Amalia Pérez-Juez - BU Madrid Director
Amalia has been with Boston University for the last 20 years, and currently serves as the Director of BU Madrid. She has a PhD in Archaeology and History, and has studied in both France and the United States. Due to her three and half years as an international student, she is able to easily relate to the feelings and experiences of students studying in Madrid with BU.
You started working for Boston University in 1995, how did you transition from student to employee?
When I started working for BU Madrid, I was just back from a year as a grad student at BU, so the transition felt very natural. While at BU, I had a work study position with the Study Abroad Office, and returning to Madrid was a continuation of this fascinating intercultural experience. It was also perfect for me, as I could combine writing my dissertation and working with students. At one point, I did have to decide whether I wanted to enter the Spanish University system or continue with BU in Madrid. It wasn’t a difficult choice.
You spent time studying in both France and the U.S., how did this experience help you better understand what students on your BU Madrid program are experiencing?
I was an international student for three and a half years, so I had to adapt to different cultures and languages. But, I did it, and learned so much from that. It shaped who I am, and mostly, it made me realize what I wanted to do in the future. I understand what students are going through when they go abroad and how to cope with the good and the bad that an international experience brings to your life. Studying abroad it is not a straight camino de rosas. There are bumps along the way. But, arriving to the end with a suitcase full of experiences is what really makes you grow.
You have a PhD in Archaeology and History, how do you incorporate this knowledge into your role as Director of BU Madrid?
I teach different classes throughout the year and I direct a BU research project in Archaeology. I am pretty sure that my academic background enriches the students’ experience. I get to know the students both as an administrator and as professor. I relate to them as a mentor in class and as director of the program. Students can be inspired by what you say in class as much as by how the program is managed. I have seen this over the years, with students coming back to see us and commenting on things they remember from class, or a career path they took based on what they learned from your class.
Publishing in journals and participating in meetings enhance the visibility of the program, and ultimately students and parents are aware of that academic reputation of the institution. I love teaching History and Archaeology, and it keeps my feet on the ground when it comes to understanding the new generation of students and where they are coming from.
What does your role as BU Madrid Director entail on a day-to-day basis?
It’s hectic, non stop, and a lot of fun! I have a large group of students, a staff, and a number of instructors, so there is a lot of planning, problem solving, administration, and academic thinking involved. I do a lot of teaching, both in the class and outside of class. I love it, and get a lot out of it. I also lead field trips and talk to BU faculty and staff, so finally, in the evening I find some time to get to all the emails that pile up in the inbox.
Moreover, we deal with partner institutions as well as third parties that make the day-to-day life very diverse. Of course there are emergencies and unexpected things that might complicate the semester. I just have to be tuned in 24 hours and be ready to make decisions with the help of our well trained and dedicated staff. There is never a dull moment.
What sets Boston University’s program apart from other study abroad programs in Madrid?
The BU program in Madrid is one of the best ones in Spain for a number of reasons. First, we have a very high quality of academics. Our instructors all have Masters or PhDs, have done extensive teaching and research, and are positioned at the top of rankings. Second, we have an incredibly dedicated staff that is available to the students 24/7. Their different backgrounds and well established objectives make things run really smoothly as it is always reflected in students’ evaluations.
Third, our program is well rounded in terms of combining classes and extracurricular activities. We organize a lot of cultural events for our students, which go from field trips to hiking, or the possibility to meet locals. Moreover, our homestays provide the student with the opportunity of living in a typical Spanish setting, and respond to very high quality standards monitored by our staff.
And finally, BU in Madrid internship opportunities vary in a wide array of fields, art galleries, museums, finance organizations, NGOs, embassies, hospitals, speech-therapy clinics, biology labs, elementary and language schools, and journalism.
What role does Spanish language learning play in the Madrid programs?
The majority of the students come to Spain to learn and improve their Spanish. However, students don’t necessarily need any prior knowledge of Spanish to participate in our programs, which makes it easier for them. Some classes are taught in English, but students always have the opportunity to learn more Spanish in language classes and practice in their homestays. Our program focuses on the cultural experience and the richness that living in Spain will offer a student as much as the language instruction.
What types of extracurricular activities are available for students in Madrid? Do students have opportunities to interact with and immerse in local culture?
During the academic semester, BU Madrid organizes a series of trips for all program students that tie into classes and offer students a broader window into Spanish life. Students visit historic cities such as Segovia, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, and Granada. In addition, many courses organized by BU Madrid include field trips and encourage students to participate in local cultural events. Moreover, the BU Madrid website had endless suggestions for extracurricular activities that are either free or reimbursed!
We plan and organize a number of social events that allow students to meet locals (language exchanges, sporting events, student mentors, etc). We collaborate with different non-profit so students have the chance to volunteer. Recently, we have begun to collaborate with Spanish university students in Madrid to start an intercambio and a Mentors Program. Students don’t just take advantage and go out for coffee and tapas with their Spanish mentors, but also they get to view the language learning process from a more informal perspective. Past students highly recommend intercambios as a way to make friends and improve Spanish language skills!
Finally, our partnership with Universidad Autónoma de Madrid provides our students with the opportunity to engage in cultural activities, sports, volunteer work (Oficina de Acción Solidaria y Cooperación and Ecocampus), the Erasmus Student Network and Language Services dedicated to the teaching and exchange of languages.
You have been with BU for the last 20 years, what has been your biggest achievement?
I think I am very fond of my academic contribution to the program. I have a passion for teaching (formal and non-formal), and for anything that has to do with academic life: from researching a hypothesis, to coming up with solutions for questions asked. Over the years I have contributed by enhancing the academic program with new classes, different approaches to teaching, integrating extracurricular activities within more traditional classes, incorporating technology into the classroom and mentoring students throughout their international experiences. I understand teaching in a broad sense: both in the classroom and outside of it, which is the essence of study abroad.
What is on the horizon for BU Madrid? Any big changes we should know about?
We are expanding our Science and Engineering programs, which we are very fond of, especially because any STEM student can apply to our program at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid with no previous language background. This is a novelty for science students everywhere! We are also opening a new Spanish studies program that will combine a Spanish language class and the option of social sciences and/or humanities classes either in Spanish or English.
We are also redesigning our “social program” to make it more relevant to Spanish culture and nature: hiking trips and short cultural activities or exchanges with the Spanish students. We want our students to integrate into the madrileño lifestyle and culture as soon as possible, and while we offer them opportunities and nurture them, we also make sure each one has an individual experience and grows independently.
What is the most fulfilling part of serving as BU Madrid’s Director?
I love working with students, feeling that you can actually influence who they are and what they want to be in the future, leaving an imprint on them. I like to see students discovering Spain every day, seeing my own culture through their eyes, and learning how much you can contribute to their academic experience. But, being a Director is more than that, and the planning aspect of the program, proposing and implementing new ideas, and working closely with a wonderful team is probably the most fulfilling part of my job as BU Madrid’s Director