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CMLT174: Islands in the Stream Interview
with Students

I guess that's the sign of a really good course like this one. I keep thinking about it long after it is finished.—Alex Lefter '08

Interview with Alex Lefter '08 (Spanish and international development major), Karleen Porcena '09 (Spanish and comparative politics major) and Hannah Caruso '09 (Spanish and anthropology major)

Why did you decide to take this course?

Alex: I initially chose the course because it counted toward both of my majors—Spanish and international development. But I really took it for the professors. I've had Professor Acosta Cruz in other courses and have a great relationship with her. I always feel that I learn a lot in her classes. I also was interested in the topic of the class because it compares two cultures—Puerto Rican culture and Guadeloupe culture—which were united by the thread of colonialism and post-colonialism.

Karleen: I took this course because it was about Caribbean and West Indian culture. Since my parents are from Haiti, I was excited to take a course that actually taught some of my history.

Hannah: I wanted to take this class because I have an interest in the Caribbean and Caribbean culture and history, and it was one of the only courses offered about this part of the world. I've been to St. Lucia and Puerto Rico to do different work. I'm fascinated by the region and thought this course would be a great way to learn more about it.

What makes this course unique from others you've taken at Clark?

Hannah: I thought the way this class was structured was different from other courses with an historical or political component that I've taken at Clark . Other classes have been more linear based, studying history by examining who was in power and how change occurs in a country from the top-down. This class was structured in a way in which I learned more about classes of society that don't get noticed as much in history.

Karleen: We talked a lot about dual-identity, which was one of the major topics of the course. It was really interesting to see how two completely different islands—Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe—shared this kind of need to figure out who they were. Not only was the subject matter unique, but the class was different because it was really based on the people of this region. I think that any time you can take a course about culture with two professors who identify themselves with that culture, you get so much more out of the course. Professors Acosta Cruz and Ferly contributed facts and personal anecdotes that we would never have learned from professors who hadn't experienced the culture. We also were exposed to new authors—writers whom we would never read in a regular history class—who were well-known in Puerto Rico or Guadeloupe but never received recognition over here.

Alex: The unique challenge I faced throughout the course was that I was taking the course both as a Spanish literature course and a development course. For me it was really important to make a distinction between what were pure developmental issues and what were more cultural issues. That led me to ask questions about what was really an author's opinion and how that interpretation related, or not, to the actual complex reality of the country. In other words, what was the author's perspective versus what was true development or fact. For example, we read an essay called "The Docile Puerto Rican" where the author criticized the Puerto Ricans based on their choice of identity or nationhood. First he criticized Puerto Rico's choice to be independent, arguing that the country wouldn't make it without the help of the United States. Then he argued that if Puerto Rico chose to continue to be a colony, they would show no national pride. So, this author was putting this real-life argument into a more literary context.

What did you think about the team-teaching format of the class?

Karleen: The thing that was so interesting about having two professors was that they'd talk about one thing and have completely different ideas about it. They'd play off each other really well and fill in each other's information gaps. And because they are both so enthusiastic about their backgrounds, it made their teaching really lively.

Alex: It was an interesting experience. I've never had a team-taught course before. I was already familiar with Professor Acosta Cruz's style but had not taken a class with Professor Ferly before. The best part was that you could get two perspectives on a topic. Sometimes they would debate and we, as students would witness their debate and then debate their debate.

Hannah: I think Professor Acosta Cruz and Professor Ferly were learning from each other while we were learning from them.

What made this course an "active learning" course?

Alex: This wasn't the kind of class where you come in and the professor is talking and you're supposed to memorize what they are telling you. This was a class oriented toward discussion and debating around different issues—colonialism, the construction of national identity, what it's like to be Puerto Rican, what's it like to be Guadeloupean.

Karleen: In this class you would never hear 'This is what the textbook says.' Instead, we read novels and articles. Professors Acosta Cruz and Ferly would teach from their own personal experience growing up in Caribbean culture. And we were expected to discuss and debate all of the issues that were raised by our professors and the texts they assigned.

What kind of projects were you assigned in the course?

Alex: We were responsible for preparing a 30-minute presentation and then leading a class discussion about the presentation. Personally, I think these presentations were a great opportunity. I had never done a PowerPoint presentation to present my work where I was also expected to spark debate with the whole class. The presentation was especially challenging because, Professor Acosta Cruz assigned me a special article in Spanish to use for my presentation. The article, in my translation, was called "The Like Generation" and was a criticism about contemporary culture in Puerto Rico. So while my presentation was in English, I translated the Spanish article for myself—which was a personal challenge—and incorporated ideas from it into the presentation and subsequent discussion. Toward the end of the presentation we had very lively conversation. We were literally interrupting each other and trying to speak. There would be seven hands up at once and I didn't know who to call on first!

Hannah: I thought it was really great to do a lot of work on one specific issue. The class covered so many issues, and the presentation gave me the opportunity to go into detail about one. I looked at Creole language in Martinique and how it played into oppression.

Karleen: Because I was focusing on changes in music in Puerto Rico, my project partner and I played music and discussed the change from early Puerto Rican music in the "La Bomba" style to more contemporary styles.

Do you have any other thoughts about the course?

Alex: For me, a class like "Islands in the Stream" doesn't really end when the semester ends. Even though I officially finished the class, I like to revisit my own ideas. I've gone back to read my papers and think about whether I still have the same ideas about the region that I had when I was taking the course. I guess that's the sign of a really good course like this one—I keep thinking about it long after it is finished.


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Additional Resources
Islands Home
Interview with the Professors
Interview with Students
Student Projects
Course Syllabus
About Professor Acosta-Cruz
About Professor Ferly

Alex Lefter Karleen Porcena
Alex Lefter
Class of 2008
Karleen Porcena
Class of 2009
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