At the INTERsection of the INTERamerican and the INTEResting
A new intersection has not arisen just between the Inter-American and the interesting but also between Comenius University and a totally new study approach towards the Americas. The field of Inter-American Studies is not very well-known. “It sounds simple but, to be honest, I’m not sure what to think. I’ve never heard about it. I guess it might be a study of political, economic, business, cultural – in fact, of all kinds of relations between particular countries of North America and South America,” said a student in reply to a question what she thought Inter-American Studies was.
The Student Conference on Inter-American Studies, organized under the auspices of Department of British and American Studies on February 16, 2012, showed that the student was not far from the truth. Inter-American Studies is an exciting fast developing field which involves the interdisciplinary study of the Americas. The conference aimed to contribute to the awareness of the existence of such an approach.
Everything started at 9:15 a.m. Jana Hulová, the main organizer and host (by the way, from the ranks of the students), welcomed all guests in Slovak and English and declared the event open with a completely acceptable 15 minutes delay. Short, yet whole-hearted speeches from Dr. Mária Huttová (Head of the English Department) and Prof. Jaroslav Šušol (Dean of the Faculty of Arts) followed.
The formalities being dealt with, the truly academic part began and cleared all the doubts. The first lecture was delivered by Georg Schendl, a guest professor from the University of Graz (interpreter Lýdia Machová), who spoke about the beginnings of Inter-American Studies. The participants were acquainted with the concept of Nuestra América introduced by a Cuban poet José Marti. His introduction didn’t just offer students an explanation of the assets of studying inter-American relationships but also showed them a way how to do that and where to start. Schendl encouraged them to think about the Americas from a different point of view – fresh, deep and more complex. He revealed that there is still a lot of information about the Americas to be found and studied and a need of passionate discoverers.
Inter-American Studies do not focus exclusively on the USA although the word “American” is often associated only with this country. The remaining countries on the American continent count too. Therefore, the next lecture, given by Zuzana Roncová (interpreter Karolína Zemánková), focused on Brazil. “Despite the fact that Brazil is a huge country, students of English Studies do not know much about it because Portuguese is spoken over there. And that’s why they don’t show any interest,” remarked one of the participants. “As for me, I expect this lecture to be surprising because most of us don’t have any idea what strong relationships exist between Brazil and the rest of the American continent.”
Although the designation “America” comprises all the countries on the American continent, it is natural that the English Department shows the strongest inclination towards the English-speaking ones. The conference participants found themselves in their element when Lenka Hudečeková (interpreter Anna Kosperová) provided them with a thorough outline of the history of the Canadian constitutional monarchy and a new perspective on how this might affect the country’s economic, social and military relationships with other American states, especially the USA and Mexico.
Another hot topic was introduced after a lunch break when Hana Kaňuková presented a paper in Spanish on the US-Mexican border (interpreter Zuzana Ondrejková). She focused especially on the human aspect of the issue, which made the audience sympathize with the plight of Mexicans dying while attempting to cross the border, but some wished “the political circumstances leading to this situation would have been explained more clearly.”
The next lecture took on a different angle. Martina Bednáriková (and her colleague interpreter Anna Kucejová) looked back into history, in particular into the Native American tribe of the Cherokee and the story of the Trail of Tears. The audience appreciated her insight into the Native American culture. “I would also be very interested in the present-day Cherokee culture,” said one student but quickly added that “it may be a topic for the next student conference.”
Unfortunately, there is an end to everything. The last lecture of the day was an icing on the cake; it gave deep insight into Polish migration and the identity crisis of immigrants. The speaker Mário Kyseľ as well as his interpreter Katarína Hudáčková met with unusual acclaim. “At first, I could not get past Polish. It’s very similar to Slovak, yet it sounds incredibly funny to me. When I looked around, most people in the room had smiles on their faces,” a participant commented, praising the structure of Mário’s presentation and complimenting the interpreter on coping with English, Polish and Slovak in the examples of loan words and their translations.
It was not only the students who appreciated the work of speakers and interpreters. Even the teachers agreed that they had done brilliant jobs. The audience valued they could hear such rare languages as Polish or Portuguese and the students of interpreting enjoyed watching their colleagues doing the job they are training for.
The conference met with overall positive response as the students and guests had been offered a rich ‘academic feast’. Congratulations are in order. To the organizers for turning their vision into reality in an unprecedented way. To all the speakers for hours of research, studying, preparing and perfecting their papers. To the student interpreters for their courage to stand up in front of their classmates and showcase their skills. May this conference not be one of a kind but be the first of a kind.
Zuzana Rajčáková and Eva Majerčiaková
Photos: Katarína Koreňová
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