From Saanich to Spain—and back again


- Philip Cox

Ackerly exploring buildings at the Universidad de Alcalá, some of which date back to 1293. Photo: provided

One semester studying abroad in Spain gave UVic graduate Elijah Ackerly a new perspective on life back home in Saanich that would change his path forever.

“I fell in love with the language and culture in Spain, but also with the way that learning a new language can influence your perspective on the world,” Ackerly says. “I saw that life can be different from where I grew up.”

Ackerly, who graduates this month with a major in Hispanic studies and a minor in history, was raised with his sister by his mother in a single-parent, low-income home. Despite experiencing what he describes as “a noticeable class discrepancy” between himself and his elementary, middle and high school classmates, he never doubted that he would one day attend university.

“I didn’t always know what I wanted to study, but I always knew I wanted to go to university. It just meant that I had to take out student loans and work hard for scholarships,” Ackerly reflects.

Among the many merit-based scholarships that he received is the Elias Mandel Prize for Study Abroad in Hispanic and Italian Studies, which assists undergraduate students with tuition fees and travel costs associated with the university’s study abroad program. 

After finding an advertisement for the program posted in the Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies hallway, Ackerly attended an information session, applied, and soon found himself in Alcalá de Henares—a small city with 200,000 residents, 35 km northeast of Madrid. He then spent the next three months studying Spanish language, culture and literature at the Universidad de Alcalá while earning UVic credits.

“The experience was really influential for me and solidified my desire to do a degree in Spanish. I came back and declared a major in Hispanic studies right away,” Ackerly explains. “And, although I was only in my second year, it also got me thinking about what would be a good next step.”

In addition to trying his hand at extra-curricular activities on campus, such as working as a co-editor of the Hispanic and Italian Studies undergraduate journal PLVS VLTRA in 2020, Ackerly also worked as a team leader at the Oak Bay Parks, Recreation and Culture’s Youth Center throughout his degree.

“The centre is a free drop-in space open to youths from the neighborhood to hang out, hold space, and find belonging,” says Ackerly. “I worked there every day after school, planned monthly events and sometimes taught courses on First Aid, customer service or resumé development.”

Ackerly notes that his time overseas gave him unique insight into some of the challenges faced by many of the participants in the program, who had recently moved to Canada and were learning English as a second language.

“I could fully relate to what it’s like to be in a new country where you’re learning the language, which is really difficult. Because of my experiences in Spain, I could definitely empathize with the participants who were new to Canada. It made me a better instructor.”

In the fall, Ackerly will carry these insights and experiences from Saanich to Spain once again when he returns to the Universidad de Alcalá in Alcalá de Henares to start a master’s in teaching, with a focus on bilingual and multicultural education.

Study Abroad programs are an important way for our students to learn about other cultures and languages through mutually-enriching encounters. We are proud to be able to provide scholarships that break down financial barriers and make experiences like this possible.”
Marina Bettaglio, Associate Professor of Hispanic and Italian Studies


In this story

Keywords: convocation, student life, study abroad, international, philanthropy, languages and linguistics

People: Elijah Ackerly

Publication: The Ring

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