Kersch Delivers Keynote Address at Alma Mater
Associate Professor Spoke to Students of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures
Paola Kersch, PhD, associate professor of Spanish and director of Foreign Languages at D’Youville, recently gave the keynote address at University at Buffalo’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures’ annual commencement celebration. Paola earned her PhD in Hispanic Literature and Culture from UB in 2008.
We sat down with Paola for a quick question and answer session to discuss her address, her love for Hispanic culture, and D'Youville's Spanish BA.
Q: As the keynote for the event, what was your message to all of those in attendance – specifically to the new graduates?
A: I don't know if I had a single message. I was asked to speak about how my doctoral degree framed my professional career, so it really was a journey of my studies and career in languages. Woven throughout, however, were the messages of embracing diversity, taking action, and allowing for some downtime. It was really an honor to be invited to give the graduation address.
And it felt good to be surrounded by some of my former professors that provided me with the foundation in teaching the Spanish language and knowledge of the Hispanic literature and culture.
Q: Speaking of your degrees, I see that you have a BA in Spanish and English with a minor in the Classics, and a PhD in Hispanic Literatures and Cultures. What made you want to study Spanish and the culture?
A: My journey in Spanish really began with my upbringing. Both of my parents immigrated to the U.S. from Italy in their early twenties after completing their studies at the University of Naples and marrying. At the time, many immigrants were convinced that passing down the native language to their children would lead to them speaking broken English and as a result pose a detriment to their future success.
My parents, on the other hand, were staunch advocates of language learning, and so my brothers and I all learned Italian as a first language and English in school. It’s really because of this upbringing that my future studies and professional career would always be framed by different languages and cultures.
Q: How many languages are you fluent in?
A: I am really only fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English and I have a reading knowledge of French and German, although I will admit to being rusty in both! My interest in learning more languages never goes away as I often wish to pick up my French again and take a stab at a completely new language.
Q: What ultimately made you want to focus on Spanish?
A: It was actually the exposure I had to Latin American authors from my high school English class. The connection I felt to the stories was electric, and it propelled me to learn more about the Hispanic culture and language in college.
Through my study abroad experiences, I fell in love with the diversity of the Hispanic culture and language, and it was at that point that I knew that Spanish would be the focus of my graduate studies. Italian would still accompany my graduate studies particularly when I pursued my degree in Comparative Literature and in part, studied Italian literature. I would also teach Italian my last year of my doctoral degree and am currently teaching it here at D'Youville. I guess it’s in both languages where I feel like I fit in the best.
Q: Which Spanish-speaking countries (or any other country for that matter) have you been to?
A: Let’s see, I’ve been to Spain, Mexico, Portugal, England, Greece, and France. And I’ve been to Italy many times.
Q: What were you doing there?
A: I was mainly vacationing! But I spent a summer and semester abroad in Spain and summer abroad in Mexico.
Q: Speaking of study abroad, I know that you’re a big proponent of those opportunities. What are some of the benefits that a student can expect?
A: I am a HUGE proponent of study abroad! I myself completed three different study abroad programs as an undergraduate. A study abroad experience leads to new friendships that can last a lifetime. It makes you more flexible, open-minded, and independent, and most importantly a study abroad experience broadens your horizons. For me, it felt liberating to be in a different country, communicate in a foreign language, follow new routines, and have a new cultural experience every single day.
I always promote the study abroad programs such as those in Barcelona and Buenos Aires, and I have begun to explore new destinations and opportunities for students. My hope is to secure more options for students to study abroad in the many Spanish-speaking countries of the world in the upcoming years.
Q: Now that D’Youville has a Spanish BA, what kind of careers can someone who majors in Spanish look to get into?
A: Spanish opens the door to many different occupations. The U.S. has the second largest Spanish-speaking population, and it is expected to become the largest by 2050, so truly whatever career you may be pursuing, knowing Spanish can only enhance your future career choices. Students can choose from a variety of electives in different tracks such as linguistics, the professions, composition and conversation, Hispanic literature and culture, and more advanced courses in translation and grammar.
Q: For my final question, when you’re not teaching or at work – where can someone expect to find you? Any hobbies?
A: If I am not teaching or at work, I am likely to be at home spending quality time with my family. I also tend to pepper my free time with my activity in two not-for-profit organizations in the community: Centro Culturale Italiano di Buffalo and Friends of the Hispanic Arts. I also like to cook, go on long jogs by myself in the park, go to the theater, read, write, and, in the summer months, garden.
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