In sixth grade, Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz selected Spanish as the foreign language she wanted to learn. That seemingly simple choice would impact her life in more ways than she could ever have imagined, as you'll read.
Today, Schmidt-Cruz is acting chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at UD. An associate professor of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, she teaches courses in Latin American literature and civilization and Portuguese language and Brazilian culture. She formerly directed the Latin American Studies program and has led study-abroad programs in Spain, Argentina and Brazil.
Schmidt-Cruz specializes in contemporary Latin American narrative, in particular, the stories of Julio Cortázar and Cristina Peri Rossi; literature of exile; and representations of childhood in Latin American literature. Her current research deals with the Argentine novela negra or crime novel.
My foreign language studies began in the sixth grade when my Milwaukee area school district began offering languages on an experimental basis. We were allowed to choose between French, German and Spanish, and I chose Spanish because I was intrigued by the culture and geography of the Spanish-speaking world. Little did I know back then — and this was well before the boom of Spanish language learning — that my choice would mark the beginning of a long and fulfilling career.
After graduating from high school, I convinced my parents to let me study in Toluca, Mexico, in the summer, and I was hooked on study abroad. During my undergraduate years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I participated in a junior-year abroad in Madrid and spent two summers studying in France.
When I needed a third romance language for my graduate degree, Portuguese was the natural choice. I spent a summer studying in Salvador, Brazil, and subsequently was awarded a scholarship from the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which allowed me to do three semesters of graduate work in Luso-Brazilian literature in Rio de Janeiro.
The benefits I gained from study abroad went far beyond the utilitarian, professional benefit of perfecting my foreign language skills and increasing my knowledge of other cultures. Along with sensitivity to other cultures and cultural values, I gained a new perspective on my own country. And of course there were the rewards of personal enrichment and growth as I enhanced my self-knowledge, self-reliance and problem-solving skills.
My work at the University of Delaware has given me the opportunity to introduce students to the excitement I discovered through study abroad, area studies and the study of language and culture. I feel fortunate to be able to help foster this appreciation of other cultural values and the love of language learning in university students in various capacities at UD: as a professor of Spanish and Portuguese; as director of the Latin American Studies program; as a study abroad program director in Spain, Brazil and Argentina; and now as acting chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.
I have been enriched by my involvement with Area Studies, which offer students a comprehensive knowledge of a world region. UD's programs have served as platforms for interdisciplinary programming about specific issues.
For instance, under my directorship in 2003 – 2004, the Latin American Studies program organized a project on the 2001 economic, political and cultural crisis in Argentina, entitled "Buenos Aires: A Tale of Two Cities — Mapping the New Reality through Poetry and Photography." It featured an exhibition of poetry and photography about the crisis, complemented by a speakers' forum which examined Argentine reality from the perspectives of political science, economics, international relations, journalism and literature, thus enabling students and the University community to gain an understanding of the crisis through multiple perspectives.
The following year, the Latin American Studies program organized "Central America: Repression, Resistance, and Recovery," a three-week multidisciplinary project focusing on the reality of this region of the world.
It is equally rewarding to serve as acting chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures (FLL), a campus leader in study- abroad programs since 1923 when Raymond Kirkbride, assistant professor of French, led UD's first study-abroad program to Paris.
To date, FLL has sponsored semester, winter or summer session programs in 19 countries on five continents — Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Russia, Spain and Tunisia.
Each year, FLL offers more than 25 study- abroad options, and between winter 2000 and summer 2010 sent a total of 5,889 students abroad. Almost all of the programs feature home-stays, enabling students to be immersed in the language and culture of the country.
As a study-abroad director, I have been able to witness students gaining the tolerance and compassion that comes with cultural awareness while honing their language skills through cultural immersion. As exciting as it is to watch students' personal and intel- lectual growth over the course of their study- abroad experience, it is even more gratifying to follow their development afterwards as many of them embark on rewarding careers abroad or in the U.S., using their foreign language skills and international education.
Study abroad and the study of foreign languages and cultures has had a profound impact on my life and career, and I have found it deeply satisfying to help instill in students a lifelong appreciation of other cultures and the value of language learning as they strive to become global citizens.