UF in Barcelona is one of the department’s newest study abroad programs. Designed for beginners looking to fulfill their language requirement, the seven-week program offers an intensive language class as well as a content course in architecture or history, taught in English. Students immerse themselves in Spanish history and culture while studying the language. Many of them use this study abroad in their immediate future, not only as part of their continuing acquisition of the Spanish language but also as background experience related to their major fields of study, since they learn about their interests firsthand. The Summer 2017 program was directed by SPS graduate student Sonia San Juan, who wrote the following reflection:

Many students lived with local host families; others rented their own apartment, or stayed in dormitories at the University of Barcelona. Thus all students found themselves completely immersed in the day-to-day linguistic and cultural life of Barcelona. They also participated in various organized excursions, including a tour of Gaudi’s renowned Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, a visit to La Boquería market in the boulevard Las Ramblas, and other visits near the port and beach area. They visited the famous Cavas Codorniu on the way to the Museo Dalí in Figueres, and they spent the night in the coastal town of Roses, where they enjoyed fireworks and live music during the celebration of la Noche de San Juan.

Students provided weekly diaries in a private Facebook page, created especially for the components of their language class, a page in which they shared pictures and comments about their everyday experiences. The outcome was greatly enriching to all of them, and they shared that they had the time of their lives! One student commented: “Fue [una experiencia] increíble que nosotros nunca vamos a olvidar. (It was an incredible [experience] that we will never forget.)”

Antonio Gil retires after 37 years of service at the University of Florida


Antonio Gil has announced that he will retire at the end of summer 2018, precisely 37 years after beginning his career at the University of Florida in Fall 1981.

Although Antonio (Tony) has spent his entire career as one of the pillars of our beginning Spanish program (originally for the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and now for the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies), he has taught grammar courses at all undergraduate levels and, most recently, served as assistant to the chair in a number of administrative functions.

Antonio was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1946, in a downtown home that figures frequently in photographs of the city. His father was an engineer and entrepreneur who, besides providing bottled gas to the population, also operated a repair shop for heavy equipment. When the family came under pressure from the Castro regime in 1959, Antonio was sent as a 14-year-old to stay with a friend of the family in Mexico. He initially enrolled in a parochial school and later a military school, where he had a distinguished academic record. He also worked for the Asociación Mexicana Automovilística during this time. In 1968 Antonio was admitted to the University of Oregon, where he received in BA in Spanish and Italian in 1972. He spent the academic year 1973-74 in Pisa, Italy, where he was able to see the Leaning Tower and the Alps from his office window. From 1973 to 1978, he did graduate work at the University of Oregon, while at the same time working in a facility for mentally disabled adults.

From 1978 to 1981, Antonio taught Spanish at the Ohio State University, which coincided with the birth, in April 1981, of his beloved son A. J., who is now 37 years old and lives with his wife in Atlanta.

Antonio’s move to the University of Florida coincided with that of Prof. Reynaldo Jiménez, who had also taught at OSU. They assumed administrative responsibility for the lower-division Spanish program, with Antonio operating as right-hand man and chief problem solver for Reynaldo. Antonio worked in this capacity for a number of subsequent lower-division administrators. Over the years Antonio assumed more and more important administrative duties, including responsibility for student problems and special requests (a capacity in which his strong sense of personal responsibility earned him the moniker of “Dr. No”). More recently, especially after staff reductions in the departmental office, Antonio moved to a nearby office from which he is able to take over some office functions. In his student and administrative capacities he has been known to schedule as many as 16 weekly office hours.

Many of us felt that, with the retirement of French professor Al Smith in the early 90s, Antonio inherited the role of being the “soul” of our department (Kathy Dwyer-Navajas is the “heart”). He was born with a combination of rare gifts that have enriched our lives now for almost four decades. His sense of humor is rich and varied, and his laughter can be heard on a daily basis echoing through Dauer Hall. One may be sure that he is always laughing with others, never at them. He has a prodigious memory, recalling in detail events that for most of us have long ago faded into oblivion, to the extent that we are suspicious that he may be making them up. He is an amazing problem solver: people who offhandedly mention a problem they are dealing with to Antonio are often surprised to get a list of three or four possible solutions from him a couple of hours later. Antonio loves children and they love him immediately and instinctively — and not only when they suspect that he may be Santa Claus! He is now the proud grandfather of two little girls in England, who have christened him Bumpah. Finally, he is a true friend, always willing to go the extra mile to help friends who are in need, either with a 5:00 a.m. ride to the airport, a midnight trip to the hospital emergency room, or a place to stay during semester transitions. Antonio is much beloved among departmental faculty, but over the years he has also developed strong friendships with many of the graduate students he has helped supervise, including Mark Cox, Herlinda Flores, and Alex Torres.

I have often thought that no one is more suited to enjoy retirement than is Antonio Gil. He takes deep pleasure in all aspects of daily life: food, drink, sports, friendships, family, pets, and TV, just to name a few. We wish Antonio many happy years of enjoying life in all its fullness, and thank him for his 37 years of service on behalf of our department and our students.

— Associate Dean David Pharies

Portuguese has changed the trajectory of Laura Henschel’s life in ways she never thought possible. The struggle to learn this beautiful language has given her much, from enduring friendships to career skills to life lessons. “Learning a second language is the best thing I have done in my life,” Laura writes.
Laura started learning Portuguese at the age of 16, when she spent a high-school year in the Northeast of Brazil as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. She not only learned this new skill — the ability to communicate with over 200 million people in their language — but also broadened her view of the world. portrait of sharply dressed womanShe decided that her goal in college would be to get to know more about others.

When Laura entered UF, she got involved with the Portuguese conversation club Bate Papo — which is where she met Andréa Ferreira. Andréa convinced Laura to take just one class with her in order to keep practicing her Portuguese, and the rest just fell into place. She began taking more and more courses, getting involved in Portuguese-to-English tutoring, in BRASA, the Brazilian Student Association at UF, and in other activities and events involving Portuguese. Now, Laura is pursuing a second degree in Portuguese Studies, along with her degree in Public Relations.

This spring, Andréa offered Laura the opportunity to join a brand-new project — a partnership between UF and AcheiUSA, the largest Brazilian newspaper in the U.S. Along with Giovanna Breda Kubota, a Brazilian student studying journalism at UF, they began a biweekly column for the newspaper detailing their complementary perspectives of life at UF. Their columns range from highlighting Brazilian organizations on campus, to interviewing students, to reporting on the Admissions Office, to living in Gainesville, with more topics to come.

screencapture of online publicationPortuguese has made Laura a more understanding communicator — as a professional, as a student, and as a human being. She feels fortunate to be able to share a connection with Portuguese speakers, to quite literally “speak their language” and understand their culture and way of life. Her language skills also improve her prospects in the job market, as several international companies are now possibilities for her future. In addition, learning Spanish, and possibly other Romance languages, has become a much more attainable goal.

Eventually, Laura hopes to use her voice in support of projects she feels passionate about, like women’s rights in Brazil, Portuguese-language communications in the media, and the message of diversity and inclusion for immigrants.

portrait of distinguished looking manAround 5 p.m. in downtown Washington, D.C., the city hits quitting time. Professionals stream out of large office buildings and many head to into the Capital’s (arguably) favorite pastime: happy hour.

J.R. Denson ’09 (Spanish BA with a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language) leaves his work as a health policy analyst and travels to a popular Latino bar.

Once a month, armed with a large roll of “Hola, me llamo ______” nametags, J.R. hosts one of the city’s most popular Spanish-speaking meetup groups. The group, regularly attended by 80-100 people, is a mix of native speakers and language learners. Although J.R.’s career has focused on health education and now health policy, he’s found time over the last several years to create a place for others to practice language skills … and he even finds time to teach salsa dancing!

Thinking back over his time at UF, studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, for two semesters was a clear highlight for J.R.. He remembers being glad he chose to live with a host family instead of with other students because “living there forced me to speak Spanish even when it wasn’t convenient or if I wasn’t ‘in the mood’ that day.” The experience paid off and his Spanish skills improved considerably.

Upon graduating, J.R. returned home to the Washington, D.C. area where he spent two years working with a community-based nonprofit that partnered with the DC public school system. His Spanish skills often came in handy in unexpected but often meaningful scenarios, such as tutoring ESL students in high school algebra and geometry.

Now having completed graduate school, he spends his days doing public health research and advocacy with a national think tank. J.R. continues to practice and deepen his Spanish skills to be ready to use them whenever the opportunity or need arises.