Naiara Porras Rentero and Ana Pociello Samperiz

Many people decide to go abroad to study another culture. Hispanic Studies masters students Ana Pociello Samperiz and Naiara Porras Rentero went abroad to study both other cultures as well as their own. Both from small villages in northern Spain (“Naiara’s is smaller though,” Pociello Samperiz will quickly inform you) it was a love of the English language that brought them to America.

As students at University of Valladolid in Spain, both Pociello Samperiz and Porras Rentero studied abroad in Greece and Italy respectively and enjoyed the international experience. They both jumped at the opportunity to study and teach in the UK Department of Hispanic Studies though a program at the University of Valladolid called Lectorado. Each year the program sends ten Spanish students to countries such as America, France, Poland and Ireland to continue with their graduate studies.

“The first semester I was convinced I was going to fail everything,” Pociello Samperiz said, giving an extra trill on ‘everrrything.’ “But at the end of the semester we both did well. The Hispanic Studies Department here is very good – it is a top five program in the country – and people in the program have been very helpful as well.”

“At first I was a little bit scared because it was literature and not translation,” echoed Porras Rentero. “It was something really different.”

Arriving in the States for the first time in August 2010, both scholars describe a sense of almost shock at how vast and spread out America is and Lexington as a town in particular. Not to mention the outpouring of UK school spirit.

“It’s very different from Spain,” said Pociello Samperiz regarding her impressions of UK. “The town where the University of Valladolid is located only has about 40,000 people and our university was only about 5,000 people. And this is a huge campus with all of the sports and activities and the Cats-land and everything. I like how everyone feels UK with the Kentucky shirts.”

Within the Hispanic Studies Department, Pociello Samperiz and Porras Rentero have encountered the breadth and depth of Hispanic culture from around the world creating a unique culture exchange that goes beyond merely the academic.

“It’s interesting because we are sharing our culture and their culture too,” said Pociello Samperiz of her experience in the Hispanic Studies Department. “Just because I’m from Spain doesn’t mean I know Mexican food. I didn’t. And now I love Mexican food. And the same with the language. The Spanish we speak in Spain is different the Spanish in Chile or Mexico or Colombia. We are learning a lot too, not just about the States, but about the culture and language of other Spanish-speaking countries.”

Both describe a deepening appreciation of looking at their own culture from an outsider’s perspective while simultaneously learning about the things that set other Spanish-speaking cultures apart.

They also enjoy participating in one of inevitable aspects of cultural exchange: the breakdown of stereotypes.

“You have people that think Spain is a city in Mexico,” said Pociello Samperiz of American perceptions of Spain. “Or think it’s in South America. They associate also the Hispanic culture with the working class. Here it’s cool to explain and share about our culture.”

For the record, Spain is the country that brought us Don Quixote, the running of the bulls, Salvador Dalí, tapas bars and the siesta. And, “We love party in Spain,” the outgoing Pociello Samperiz will tell you.

On the other hand, “… we are also learning that American stereotypes are not always true. Not everyone carries guns for example or wears cowboys hats,” said Pociello Samperiz. “Our friends and family back in Spain want to know if the things they find most hilarious about American culture from watching American television are true or not.”

Do students have lockers and does the football captain really date cheerleaders? Do they really have prom dances? Do people really dress up in costumes at sports games? “They were excited when I told them about the guy dressed up as a wildcat at the basketball games,” said Pociello Samperiz.

“Of course, we are in Kentucky so everybody wants to know if we eat anything other than Kentucky Fried Chicken,” said Porras Rentero.

As first year masters students, both Pociello Samperiz and Porras Rentero are still formulating their future academic plans. “I loved English and French in high school,” said Porras Rentero. “The choices were somewhat limited to teaching English without an advanced degree. I would rather be a translator. My plan was come here and study, and try to find work as an interpreter.”

Pociello Samperiz similarly didn’t want to be a teacher “…Even though I am now!” said Pociello Samperiz who is teaching introductory Spanish classes at UK. “I don’t think I could teach in high school. But it’s wonderful here because the students want to learn and have a choice.”

Pociello Samperiz seems less certain about what direction she wants to go in her future. Continuing at UK for the PhD is an option as well as her original plan to go into translation work. “Interpreting involves too much mental pressure, so I prefer translation work. I would love to work for a company that involved traveling across the world. Or have my own translation company.”

For now, both Pociello Samperiz and Porras Rentero are soaking up as much of their multicultural experiences as possible and enjoying their American life to its fullest. They make a point to explore every cultural opportunity including Kentucky basketball games and spring break in Florida. All experiences that add up to a fuller and more nuanced appreciation of American culture and language, as well as their own.

**Photos taken in the Rasdall Gallery at the University of Kentucky. Art by Waseem Touma - www.waseemtouma.com

story by Rebekah Tilley
photos by Cary Tsamas

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