María Eugenia de Luna Villalón
PhD Hispanic Studies (YEAR)
Assistant Lecturer, Spanish
School of Modern Languages and Cultures, The University of Hong Kong
Interviewed by: Cindy Paredes
“My learning experience at Western was above and beyond my expectations. But this would not have been true if I would not have taken advantage of all the things that Western had to offer.”
How did you decide to pursue your area of study in sociolinguistics?
I have always been interested in the relationship between language and society, and studying written language as a cultural practice; therefore, it was almost natural for me to focus on sociolinguistics as my area of study when I decided the topic of my research, which is language and migration.
I am interested in linguistically diverse small Canadian cities and social justice issues related to Hispanic migrants. I am interested in understanding the predominance of one groups’ language and the subordination of another, the territorial limits of language use, the power and status of the groups, and even the economic repercussion of the existence of specific linguistic groups. All these and more can be understood through the lens of sociolinguistics.
While applying to schools to pursue your graduate studies, what about Western appealed to you the most? And stood out to other Universities?
My first contact with Western was Dr. Joyce Bruhn de Garavito, whom later became my thesis advisor. Joyce was a Visiting Professor at my university in Mexico: Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), where we met. Dr. Bruhn de Garavito saw me as an excellent candidate to study at Western. It was precisely at that moment when my interest in Western University was born.
Western stood out from other universities I was considering due to the professors but also due to the fact Western is internationally renowned research-intensive University, with excellent funding opportunities for graduate students.
While at Western pursuing your Ph.D. did you find the staff to be supportive and provide positive feedback that advanced your research?
Yes, I always found the staff at Western to be very supportive. I remember attending every workshop that was organized by my department, the Faculty, the School of Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies, and Research Western, where I learned how to write a grant proposal, and got feedback every time that I needed it. Now Looking back, I know that without their support and feedback, I would not have been successful in receiving the grants (OGS grant, and the SSHRC grant) that funded my research project..
Did you feel that the Western campus and staff were able to create a positive learning experience?
Absolutely. Western is one of the most beautiful university campuses in Canada. When I was pursuing my Ph.D., and I was feeling tired, stressed or overwhelmed by my research and coursework, I only needed to step a foot outside the building to feel better. Western’s scenery is breathtaking, and it surprises you with every different season of the year.
Also, my learning experience at Western was above and beyond my expectations. But this would not have been true if I would not have taken advantage of all the things that Western had to offer.
I genuinely believe that every student will experience university differently, but if you get involved in the university’s life, participate in the activities organized by your department, and become an active member of the student community, then that’s when you actually will get the best possible student experience. I cherish the years very much that I spent at Western studying my Doctorate program.
Did you find the resources at Western to be a great help? And were they easy to access?
Yes, but they were not always obvious. Sometimes you have to try hard, push some boundaries, and never give up. The resources were there, but they were not always at the surface where you could easily access them. It is essential to get involved, attend workshops, talks, meetings, etcetera. That is exactly how you learn where and how to access the many resources that Western offers to students.
What was your area of research? And why did you feel that Western was the best fit to carry out this research?
My area of research is Sociolinguistics, a sub-discipline of Linguistics. I am interested in the interrelation of language and migration in Hispanic Migrant communities in Canada.
Western was an excellent place to carry out my research because of the programs offered in the Department of Hispanic Studies, either Literature or Linguistics, the professors’ knowledge, and research, and the possibilities to connect and collaborate with other programs in the Faculty of Arts, and beyond.
I found support and guidance from professors from different departments, such as Dr. Jeff Tennant from the French Department, Dr. Shelley Taylor from the Faculty of Education, as well as the Migration and Ethnic Relations program that was led by Dr. Victoria Esses from the Psychology Department in the Faculty of Social Science.
Did you experience any setbacks or difficulties while conducting your research? How did you overcome them?
My research project was ambitious, so before getting the OGS and SSHRC grants, it was difficult to carry it on. Funding was a significant factor to help me to conduct my research with success. Also, connections and building trust with community organizations, workers’ alliances, and most importantly my participants, were the most important issues to overcome while conducting my research.
What is your favourite memory of Western?
I have several good memories of Western. I was there for four years, so it is difficult to decide. However, if I have to choose one, it would be my involvement as Editor-in-Chief, in the conception, design, development, and issue of the first number of the Open Access Journal Entrehojas: Revista de Estudios Hispánicos.
It was a great experience, but also challenging, to work with the library, and with other graduate students and professors in the Hispanic Studies Graduate Program to make this initiative possible. Entrehojas is still being published, and that makes me very proud.
What is one piece of advice you would give to a student?
My advice for any student, including a graduate student, is to get involved in the university life. It is not enough to attend classes, do your assignments and write exams. To enjoy your student life, you have to get involved. Western offers you many opportunities to be an active and engaged student, so take advantage of that.
Also, I would tell a graduate student to choose a research topic that he/she is passionate about. The process of researching and writing a dissertation is a challenging one, but if you love what you are doing, the journey is much more enjoyable.
Being an Alumni what is one piece of advice you would give to a student looking to apply to the Hispanic studies program at Western?
As an alumni, I recommend students to explore everything that Western has to offer to a graduate student. I will also tell students to pose as many questions as they need and to ask professors, students, staff and other alumni. There is never a silly question, and it is important to begin making use of their critical thinking skills.
The Hispanic Studies Graduate program is not an isolated program; it connects with many other programs in the Faculty of Arts, as well as with other faculties. It is important to acknowledge that to understand your possibilities at Western.
You recently moved to Hong Kong, how is your experience so far?
Living and working in Hong Kong has been an exciting and enriching experience. I work at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), where I am an Assistant Lecturer in the Spanish Program at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures. The Spanish Program at HKU is a vibrant undergraduate program, where our students are eager to learn the language and culture of the Hispanic world. HKU is one of the most prestigious Asian universities.
As for the city, you have to come to Hong Kong to understand what it has to offer. This city is a mixture of tradition and modernity, of Asian and Western cultures that constantly collide, and an interesting place to learn about two very different political systems that try to coexist within one country.
Have you kept in contact with Western and or with the modern languages department?
Yes, I do keep in connect with Western and with the Modern Languages department. I have good friends in the department, and I always keep up with what is happening there. I also have collaborated with former professors and classmates in different projects, conferences, talks, and other subjects. As well, my youngest son is studying at Western, he is taking Spanish courses and works there as a tutor. He loves Western, how can he not love it he’s been around the university since he was nine years old.