The travel opportunities he received through the University of Maine’s Modern Languages and Classics Department helped put Neil Anderson ‘03 on the path to success by allowing him to hone his language skills in French and Spanish and prompting him to delve further into his studies.
Anderson, who graduated from UMaine with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a minor in French, went on to earn a master’s degree in Spanish from Middlebury College in Vermont and now is a Ph.D. student in Spanish at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Reflecting on his time at UMaine, Neil says a two-week immersion program in Quebec between his junior and senior years and a year studying in Spain when he was a senior provided powerful learning experiences that continue to influence him today.
“I realized from the program in Quebec, lead by Professor Jane Smith, that an immersion environment is the best way to see a big improvement in one’s language skills,” he says. “There is no better way to absorb the language — and the culture –of a country. Also, it was really nice not to have to switch back and forth between English and French. It allowed me the ability to keep thinking in French. Nowadays, when students ask me how to improve their foreign language skills, I always suggest an immersion program.”
His senior year abroad at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, proved another pivotal experience. “I hadn’t been aware of the Galician area of Spain which is on the Atlantic coast and has historic ties to Portugal,” says Anderson. He learned about the travel opportunity from Professor Kathleen March who established the exchange program between UMaine and the Spanish university.
“It was a great experience,” Anderson says. “I continued to be fascinated by that area and eventually decided to do my Ph.D. thesis on Galician novels since 1975 after the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco when interest in Galicia’s culture and literature exploded. I always tell my students to go abroad and take maximum advantage of any time they have in another country.”
Aiming to teach Spanish at a university, Anderson, who leads classes as a Ph.D. candidate, says MLC faculty members were wonderful role models. “We had lots of contact with professors. They seemed to genuinely care about their students and their progress. They were always eager to give us an opportunity to use the language. They’d host lunchtime Language Tables once a week in Little Hall where we could practice our language skills in a relaxed and informal setting. It was nice to have that opportunity right there on campus. And even during office hours you’d often find yourself having an in-depth conversation with them in Spanish or French.
Anderson says he enjoyed the challenging classes offered at the MLC and praised professors for their commitment to having students speak Spanish or French in class regardless of whether their grammar or pronunciation was perfect. “It was a difficult thing to do because students often would get stuck and lean on English as a crutch. As an instructor, it can be hard not to pop in and out of the target language yourself. But I always remember how my MLC professors created an environment in which students knew this was the language you used in class. Now, I try to do the same thing in my own classes.”