BGSU celebrates 50 years en España
Alumni and students come together in Alcalá de Henares, Spain
By Pete Fairbairn
Bowling Green State University recently celebrated 50 years of its Spain Education Abroad program, which is conducted in partnership with Centro Universitario Cardenal Cisneros (CUCC) in Alcalá de Henares, located on the outskirts of culture-rich Madrid. “BGSU en España, te extraña” (translated "BGSU in Spain misses you") was attended by program alumni, current students, faculty and staff, local partners who offer internship opportunities, host families and dignitaries, including BGSU President Rodney Rogers and Dr. Monserrat Giménez Hernández, executive director of the CUCC.
The three-day celebration included an agreement renewal ceremony on the evening of the first day, confirming both universities’ commitment to an exceptional program that has helped form highly effective global citizens across disciplines for a half century. According to Dr. Philip Peek, world languages and cultures chair, the immersive program has proven transformational for many.
“Our Spain Education Abroad program features cutting-edge instruction in a well-established curriculum,” Peek said. “The emphasis is on experiential learning and high-impact learning strategies that move students outside the classroom into the heart of Spain.”
Three key tenets that have characterized the program from the beginning were recognized by all as essential to its future:
- The value of academic rigor
- The importance of cultural immersion
- The need to make the study abroad experience affordable
Once in a lifetime
The celebration began on Wednesday, June 19, with a tour of downtown Alcalá. This was followed by the renewal ceremony that evening at CUCC, where Rogers and Hernández shared their enthusiasm and vision for the continued collaboration.
Ana Flys Junquera, the daughter of the original director of the program, attended the agreement renewal signing and shared historical background from her mother’s 30 years of service. Rogers paid tribute to Mercedes Junquera for her important contributions to the program and to the University. He also recognized the current resident director, Dr. Susanna Juarez, for her 20 years of dedicated service that have been instrumental to the program’s continued success. Magda Pedrosa, the on-site program coordinator, was another BGSU staff member acknowledged for her work with the students for over 25 years.
On Thursday, a session of educational presentations was organized by Dr. Cindy Ducar, an associate professor in World Languages and Cultures.
“The current students, alumni and faculty displayed a wide array of paths that education abroad opens up to those who embark on this journey,” Ducar said. “From film directors to education abroad specialists, these diverse presentations highlighted that the possibilities are virtually endless.”
The group then enjoyed a walking tour of Madrid, the capital of Spain and the city that formerly hosted the BGSU program. An evening gathering complete with tapas and paella capped off the day.
The final day of the celebration featured a group tour of Toledo, one of Spain’s oldest and most visited cities. A group of around 60 alumni and students were treated to a tour of the cathedral, the synagogue and a monastery there, and also had time to enjoy some of Spain’s culinary treats such as marzipan and jamón. It was an ideal opportunity for the former and current students to socialize and enjoy an extraordinary day together.
Sara Smith, assistant director of BGSU’s International Programs and Partnerships (IPP), who headed the event’s planning committee, observed the interaction.
“The group was too big for everyone in the back to hear the tour guide and I spotted one of our alumni going off on his own to buy a large batch of marzipan,” Smith recalled. “He came back to share with a group of our students while also sharing about his own experience and talking about some of the sites that they may have missed hearing about from the guide.”
The 35 alumni at the event represented classes going back to 1988 and as recent as 2017.
Some came from Spain and across Europe while others flew from the United States. They all shared a deep appreciation for BGSU en España. Dr. Marcia Salazar-Valentine, executive director of IPP, pointed to a common experience that unified the group:
“They were very appreciative of this opportunity to reconnect with BGSU,” Salazar-Valentine said. “Our alumni thanked us for this event that celebrated a very significant time in their lives, and they all talked about what an amazing experience they had with BGSU en España and how that positively affected their careers and their lives.”
At one point during event preparations a group of alumni who graduated in the 1980s, and who were planning their own reunion in Spain in July, heard about the 50th anniversary event and decided to adjust their plans to coincide with the June event in Alcalá.
For some “BGSU en España, te extraña” marked their first trip to Spain since graduating, while others have been relatively frequent visitors. Quite a few alumni brought spouses who had never been to Spain, and four families brought parents and children so that they could share in person all of the memories. Six Falcon Flames attended, none of whom were familiar with the special designation. They were thrilled to be included among about 25 percent of BGSU alumni who met their spouse while attending BGSU or married another alumnus.
A well-deserved reputation
In the words of Cervantes, whose birthplace is home to the current program, “Una onza de buena fama vale más que una libra de perlas” (An ounce of good reputation is worth more than a pound of pearls).
“BGSU en España, te extraña” was a celebration of just such a well-deserved reputation, built upon 50 years of academic rigor and cultural immersion made accessible through the collaboration of two great universities. More importantly, it celebrated the diverse people who have come together over the years. The students, faculty, host families, administrative personnel and directors who have made BGSU in Spain the stand-out program that it is.
Joe McMahon was one of the alumni who attended and also gave a presentation during the June celebration. He was born in Bowling Green and now lives in Spain where he is associate dean of internationalization and a journalism lecturer at the Facultad de Comunicación y Ciencias Sociales. He sums up what the program has meant and continues to mean for so many former and current students:
“The experience changed my life and I fell in love with the Spanish culture, the food and the lifestyle,” McMahon said. “I learned a lot about Spain those two years and improved my Spanish, but most importantly, I learned a lot about myself. Living abroad forced me out of my comfort zone and gave me the opportunity to meet people who are still close friends today.”
International Programs and Partnerships
“When BGSU students return from their Spain Education Abroad experience, they are transformed. The positive impacts and connections remain for a lifetime”, stated Michelle Ploeger, Coordinator of Education Abroad. “For many, this “once-in-a-lifetime” experience is just the beginning of many more opportunities that await. Employers seek out globally minded and adept graduates. International Programs and Partnerships strives to inform all students regarding international opportunities, including internships, community engagement, research and teaching, while working closely across campus with all of our University partners.”