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Study Abroad Experience in Malaga, Spain

This summer, 24 students guided by Spelman professors Dr. Julio Gonzalez-Ruiz, and Professor Pilar Valencia, traveled to Malaga, Spain to immerse themselves in Spanish culture, take college level-language courses at the University of Malaga, and interact with their host families.

As the organizers probably expected, the students gained far more from the experience than they imagined. During their visit to the non-profit organization Malaga Acoge, they were afforded the opportunity to listen and learn from African immigrants whose Diasporic stories of courage and survival were eye-opening and inspiring.

Spelman alumna Nyeisha Scott, C'2012, happened to be teaching English in a public school in Malaga during the 2012-2013 academic year. Scott also served as an intern for the publication "SUR  in English," and wrote about the experience.

Here are excerpts from  her story that was published in one of the most popular and widely read newspapers in Malaga:

Students Broaden Their Minds in Malaga

International experience is becoming a necessity in the US employment arena. An Atlanta college sends students of African descent to Malaga to gain vital exposure to the world.

Last month, twenty-four students from Spelman College, the top-ranked HistoricallyBlack College and University (HBCU) in the US, came to Malaga
as part of a programme to help them gain some international experience.

Located in Atlanta, Georgia, Spelman College is an internationally renowned
liberal arts institution for women of African descent. The institution understands that a global perspective is a vital component to the curriculum in order to expand the minds of its students.

Dr Julio González-Ruiz, a Spanish professor at Spelman College, is the force behind bringing students to his native home, Malaga, to immerse in the rich Andalusian culture....

One of these activities [the students participated in] was a visit to the non-profit organization Málaga Acoge, whose mission is to guide and help immigrants
who come to live in Malaga.

At the event, African immigrants spoke of their journey to Malaga and their current struggle to find employment. The intimate setting gave an opportunity for conversation between students from America and immigrants from Africa living in two completely different worlds, but sharing the same ethnic background, and being a part of the African Diaspora.

When asked “What do you want your students to get out of this experience?”,
Dr. González-Ruiz replied: “I expect my students to increase their language skills and their knowledge of the culture, but in the process I would like them to look at the world through a more international perspective so that they can get a more nuanced understanding of the world we live in."

“This goal is actually in accordance with our mission as faculty at Spelman, striving to empower our students to engage the many cultures of the world and developing intercultural competence.”


This article, "Las caras de la diaspora africana,"  originally published in Spanish in the publication "Malaga Hoy" was translated to English by Dr. Gonzalez-Ruiz.

THE FACES OF THE AFRICAN DIASPORA

African-American students from Spelman College in Atlanta gathered at Málaga Acoge* with immigrants who arrived from Morocco, Nigeria, or Cameroon looking for an opportunity [for a better life].

The nonprofit organization, Malaga Acoge,works with immigrants, mostly from Africa, to assist them in many different ways --  with lodging, food, education and tutors for the children, legal assistance, etc. The verb "Acoger" means 'to welcome, to receive, to take in, to shelter, too nurture.

It is very important to mention that Málaga Acoge works with/assists immigrants despite their legal status. Actually, it would be safe to say that around 90% of the population they serve has no legal status in Spain, and they got into the country illegally.

By Cristina Fernández, Málaga

Carol arrived to Málaga ten years ago from Cameroon. At the Málaga Acoge facilities/headquarters she tells about her migratory experience in front of a large group of African-American students from Spelman College, the first College established for the education of Black women in the United States following the abolition of slavery.

One of the [Spelman] students states that her ancestors were also from Cameroon. Forced by chains or by a difficult situation, several centuries ago or nowadays, by boats, by rafts, or by airplane, the faces of the African diaspora met yesterday in a gathering/reunion that exemplified the constant search of new opportunities by the human being.

Julio González, Ph.D., professor of Spanish in the College established in 1881, grew up in Málaga and served as volunteer at [the non-profit] Málaga Acoge almost two decades ago. "This is a very special [non-profit] organization for me, and I think their work and role in welcoming and assisting immigrants is very important," he explained to his [Spelman] students.

"I believe that there is a very solid/strong link between you [referring to both the Spelman students and the African immigrants living now in Spain]. The facilities of this non-profit organization have today become a meeting point for the global African diaspora," he added. The U.S. students whose staple is the social activism, listened carefully to the stories/experiences of the African immigrants, such as those told by Soad, Shaibu, and James. Also, Bridget's who was the first one speaking.

Bridget is 36 years old, and fourteen years ago, she started a journey that scared her for many days, especially the three full days she spent in the raft until she reached the Spanish coast. She did it alone, being only 22 years old with just hope in her luggage.

"In my country, I finished high school," she narrated. Then, she learned cooking, sewing, and hairdressing, but "I never had money to open my own business," she explained. Her mother raised nine children and the economic situation became untenable. "Life there was very complicated," she admitted. Thus, she decided to leave, and since then she has worked in cleaning and in agriculture. Now she is a mother of three kids, and is unemployed along with her husband. The government assistance they receive will be terminated within three months, and she says she does not know yet what they are going to do.

The current situation for the other immigrants attending the Málaga Acoge gathering/reunion is not easy either. Carol, despite holding a degree in Civil Law from Cameroon, has not been able to validate her degree [in Spain] yet. That is why she opened a hair salon five years ago, and she is providing for her family. Soad, from Morocco, agreed that now "there are no jobs, the situation is very bad." So, after working at IKEA, in an organic soap company, and cleaning, she is currently unemployed; however she is taking advantage of this time off to study English and Spanish in a Government School of Languages [free tuition].

In front of them are sitting young ladies [Spelman students] ranging from 19 to 21 years old who live in the so called country of the opportunity, and who are studying to take full advantage of life. Tea and sweets are available to celebrate this gathering/reunion in a relaxed atmosphere. There is a lot of talking and questions from the students to the immigrants living in Málaga.

"Thank you so much for sharing with us your stories/experiences. They are an inspiration for us", said one of the [Spelman] College students who is spending a month in Málaga learning/putting into practice her Spanish. Regardless of their current situation, all of the women were talking about courage and determination in order to offer a better future for the coming generations.