Deborah Compte is a professor from The College of New Jersey who has been bringing students to Study Abroad in Alcala for several years. This is her experience collaborating with the Instituto Franklin-UAH.
Leah Eisenhauer: Why did you choose to collaborate with the Instituto Franklin-UAH?
Deborah Compte: We were hoping to establish a program abroad that was not going through an outside vendor. We wanted something in Spain because a number of our students are interested in studying in Spain so we did a fair amount of research and looked at various offerings and did many interviews. The more we looked at our possibilities, we just felt that Alcala would be a perfect place – for our students, for what we wanted, for the quality of classes, and experience that we wanted for our students.
DC: Over the course of the years — this will be our fifth year of collaborating – I have been very pleased with the program. It’s not so much what I have to say but rather the reaction we get from the students. The students are very pleased with the attention that they receive here and with what Alcala has to offer. So I would say the highlights for me as a professor and as an academic, is the quality of the program. The students are also interested in the quality of the program but they want things to do — ease of access and to be able to go other places — and we’ve felt that this program at Alcala offered that as well. It’s so close to Madrid, it’s so close to the airport, they could be going wherever they want to go on their time that they have available.
LE: What other ways can this program benefit the students?
DC: We want them to have a very authentic experience. Part of what we thought was an authentic experience was to be able to be housed with families. With our program we actually require that they be housed with families because then they get to see what a Spanish way of life is – what people eat, what they do, who they get together with.
We also felt that this was a very safe environment. We felt that we didn’t have to really worry about them that much, so that was a very important part of why we chose Alcala over a different program. And when I came four years ago, the experiences that the students conveyed to me with their host families were unanimously very positive, and I’m finding the same thing this year. I’m not the only one who comes so there have been other professors who come on different years and they have also expressed similar experiences.
LE: How can this program benefit professors professionally? What opportunities have you had access to during your stay?
DC: I think first of all we have the opportunity to offer courses that we would like to offer – something just of interest to us in particular — and develop that. I would say curriculum development is an opportunity here that you can explore as a professor.
I haven’t personally participated in very many conferences since I’ve been here, but if I recall the last time I was here at the end of the semester there was a conference run by the Instituto Franklin-UAH and some of my colleagues participated in that and have given papers. It’s not something that I personally have done, but it’s something that they have benefitted from and have enjoyed very much.
There’s also the closeness to Madrid. If I need access to archives I can go and make contacts and have that available to me. I find that the difference between when you’re at a home institution and you have all of your service obligations, you know you’re on fifteen different committees, well I don’t have those obligations here and so it gives you more time to be able to do your own personal research.
LE: What do you think Alcala offers that a large city doesn’t?
DC: To me, Alcala is the best of both worlds. It’s so close to Madrid that you can go in at any time, any day so easily and take advantage of what a big city offers. But what Alcala has on the other side is that it’s so safe, not that I’m nervous in Madrid, but I don’t walk around with my purse clutched to me here.
There’s also a real social atmosphere in Alcala that I find fascinating to observe, but also fascinating to participate in. To see all walks of life from the little kids, the grandparents wheeling their grandchildren, people just out in cafes. It’s so easy to do that and it’s not expensive here. Other places it’s a little bit more expensive to do that.
The other element that I really appreciate about Alcala, and one of the elements that we considered when choosing the program, is that you’re not hearing English very much here at all. Depending on where you go in Madrid, you can hear a lot of English.
LE: Is it easy to run the program here? How does the staff of Instituto Franklin-UAH facilitate that?
DC: Marvelously is all I can say. It’s very easy because so much is done ahead of time and that is where the staff steps in early on. They’re really monitoring the courses that the students are taking, the placements that they make for the students, and that’s almost all there is. I have a fair amount of advising to do with the students, but once that’s done the staff takes it from there. Any issues that have arrived, and I’ve not had very many issues, but any issues like a course change or something doesn’t work quite right, I know who to contact. And that is a wonderful safety net, for me as a professor but for the students also. They just know there are people here to take care of them. When you’re in an environment that’s not your natural environment, that’s a huge comfort. I also find that the personnel here are very friendly, very open, and very helpful. So you just feel like, “yeah I’m here, I’m good.”
LE: How has it been bringing your family here?
DC: Well in my case my family is all adults so I’m not coming with children. I will tell you with colleagues who have come with children, they have unanimously said it was a marvelous experience. It was easy to place them in appropriate school settings and their children adapted very well. Some of the children were more of an adolescent age and some were younger. Now in my case my daughter came, my daughter is 30 so she just came to have a good time and have a lot of fun. My husband is here now and that’s been wonderful. My family doesn’t spend the entire semester here because of work obligations. It’s an easy place to have a family just because it’s so walkable and doable and everything is so open.
LE: Why would you recommend this program to other professors?
DC: I’m more than happy to recommend this to colleagues, knowing that they will be able to continue their professional lives in whichever way they want to but they will also experience such a wonderful place.
Thank you so much!
An Interview made by student Leah Eisenhauer