GoAbroad Interview

Jaume Gelabert - Resident Director, Spain & Cuba Programs

Jaume Gelabert - Resident Director, Spain & Cuba Programs

Jaume was born in Mallorca, Spain, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish literature and language. Upon finishing his degree, he taught at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Jaume then continued his studies in linguistics and completed a master’s degree at the University of New Mexico followed by a PhD at Penn State University. He then taught at Loyola University Chicago until 2009, when he began working for Arcadia University’s Barcelona Center as resident director. Jaume is passionate about music, the U.S., Cuba, and, not surprisingly, education.

What motivated you to work for Arcadia University?

I´m very much the product of a “teaching abroad” (rather than study abroad) experience. Upon finishing my bachelor’s degree, I taught for a year at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. I went for a year, and stayed in the U.S. for 13!

When I was a professor at Loyola University Chicago, I directed a summer abroad program in Spain and loved it. I started to develop the idea that one day of reflection about cultural aspects in a foreign country is worth a month of language and culture class in the U.S. I loved telling students about why we eat so late, the tapas thing, and why some people love bullfighting and others (like me) hate it. So, when I had the opportunity to move back and be involved in study abroad in my country, I didn´t hesitate.

FCB fans at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, Spain
With students at the Camp Nou Stadium, home of the best soccer team in the world

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

There is no “typical day.” In my job, you may find me in the classroom explaining to students the complex history of Barcelona or its linguistic landscape, or I may be writing reports, answering emails in my office, reviewing a course proposal, receiving students at the airport in Havana and hauling their luggage so it fits in a minivan, meeting with university officials in Granada, enjoying the academic award ceremony with students in Toledo, or managing an emergency. Working with students and professors guarantees that no semester is the same, no week is the same, and issues may somehow look alike, but they’re never identical, which I love. As if this wasn’t enough, I may be writing something to present at a linguistics conference on any given day.

How do you help students make the most of their time abroad?

I think this job is truly a labor of love; you must enjoy being with the students, know what motivates them, what they like and dislike, as well as their “cosmovision,” which is a fancy word for their personal philosophy. I like to treat them with the utmost respect, curiosity, and care.

Study abroad is a unique experience, in the sense that it happens in the middle of their undergraduate studies and it is a time to learn about oneself, learn perhaps a new language, attend classes, and learn how to cope with potentially intense emotions, like homesickness, missing a love back home, or a sense of displacement; all in 14 weeks! It´s a delicate and fantastic time, and I make sure they know they can always rely on me and the staff to make it a success.

Study abroad students in Segovia, Spain
With students in Segovia, Spain

What supplemental activities do students have the opportunity to participate in to help expand their experience while studying abroad in Barcelona?

We offer students a wide array activities, from walking tours of the city where we explain to the students aspects of our city’s fascinating history to excursions to wineries (Catalonia produces excellent wine) or the monastery of Montserrat to tapas night where students can taste Catalan cuisine and Spanish tapas to Sitges, a bomb shelter of the Spanish Civil War. The idea is to take the students to places they probably wouldn’t see by themselves, and to have them appreciate our culture, rich history, and other fascinating aspects of Barcelona (i.e. traditions, language, food).

What makes Barcelona a unique place for study abroad?

Barcelona and Catalonia have a very unique history, identity, and language. The debate whether it truly is a Spanish city is very much at the core of this society. It’s a city with an outstanding quality of life; it’s very safe, very pretty, its climate is wonderful, it’s very easy to navigate if you’re a foreigner, its leisure and cultural opportunities are enormous, and it feels very European. It’s very Mediterranean, and yet very international.

I always like to think of Barcelona as a layer cake: on the surface it’s a fantastic city to visit, eat, go out, and check out museums, and if you dig a bit deeper, you start to uncover fascinating aspects of it: the determination to keep traditions alive, the fact that it has become a technological hub, the sheer amount of foreigners who make it their home, and how they interact with the locals and other foreigners. Barcelona is not an open book, in this sense; it is in the process of discovering its many facets that lie in its treasures.

Students standing in front of a van in Morocco
With students on the Morocco trip in December, 2010

Do students need to know Spanish in order to have a successful experience in Spain? How important is language learning?

Not necessarily, however it’s undeniable that knowing Spanish will facilitate things. Of the three programs Arcadia University has in Spain, Barcelona is the city where one can speak English mostly everywhere. Granada requires some strong knowledge of Spanish, and in Toledo speaking Spanish is vital.

What is your best piece of advice for students contemplating study abroad?

I have plenty of advice. If I were to say just one thing: get out of your comfort zone. Basically, all you want from this experience is on the other side of a night in your room watching Netflix. Practice your Spanish, talk to that attractive boy or girl at the bar, and work hard in your studies, because study abroad is designed so you can get awesome grades and enjoy the experience. Stay off Facebook as much as you can. Four months fly by, so before you know it you’ll be back in your familiar surroundings. Dare to do things on your own; spend a weekend on your own in Seville. Go to parties with locals.

Don´t go back home regretting the things you would’ve liked to do and didn’t.
Jaume Gelabert at the Arcadia University Barcelona Center
Working at the office

Why do you enjoy most about working for Arcadia?

I like to think of myself not as a witness, but a facilitator for our students to have the best time of their lives. I love working with young Americans and helping them open their minds and hearts to the experience of living in such amazing places, like Granada, Toledo, Barcelona, or Havana. I love when a student tells me they tried cooking a tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) at home, that they found their Spanish history class fascinating, when they start pronouncing más o menos (more or less) like they do in Granada, or reminisce about that time they went to a FCBarcelona game and we beat Real Madrid 5-0; it’s tremendously rewarding professionally and personally. In other words, I often think I have the best job in the world!