Any student who has taken an elementary or intermediate Spanish class at Haverford knows that tutorials—sessions run by a teaching assistant to practice Spanish and discuss course materials outside of class—are a crucial part of the curriculum. While, previously, most of these meetings have been taught by Haverford students, this year the department sought assistance from the Fulbright Program, which helped bring Paula Yurss Lasanta to campus as a Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) for the 2018–2019 academic year.
Yurss Lasanta, who originates from Pamplona, Spain, is leading Spanish tutorials for all intermediate Spanish classes this year. During her time at Haverford, she is living in La Casa Hispánica, a six-student residence devoted to supporting programming related to the language and cultures in the Spanish-speaking world. As part of her position, she works with the Spanish department to support La Casa’s programming, facilitate a weekly Spanish-speaking lunch table, and enrolls in two classes per semester alongside her teaching assistant duties.
“Having experience abroad, teaching in a university abroad, and especially through the Fulbright Program, can give you different perspectives on teaching, and you can learn from other systems,” said Yurss Lasanta, who has been living on campus since late August.
Though Haverford graduates frequently earn Fulbright Awards to study or teach at institutions abroad (the College earned a Fulbright “Top Producer” designation last year), Yurss Lasanta’s position as a Fulbright recipient hosted by Haverford is the first of its kind for the College. Associate Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Spanish Department Ariana Huberman thought to seek an FLTA this past year in order to bring someone with teaching experience to Spanish tutorials. The Fulbright Program matched Haverford with Yurss Lasanta, and the relationship is off to a good start.
“Students feel very comfortable with her, speaking Spanish,” said Huberman, “She’s very good at getting them to engage in conversation that’s much more spontaneous than what we can create in the classroom, in terms of using Spanish to talk about what’s going on in your life.”
Yurss Lasanta earned a Bachelor’s in English and Spanish Studies at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), and through the Erasmus Program, also studied at the University of Leicester in England. While abroad, she fell in love with English literature, which inspired her to earn a Master’s in Advanced English Studies at UAB. She now enters her final year in an English literature Ph.D. program with UAB. After her time in the U.S., she hopes to find a faculty position in Spain. Though Yurss Lasanta is taking a couple of classes at the College, she is particularly enjoying her position as an intermediary between faculty and students.
“I am enjoying the fact that I’m neither student or faculty,” she said. “I like having very good relationships with faculty members, and at the same time it has been very mind-opening to hang out and feel like I am establishing good relationships with students.”
A key component of the Fulbright program is reciprocal cultural exchange, and though the year is young, Yurss Lasanta and Huberman aim to use La Casa as the locus for campus interest in Spanish language and Spanish-speaking cultures. And Yurss Lasanta herself has already been adjusting to the cultural differences of living on the campus of a U.S. academic institution.
“One of my main ideas, since I majored in English, is to really understand American culture because it’s part of what I’ve studied,” said Yurss Lasanta, who by the end of her time in the U.S. will have travelled, at the very least, to Oregon, California, and Nevada. “At the same time, I just want to travel as much as I can… The U.S. is bigger than Europe in the same country, it’s so different from one place to another.”
Yurss Lasanta will stay in her position at Haverford through May. Though her FTLA post is unprecedented, Huberman hopes that such hosting opportunities will continue. As more FLTAs come to campus, she says, La Casa programming will continue to grow, and Spanish course tutorials will continue to be administered consistently.
“I hope every FLTA we get is like Paula,” said Huberman. “I’m just so grateful that the first FLTA we got is someone who’s so confident, friendly and responsible… She’s everything we’ve hoped for.”
Photo: Paula Yurss Lasanta, Foreign Language Teaching Assistant in the Spanish Department, poses in front of La Casa Hispánica. Photo by Patrick Montero