We contacted recent graduates to give us their first-hand accounts of how Hispanic Studies may have impacted their life after Brown, both professionally and personally.
They were asked:
Where are you now?
Where did your degree in Hispanic Studies lead?
How has Hispanic Studies informed your life after Brown?
Do you have any advice for current Hispanic Studies students now at Brown, or even students considering a concentration in Hispanic Studies?
And it turns out that graduating with a degree in Hispanic Studies has led to a wide variety of career choices and more importantly, a uniquely useful and illuminating skill set to bring along into the world.
I am a second year medical student at Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland, Oregon. I took a year off between college and attending a Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical program at Columbia University. During the year off I took a job working as an au pair for a Catalan family in a town 30-40 minutes north of Barcelona called "Bigues i Riells". I had taken Catalan during senior year and was excited to go live and breathe the language. I stayed in Spain for the summer after graduation and then returned home to New Haven CT for the rest of the year to apply to post-bac pre-medical programs. I also did some other travel elsewhere like Hong Kong and Japan, and did another trip to Spain later in the year with my brother.
It was great as a pre-medical student at Columbia to use my Spanish skills at Bellevue Hospital, interviewing Spanish-speaking patients and their families for pediatric research projects in the outpatient clinic. I did that for roughly three years. Spanish studies also opened me up to other languages like Portuguese and Catalan, both of which I took at Brown and I had a blast doing that.
I would recommend thinking hard about whether you want to pursue a career in teaching or perhaps becoming a professor of Hispanic Studies. If you have other interests in the back of your mind like law or medicine, I would try and take more prerequisite courses for those careers during undergrad in order to save yourself time and money in the long run. You can definitely be a Hispanic Studies major and then also complete requirements for those other careers while at Brown, since you only need 8 credits to major in Hispanic Studies. If you just want to go into academics then go all out with literature and language courses while at Brown and make sure to get advice from your advisor or the Hispanic Studies concentration advisor while you're an undergrad.
I am living in Boston. I am working as a child/adolescent therapist (I went on to get a graduate degree in clinical psychology), but I work with many Spanish-speaking clients, so my Hispanic Studies have been of great use! My only advice to current students is that Hispanic Studies will be useful regardless of their final career path.
A degree in Hispanic Studies has helped land three jobs since graduation:
Program Assistant at the Inter-American Dialogue (Washington, DC)
Researcher at Eurasia Group (New York, NY)
Colombia/Andes Intern with the International Crisis Group (Bogota, Colombia).
Being able to communicate at a high level in Spanish has been instrumental in shaping my college and post-college life. At Brown, it allowed me to the opportunity to teach ESL with English for Action. This was an incredible opportunity and one of my most treasured Providence experiences. It also allowed me to travel to Latin America (funded by Brown) to do research for my thesis.
Post-college, having Spanish-speaking credentials got me in the door with my first job and allowed me to be successful in working with people from throughout the Latin American region. This ultimately led to extensive travel in the region for conferences and the opportunity to publish work in Spanish-language publications. The ability to read and write in Spanish was especially critical (for primary source research, monitoring news, etc), and Hispanic Studies expertly prepared me for that.
My general advice is that having the ability to actually speak and work in Spanish will make anyone a much stronger candidate for jobs in many fields: education, policy, consulting, etc. Many people say they speak Spanish but can't really communicate outside of the classroom setting. Concentrating in Hispanic Studies will give you the necessary skills (and confidence) that many non-native speakers need.
Publishing: Literary Magazine
I’ll be headed back into academia to get a graduate degree in Hispanic Studies starting in the fall of 2013. Right now, however, I'm working at The New Republic, a magazine located in Washington, DC. I began work at the magazine in the fall as the literary intern, and there's no doubt in my mind that my extensive exposure to Hispanic literature benefited me in that position—even if the magazine didn't focus all that much on foreign literature, the literary training I acquired in the department was useful in my approach to all literatures. Now, in the spring, I've begun working with the social media arm of the magazine, which has entailed drafting messages for Facebook and Twitter, and even occasionally running the Twitter feed. I've also been able to write one book review for the magazine's website and am currently at work on another. Both reviews are of books translated from Spanish, so in that sense my training in Hispanic Studies allowed me write about the books in what I hope is an intelligent way.
As far as advice for current or prospective Hispanic Studies concentrators goes, I would say that testing your comfort zone is one of the most important things to do. That can mean something as grand as studying abroad or even something smaller, like taking a course in an area that you don't think interests you all that much. I know that studying abroad in Barcelona was, for me at least, an experience where I not only sharpened my language skills and acquired important cultural knowledge but also learned a lot about myself, as clichéd as that might sound. Another piece of advice would be to take advantage of the courses offered by visiting professors.
Teaching English Abroad
Working in Hispanic Studies helped develop a lifelong interest in other cultures, and may come full circle if I am able to do a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary study linking historical Hispanic and Chinese relations.
I am currently in Beijing, China, teaching spoken English and art appreciation at a local university.
My degree in Hispanic Studies hasn't lead to anything concretely related to what I studied, but I have a lifelong passion for Spanish and Spanish literature. They are something to enjoy in my free time and help me interact with a wide range of other people who also speak Spanish or know something about Hispanic culture. My cultural studies started with my interest in Spanish, and my Hispanic Studies degree was a way to legitimize that interest. Participating in the DUG and organizing events also prepared me for the work I do now, helping others improve a foreign language and cross-cultural exchange.
To students currently studying or thinking of studying within the department, I say: DO IT. You have nothing to lose. Get outside of your own language, literature, and culture. You'll meet students from different backgrounds and you'll read books/watch movies/write essays that open your mind to a whole new way of seeing--that's the joy of studying a new language. My favorite memory from being a Hispanic Studies concentrator is probably writing an essay--in Spanish--explaining the basic foundations of Chinese Confucianism. My world is huge because I can interact with, at least on a basic level, with people who speak Spanish and now those who speak Chinese. Our world is increasingly global, so it's important to get beyond the big-name fields that are hot right now (business and finance, science and technology, engineering) and figure out how to even interact with the peoples and cultures we want to connect with.
Fulbright ETA and Travel
Last year, I was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Panama. Essentially, I presented enrichment activities in a variety of English classes -- including lots of music, some dancing, and several holiday celebrations! -- and also hosted an English Club focused on speaking practice. While I was abroad, I volunteered with the Forum Foundation, a small NGO founded by former Peace Corps members which focuses on increasing access to education in rural Panama, and with Lions for Sight, an event sponsored by the Lions Clubs to provide free eye screenings and glasses. I also volunteered with TECHO (formerly Un Techo Para Mi Pais), a youth-led NGO whose goal is to eradicate poverty in Latin America. My work with TECHO was the most meaningful part of my experience in Panama -- and if you are studying abroad in Latin America, I'd recommend looking them up! (There are TECHO offices in 19 countries in Latin America.)
Currently I'm working as a bilingual flight attendant with Delta Air Lines. Since I am Spanish-qualified, I often fly to Mexico and Central America and have lots of opportunities to practice and improve my Spanish. (Not to mention travel!)
In terms of advice, I would recommend that current concentrators get involved in their department! When I was part of the Hispanic Studies DUG, we had the opportunity to plan a lot of fun and interesting events but, because the DUG was fairly new, at times it was difficult to get other students to participate. Creating a sense of community within your chosen discipline is great, not only while you're at Brown, but also after graduation: you'll have a support network of people who share your interests (and may have insights to grad schools, jobs, etc.).