Haizea Elizondo - reader in Mexico: "We want to offer: classes in the Basque language and culture that are enjoyable and effective"
Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.
The readers that Etxepare Basque Institute has all over the world have points in common, but each one is unique for its members (readers and students). At the UNAM university in Mexico is Haizea Elizondo teaching Basque language and culture. How is the Basque language and culture lived in Mexico? This is what she has told us:
How would you define the Basque language and culture reader and readership?
In short, we are the cultural intermediaries between the Basque Country and the countries where we work. Our mission covers different aspects: making our culture and language known, fostering interest, and encouraging intercultural relations. We have an extensive area of work, despite the particulars of each university and lecturer. On the one hand, we have to carry out different academic activities involving classes and associated activities; on the other, we create materials, do translations, give academic advice, organize activities, do research... The reader knows the most about the readership and is therefore responsible for promoting and improving their subjects.
What is your average day like as a reader?
My days are divided between weekly classes, the special tasks and additional activities (I’ll mention them later). In our readership, we teach Basque culture and language classes separately and we have absolute freedom in terms of subject matter and teaching method. The work of teaching is simple, but it is clear that being 10,000 kilometers from the Basque Country makes things difficult. When I say special tasks, I mean tasks involving institutional relations, cultural diplomacy and monitoring the readership. This means conveying the importance or the value of the readers to the heads of the university, looking for strategic alliances, identifying priorities, proposing improvements, looking for intermediaries... It is always important to work on this aspect. We have to bear in mind that the National Autonomous University of Mexico, besides being one of the largest in the continent, also offers a wide range of activities of all kinds: cultural, artistic... Without losing sight of this dimension, it is essential to keep the readership visible and appealing. I am delighted. I’m enthusiastic about my work and very motivated. It’s true that not everything is always easy and perfect, but for me it is a pleasure to work in such a comfortable environment. The fact of having to work at this level also satisfies me personally.
What is the profile of your students? What motivates Mexican students to learn the Basque language? How do people experience the Basque language in Mexico?
What most defines students is diversity: I have had students from 19 to 83 years old, although most are are between 20 and 35. They’re usually students or university staff, but we also have people from outside the university or have other types of studies. As for gender, there is a pretty even mix.
If something unites them, it is their commitment to work and the pleasure of studying. In that aspect, our students are exemplary.
Their motivation comes from the desire to study. Most are well-educated people who join because of their desire for knowledge. Although it is true that there are some exceptions: 70-year-olds who join classes for nostalgia, linguists, people who have fallen in love with a Basque, people who want to do their PhD in Basque universities, those who have Basque ancestors, Basque music fans... But as I said, they are exceptions.
Apart from the classes, do you organize other types of activities? For example, last year you were the winners of the contest for the best video organized by AEK and the Etxepare Basque Institute. Do students enjoy this type of initiative?
Of course! These activities are essential and strategic in the readers. Therefore, we try to organize different types of activities and respond to those organized by the university or the Etxepare Institute.
For example, the prize for the contest for the best Korrika video last year was to travel to the Basque Country and stay at a Barnetegi, or school where students live and learn in Basque. One of our students was able to take advantage of the opportunity and it was an unforgettable experience for us. They have already begun to ask about the contest next year... We hope to participate again.
Apart from Korrika, every year we also organize a literary encounter with a writer. This year Kirmen Uribe visited us and it was a discovery for many students. Apart from their work, it made students want to know about Basque literature.
Therefore, these activities are a treasure for us. They are rewarding and help complement what we do in class. And because they give visibility to the readers and are an opportunity to work on collective strategies.
You’ve just opened the registration period for next year. What’s in store for the new students?
Yes, registration is open until August. As I said, we offer classes in Basque and culture and there is the option to take both classes or just one.
Basque classes are aimed at learning to communicate in different situations.
As for the culture classes, the main objective is to understand and interpret various Basque subjects. There are certain essential areas covering a range of disciplines, which we work on chronologically. The other subjects and activities are depend on the interests of the group. We try to use different materials: articles, videos, literature, music, art ... As long as we known the source, anything goes. But of course, we are very careful with the academic content.
In summary, we want to offer classes that are both enjoyable and effective in bringing students closer to the Basque language and culture. There’s really so much to offer. What we want is to invite students to discover it.
What would you recommend to a new reader?
Based on my experience and teaching, I would highlight the following aspects:
First of all, it’s important to know the level and dimension of our work. We have be teachers and cultural ambassadors, as well as organize complementary cultural activities, create or adapt new material, and keep track of student progress. All of this carries a great responsibility.
You have to know the rules of playing field. In other words, the country, the university... we have to have a good understanding of where we work. We have to learn about our surroundings and adapt our work to the local culture.
As in any other job, in order to advance properly we must be prepared for continuous learning.
In addition, you should never forget the song that says "... inork ez zidan esan euskaldun izatia zein nekeza dan ..." (nobody told me that being Basque was so complicated). We have to remember that we are part of a minority language with not very many speakers, and this affects our development. No complexes!
Finally, if you are going to start with this job, enjoy it because it´s wonderful!