UCSB Latin American and Iberian Studies Program

Interview with LAIS Graduate Student Jennifer Amador

Jennifer Amador is a second year LAIS Masters Student. In this interview she talks about her passion for studying Latin America, her current research and future goals. Read on to learn more! 

What motivated you to study Latin America?

 My interest in studying Latin America stems from a few sources of inspiration: familial ties, personal interest and course work, specifically Spanish literature and language. As  the oldest of three children to Mexican immigrants, I always felt a strong connection to my family and to Mexico. I remember taking a few literature courses here as an undergraduate with Professor Silvia Bermudez and Professor Juan Pablo Lupi and being amazed at the topics of women in literature in South America or reading about magical realism in the Carribean and being amazed. And it was even more exciting that I could talk about all the topics with my family and they knew what I was referring too! These courses lead to deeper conversations that wouldn’t have occurred had I not enrolled in the courses. While literature was my first academic exposure to Latin America, I felt that it wasn’t right to just focus on literature so I decided that Latin American & Iberian Studies major could encompass all of my interest since it offered an interdisciplinary approach.   

Why do you believe it’s important to study Latin America? 

Many times Latin America is referred to as a homogenous idea when it’s not. In the United States, the term often places everyone in the same group and leads to harmful generalizations.  I think it’s important to study Latin America or Latin American issues because we are all connected. As scholars and as citizens we need to see what is occurring in other countries to have a deeper understanding of how actions in one place affect another or analyze the history to understand why countries are in certain states of being today. We are not isolated from each other.   

What are you currently researching/or planning to research, and why is it important to you?

 I am currently researching motivations to study abroad with Spanish heritage speakers. Spanish heritage speakers are those who learned Spanish at home with family and/or have heritage ties to Spanish speaking countries. As an alumni of study abroad (Carlos III, 2015) I noticed that many of my friends who would have qualified for study abroad programs did not apply and instead were living vicariously through me. As Latinx enrollment in higher education is increasing we need to see what motivates these students, who have different linguistics needs than a second language learner in order to increase participation rates and support them academically. Many times research highlights the barriers and while that is something we should be aware of, as researchers and university staff, we need to look beyond that and look at why students went in the first place.  

 How is LAIS influencing your career trajectory and what are your current career goals? 

I have always pictured myself working with students and families in a university role. As a graduate student I had the opportunity to teach Elementary Spanish 1 +2, which opened up a whole new world. I never thought I would be teaching Spanish beginners in Spanish starting day 1! After taking some courses in the field of language acquisition, teaching methodologies and second language learning, I have considered being a professor. It doesn’t feel like a stretch. I’ve been looking at Phd programs that focus on higher education and the Latinx community so I am excited about that!   

What has been the most valuable part of your experience as a LAIS student so far? What advice do you have for current or future LAIS MA students?

 I would say my most valuable experience has been teaching. I have really learned a lot about myself as an educator. I really enjoy being able to connect with students via Spanish and being able to share my culture with them.  One recommendation I have to current and future students is to not be hard on yourself when you are in class with PhD students. I know I would feel overwhelmed and often felt behind. It’s okay! We are all in different stages in our programs and have different ideas and experiences to contribute to the discussion. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help.  

Any interests beyond academia that you would like others to know about? 

I love traveling! I like traveling abroad and in California. Most of my life has been spent in Southern California so I am trying to explore as much as I can both locally and internationally! Places I have visited abroad are London, Lisbon, various cities in Spain, Rome, Pisa, British Victoria and various cities in Mexico. You can say I have the travel bug that began during my time abroad. I try to collect souvenir pins from each destination and put them up on my board. COVID has placed my travel plans on hold but once it is safe to travel again I can wait to start planning my next trip.