I believe that language, literature, and culture are intricately and completely interconnected. What interests me about literature and culture is that they can help us learn not only about others but also, and perhaps more importantly, that they can help us to learn about ourselves.
Exploring the preconceptions that we bring to the study of language, literature and culture allows us to be more conscious of the forces and influences that have made us who we are. With this knowledge we can better decide who we would like to become.
I've always enjoyed words and learning where they've come from and how they've come to mean what they do today. Some of my other interests include Star Trek, music (primarily rock, folk and classical), puzzlers, Eastern philosophies, and popular works by scientists who know how to write well, such as the biopsychologist Steven Pinker and the physicist Brian Greene. I also enjoy reading literature intended for children and young adults, and discussing such works with my daughters, Suzanne and Melissa.
I never imagined after graduating from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College that I would return to teach at my alma mater. My college friends also expressed a similar surprise. However, after 25 years at the college as a faculty member, I have come to appreciate what I have in common with my students because I am an alum. I have lived in some of the same dorms as they live in; I know which are the Odd and Even steps and have never gone up the Even steps; I didn’t have to learn what Pumpkin Parade and the Daisy Chain are. I also share connections to the college with my own daughters: Suzanne Halka, who spent a semester with the college’s World in Britain (Reading) Program and Melissa Halka, who is in the class of 2014 at the college. My family connections to the college don’t end there. My husband, Chet Halka, also teaches here and is my colleague in the Spanish Department.
The reason I studied Spanish at R-MWC and later at Brown University was due, in large part, to the influence of my mentor, Charlotte Stern (Professor Emerita, R-MWC). Her teaching and enthusiasm in the classroom had a profound effect on me; more profound an influence than that of any of the professors I had at Brown. Charlotte’s influence on my career continued when my husband and I came to the college because of the encouragement she gave us to apply for jobs here. I found it just as rewarding to have her as a colleague as it was to have her as a professor. My example of the influence and the close tie I had with a faculty member is not unique at this college. The close relationships that students can have with their professors here mean a great deal, but they don’t happen at all colleges.
I was probably destined to teach language. I was born and grew up bilingual in São Paulo, Brazil and after that, lived near Paris, France. Three of my college semesters were spent studying in Madrid, Spain so, for me, language has always been a part of my life. I really don’t think I can conceive of life not speaking another language besides English. My experience living in other countries has also given me a different perspective on life, I think. As a child I always thought of things from both an American and Brazilian point of view. I like to believe that I still approach life from a culturally diverse point of view.
At Randolph, I have taught mostly language courses (Elementary and Intermediate Spanish, Composition and Conversation, Conversational Spanish among them.) Shortly after I came to teach at the college, however, my interest in the culture of other countries led me to create courses in Spanish and Latin America Culture, something that had not been part of the curriculum before. More recently, I have been able to go back to my roots and teach courses dedicated to Brazilian culture and Conversational Portuguese. The love I developed for art in my Art History class and during weekly visits to the Prado Museum while I was a student in Spain drew me to the Maier Museum of Art at the college. For many years I have taken my Composition and Conversation students to the museum to do oral presentations, in Spanish, of works in our permanent collection. It is my belief that this gives our Spanish students a unique opportunity to use their language skills while taking advantage of one of the treasures on this campus.
To me the students are my most important focus. Getting to know them and sharing their experiences at the college and in life is what teaching is all about.
The Spanish language has always been a valuable part of my life. My grandfather was a Spanish professor, and my mother, having lived in Colombia, taught me to speak Spanish as a child. Their influences at such an early age helped develop my love of languages.
Although my background is in Latin American literature, in my time as an instructor at Randolph I have discovered that my true passion is teaching the language itself. I strive to emphasize to my students that learning a foreign language is not simply memorizing vocabulary and conjugating verbs, but rather it is learning to gain and appreciate a new perspective on the world. I am constantly seeking new ways to incorporate culture into the classroom and to stimulate my students interest in the Spanish speaking world. My studies in Argentina and France have led me to be a strong proponent of study abroad. I believe that it is invaluable not only in the process of learning a foreign language, but also in fostering a global perspective and a better understanding of ones own culture. Therefore I encourage my students to study abroad whatever their level of Spanish may be, and whatever their major may be.
One of the benefits I enjoy most in teaching at Randolph is the small class size. Not only is it advantageous for learning a foreign language, but it also affords me the privilege of interacting with my students and getting to know them on an individual basis.