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Café con un Profesor

In honor of Hispanic Heritage month, the Beacon Blog is collaborating with a Hispanic student-run blog, HispaValpo  to bring you a special edition: Café con un Professor. Alberto Lopez-Martin, Assistant professor of world languages and culture and faculty advisor for HispaValpo, gives us some insight about studying Spanish at Valpo, Spanish culture, and, of course, how he takes his café.

Professor Lopez-Martin is originally from La Mancha, Spain, which is two hours away from Madrid. His hometown, Puertollano, is in a very dry region, not densely populated, but is quite industrial according to professor Lopez-Martin. It is a small town, but it has a big reputation as it’s the setting for one of the most famous pieces of literature known all around the world, Don Quixote.

Many faculty members and students at Valpo have taken it upon themselves to take Spanish in one form or another, whether it be a cultural studies class, or learning the language itself. And at Valpo, our Spanish faculty is comprised ofnative Spanish speakers from several different areas of the world, creating a more immersive, rich learning experience.

“All Spanish faculty are very approachable, and we have several native Spanish speakers. One of the faculty members is from Peru, and two of us are from Spain,” Lopez-Martin said. “Professor Hoult-Saros has been teaching a class on LatinX studies that is very important for those who want to understand the Hispanic impact on the culture of the US.”

HispaValpo is Valparaiso University’s Spanish blog that explores everything from Spanish culture and norms to political and social happenings in Spanish speaking countries. Professor Lopez-Martin suggests that students check it out if they are considering taking a Spanish course, or wanting to know about events that are happening on campus.

And for those who are beginning their journey with Spanish, professor Lopez-Martin has some words of advice. “Enjoy the journey, be patient with yourself,” Lopez-Martin said. “It’s impossible to learn a language overnight, but through the journey you will change so dramatically and you will widen your views on the world, and other cultures in ways you could have never imagined. You will also form an emotional attachment!”

Speaking of emotional attachments, one of the differences between American culture and Hispanic culture is the connection between extended family members. Professor Lopez-Martin mentions that familial bonds are a big part of Hispanic culture that transcends borders. “I think we have this extended notion of family that is very important for Hispanic people. Typically, here it’s like the mom, dad, and the children, but for a Hispanic household it’s everyone, the uncles and the grandparents.” Lopez-Martin said. “It’s messier, but I think it’s richer too. It’s very important to us and, of course, it’s not a criticism, because every culture is different. But there is less individualism in Spanish culture, it’s more about the collective well-being.”

That sense of “collective well-being” is what drew professor Lopez-Martin to Valpo. The connection between our faculty and students really appealed to him, and allowed him to pursue his passion in an environment that encourages the success of our students through the success of our faculty.

“The original plan was to study for my Ph.D. and go back to Spain, but here I am,” said Lopez-Martin. “I really liked what Valpo had to offer and that it’s so focused on the students and it’s not a cliché, or something that we just say. We really do care about our students. Here at Valpo, we can always make the time to meet with students, regardless of how often they need to meet, we are here.”

Of course, it is not cliché that our faculty care about our students, but it’s an interesting coincidence that some of Valpo’s smartest minds are also comic book fanatics. Professor Lopez-Martin shared his favorite Hispanic comic book El Eternauta by Francisco Solano Lopez. Perhaps one day we can get all of our comic book loving faculty together and witness a true collaboration of the brightest minds.

As is typical for HispaValpo, we asked professor Lopez-Martin to introduce us to his culture through his favorite food, favorite way to take coffee, and his personal recommendations for outings in Spain that are not in your tourist handbook.

“My favorite dish is black rice,” Lopez-Martin said. “We typically cook it with squid ink,  seafood and garlic, which I love. And in regards to coffee, nothing can rival coffee. It’s impossible. Coffee in Spain is way darker and stronger than here in the States, though. And something that is very dear to Hispanic people is cortado — which is Cuban coffee. And I take my coffee with honey, milk and a little bit of cinnamon.”

In regards to places to visit in Spain, we got the inside scoop. “Cuenca, that’s a city in La Mancha that is really, really beautiful. It’s one of those cities that is old enough that you have the beautiful old neighborhoods that you can explore, but also spectacular natural surroundings, with breathtaking views of houses that seem to be hanging off a cliff," Lopez-Martin said.

If you are looking for Professor Lopez-Martin, try checking the third or fourth floor of the library by the fireplace, or out on the terrace. And if you’d like to chat, you now know how he takes his café.

Be sure to check out HispaValpo to learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month, or to expand your understanding of Spanish culture and language.

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