Interdisciplinary Group Travels to Spain, Creates Documentary

By Jenn O’Hanlon

UTEP News Service

Twenty-eight students and three faculty members traveled to Seville, Spain this summer to participate in a Spanish culture class abroad.

Hector Enriquez, a lecturer for The University of Texas at El Paso Languages and Linguistics Department, taught the class for the seventh time. But this year’s program was different.UTEP students study abroad in Seville, Spain during summer 2012.UTEP students study abroad in Seville, Spain during summer 2012.

A camera crew and students from UTEP’s Department of Communication accompanied the other participants to film a documentary that will be edited to a full-length film.

“This study abroad is totally different from all others around the country since it involved different departments and different kinds of students,” Enriquez said. “It truly was an interdisciplinary experience.”

“Students in the College of Liberal Arts are increasingly taking advantage of opportunities to study abroad,” said Pat Witherspoon, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts.  “Some are particularly interested in the courses offered by our own faculty in other countries, which helped make the trip to Seville a success.”

Selfa Chew-Smithart, Ph.D., a lecturer in the Department of History, taught students about the history of Spain during the trip and wrote the script for the documentary they are producing.
“The Department of History wanted to offer students the opportunity to learn history through a comprehensive program of academic and extracurricular activities,” Chew-Smithart said. “It was amazing to see how my students enjoyed each moment of the trip, always committed to make each experience a learning moment and submit well-written research papers.”

The students researched the history of three religious cultures prevalent in Spain during their trip. Students investigated how Christianity, Judaism and Islamic beliefs integrate in Seville by visiting churches and meeting with historians in places of cultural significance.

Students studying the culture were interviewed by camera crews led by communication students at the beginning, middle and end of their trip.

“I am very excited about this project because it is something that gives firsthand knowledge and is something very authentic,” Enriquez said. “It’s something made especially by students, for students.”

Frank G. Pérez, chair of the Department of Communication, said the trip fit with the department’s mission.

“The Department of Communication at UTEP places a strong emphasis on international travel for students, and this type of cross-departmental cooperation builds synergies for many students,” he said. 

The camera crew recorded approximately 80 hours of footage that will be edited during a class that starts in the fall semester under the direction of lecturers Ramon Villa and Bobby Gutierrez.

“Now that we’re back, we get to focus on the creative process,” Villa said. “We will move on to the next phase of the project this fall when the editing of the film becomes the focal point of a senior elective class for senior Digital Media Production students.”

A trailer of the documentary will be presented in Philadelphia in November at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language’s 2012 Annual Convention and World Languages Expo. Upon completion in January, the full-length film will be exhibited in a location that has yet to be determined.

“We hope to go to PBS or the Discovery Channel with our final product,” Enriquez said. “We will go to the Spanish Embassy with the video in an effort to get them to use it to market Spain as a wonderful place for students to study abroad.”

Villa said he would like to see this kind of collaboration take place at other locations throughout the world.

“To document a study abroad experience and showcase the opportunities available at UTEP is a great way to reflect on the programs available on campus,” Villa said.

Enriquez sees the video as an ideal means of communicating Spain’s rich culture with other universities and the Spanish people. The student interviews will illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of the trip and how a similar trip can be organized elsewhere.

“The trip to Seville was a wonderful introduction to language, culture and history of another country,” Witherspoon said. “Capturing the learning experiences for others to enjoy via video was certainly a novel idea, through which the students can share their journey with many others.”

“It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said Katie Aguirre, a clinical psychology graduate student who participated in the trip. “Not only did I learn a lot about myself, but I met many new people from UTEP that I normally would not have. We became a family and we got to enjoy all the sights and sounds of Spain together as one. I cannot wait to go back.”