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Caribbean/Latino studies students find program a hands-on experience

Monastery San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid, Spain

Monastery San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid, Spain. UB students studying in Madrid climbed to the top of a mountain so they could have class in view of El Escorial, a historic royal palace and world heritage site. Photo: Håkan Svensson

By RACHEL RAIMONDI

Published October 31, 2013

Graduate students enrolled in UB’s Master of Humanities (MAH) Program in Caribbean and Latina/o Cultural Studies have always extolled the program’s hands-on and educational opportunities.

Rodrigo Del Rio-Rivas, who is currently enrolled in the program, calls his participation “the best decision ever made.” He recalls that when he studied in Spain, he and his classmates climbed to the top of a mountain so they could have a session in view of El Escorial, a historic royal palace and world heritage site in Madrid.

The spring ‘14 semester will be no exception. Caribbean studies’ students will explore a lost Mayan underwater world as part of an archaeology project at the Autonomous University of Yucatan, in Merida, Mexico, one of several partner institutions involved with the UB program.

Dalia Muller, associate director of the UB Caribbean Cultural Studies Program, says students will explore ancient “cenotes”—natural sinkholes or surface connections to subterranean water bodies, like rivers and cave systems. 

Cenote Xtacumbilxunan, at Bolonchen, Yucatan; view by Frederick Catherwood

Cenote Xtacumbilxunan, at Bolonchen, Yucatan; view by Frederick Catherwood. Published in "Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan" by Frederick Catherwood, 1844. UB students plan to explore cenotes such as this one as part of an archaeology project.

Mayans sometimes made sacrificial offerings to the god of the underworld via these water portals and students will be on the hunt for material related to such sacrifices—pottery, underground pyramids, paintings, and animal and human skeletons.

Muller says Caribbean studies students seem to thrive on the program’s intensive curriculum and study-abroad opportunities at universities and research centers in Spain and Mexico.

”This experience has propelled our graduates to placement in the top 10 PhD programs in the field nationwide,” she says.

She notes that 66 percent of UB’s students advance to doctoral programs, and all of the program’s participants are employed within six months of graduation in fields like study-abroad administration, international education, college teaching, secondary education Spanish programs and even on Wall Street.

The program includes on-campus study at UB, in Mexico and in world-class research centers and historical archives in Spain. Among its academic offerings are the General Archive of the Indies, housed in the ancient merchant’s exchange in Seville, Spain. The archive contains 400 years of American history from Columbus to the 1830s.

Program director Jose Buscaglia describes the program as one that allows students the opportunity to study the Caribbean on their own terms.

“We encourage students to use the program to develop cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary research specializations in fields like history, politics, philosophy, archaeology, anthropology, filmmaking, performance architecture, urban planning and creative writing,” he says.

In addition to Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan (Autonomous University of Yucatan), UB’s academic partners in this endeavor are the Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales (Center for Humanities and Social Sciences) in Madrid and the Escuela de Estudios Hispanoameircanos (School of Hispanic American Studies), in Seville.

“Apart from facilitating academic and research opportunities that are one-of-a-kind, the program made me aware of the fundamental role played by the Caribbean’s historic and geographic space in the Americas,” says Jesus Ruiz, a MAH alumnus and doctoral candidate and fellow at Tulane University.

Candidates for the program are not required to submit GRE exam scores, but they must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and two to three years of college-level Spanish language experience before joining the program. Future participants who lack near-native fluency are encouraged to take an intensive Spanish course in the first semester of the MAH program.

For more information on the program, visit the Caribbean Cultural Studies website.