

In addition to Spanish literature and cultural studies on campus, the school offers study abroad programs to Seville, Spain, Barcelona and León, Spain, Mérida, Mexico and São Paulo, Brazil. School of International Letters and Cultures' study abroad programs are among the longest-running and most prestigious at Arizona State University. Founded in 1981 and directed by knowledgeable world-class faculty, the programs offer students the opportunity to experience and study international humanities and learn languages first-hand while earning credit toward their degrees.

Open to both graduate and undergraduate students, the school's study abroad programs in Spanish and Portuguese focus on the many cultural and literary differences within Spain and Latin America. Students in the Barcelona and León program, for example, have the opportunity to stay with host families while attending classes at the Universidad de León. Courses are balanced with weekend trips to surrounding cities to discover the rich cultural and literary history of the country. 

About the Seville program, former participant Hilary Delph says, “It was incredible to learn about an artist or ruler from the 17th century and then see the original work of art or the king's and queen's tombs. I have never had an academic experience like that and it really made the history and culture come alive.” 

The programs in Mexico and Brazil also offer enriching experiences with ancient (Mayan) and modern (urban Latin American) cultures through a mix of class work and cultural expeditions. 

Coleman had similar cultural experiences on her trip to Spain in 2009, where she studied at the Universidad de Granada, taking courses in Spanish literature and Latin American linguistics. “Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she says. “It not only gave me new perspectives on other cultures, but also encouraged me to see my own culture through the eyes of others.”

Coming back from Spain, Coleman knew she wanted to study Spanish further in a location where Spanish was a dominant part of the community. The fact that the region has a large Hispanic cultural community drew Coleman to Arizona. The outstanding graduate programs in Spanish led by faculty from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds conviced her that ASU was the best place to pursue her graduate work. “I dreamed of living in a place again where I could hear Spanish spoken in the street,” she says. “ASU offers unique opportunities to be immersed in Spanish-speaking culture.”

Coleman plans to pursue a career in teaching Spanish and Latin American literature at a college or university while contributing to the field through further research. She plans to travel to many more Latin and Central American countries, including Mexico, Peru and Argentina.

Written by Daniel Lennie, communications intern, School of International Letters and Cultures.