Imagine looking out on the spires of a Gothic cathedral from your classroom in a lovingly refurbished royal palace. This is the sight that greeted over 100 UW students last year as they studied at the UW STUDY CENTER in León, Spain.
The León Center grew out of a conversation in 2008 between Ana Mari Cauce, (then Dean of Arts & Sciences, now UW Provost), Luis Fernando Esteban, the honorary consul of Spain in Seattle, and Tony Geist, Chair of Spanish and Portuguese. Two years later the dream became reality when the King and Queen of Spain officially inaugurated the Palacio del Conde Luna as the UW Study Center. The 14th century palace proved an ideal location and the UW gratefully accepted the top two floors of the 16th century Renaissance tower, rent-free for ten years.
View from a León Center classroom
Programs at theLeón Center add a unique dimension to the study abroad experience. By formally connecting with the local community and university, León Center programs encourage understanding and compassion between cultures and strive to create global citizens. The UW León Center is open to campus-wide departments as well as institutions outside the UW that wish to use the center for study abroad programs, academic research, conferences and cultural events.
The Division of Spanish & Portuguese Studies offers three recurring programs held at the Léon Center:
- Autumn: Advanced Language, Literature and Culture Program
- Spring: Beginning/Intermediate Language and Culture
- Spring: Spanish Children's Literature and Creative Storytelling
“The goal of the center,” explained Lani Phillips, Director of Program Development of the León Center, “is to create programs from a breadth of disciplines, as opposed to exclusively Spanish studies, that incorporate the local environment and community.” The León Center has hosted programs from a number of different departments and units at the UW, including among others, the School of Law, the School of Art, the Foster School of Business, the College of Education, English, Hellenic Studies, MATESOL, the Honors Program and, of course, Spanish.
Geist, Executive Director of the León Center, said “We aspire to much more than simply having our students show up, stay for a while and then depart. Rather, the Center actively seeks to engage with the local community, to be an important resource for the city and region, and a number of our programs strive to ‘give back.’” One example is Curt Labitzke’s studio art program, that auctions off student work at the end of the quarter in León and donates the profits to charity. Other students volunteer as conversation assistants in English classes in the public schools, and for two years running MATESOL students have taught English in the University of León’s language center. Spanish Department lecturer Anna Witte and her students taught story-telling workshops for León grade-schoolers last spring. Witte remarked, “This was the best experience of my 30-year teaching career. I look forward to building even closer relationships with schools in León."
“As part of our commitment to the local community,” Geist added, “we have organized three art exhibits in the space we share in the Palacio with the City of León (pictured on the right).” The most recent exhibit, which ran through the summer of 2013, was a display of art from the Makah Indian tribe in Neah Bay, Washington. It was a tremendous success, drawing over 8,000 visitors.
“For students, the intercultural experience provides enrichment to and a broader perspective of their field of study, which is something they will carry back with them not only to the UW in Seattle, but also in their future careers once they graduate,” said Phillips.