Carla Buck reflects on student trip to Spain, importance of Basque culture

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Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies brought eight students from her senior seminar to Basque Country in Spain, home to one of the oldest known cultures in the world. COURTESY PHOTO / CARLA BUCK

During spring break, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies Carla Buck took a group of eight students to Euskadi, a Basque region in northern Spain. Buck wanted to showcase Spain’s diversity, especially beyond the well-known flamenco dancers and bull fights that are commonly associated with Southern Spain.   

The trip was part of the College of William and Mary’s COLL 300 program and was associated with Buck’s senior seminar course in the Hispanic studies department. The senior seminar explores the culture of Euskadi, and delves into the Basque County’s unique history.  

According to Buck, the Euskera language is one of the oldest known languages with no distinct relative. Expanding across both French and Spanish territories, the Basque Country shares a longstanding rich cultural history and possesses deep-rooted traditions.  

“If people go meet other people and experience the culture, then how can you make war with somebody like that?” Buck said. “That’s very simplistic, but I do think there’s something to that. Opening your eyes all the clichés you do really begin to see life in a different way. I love to adopt things from places that I travel. You see ways of doing things, ways of being with people. It just changes the outlook.”  

Bucks interest in Hispanic studies started with her grandmother, who took Buck and her other grandchildren from Missouri to Southern Mexico each summer growing up. From a young age, Buck was immediately enthralled by Spanish language and culture.  

She originally planned to become a medical doctor and aimed to work in small towns in Mexico, but she jokingly said that she changed her mind after taking her first chemistry class. She soon fell in love with her Hispanic study classes instead. Originally, Buck was not interested in teaching since both of her parents were teachers, but she later decided that she wanted to become a professor and has been teaching at the College since 1986.  

After attending graduate school in Spain, Buck was infatuated with the Basque territory. She was especially excited to bring students on a trip to Euskadi so they could experience the same beauty that she fell in love with herself during her stint in graduate school.  

“I personally just fell in love with this country,” Buck said. “This green, mountainous sort of paradise that looks like Ireland, and everyone is super friendly. I’ve always enjoyed being there myself. And one of the greatest things about teaching here and being able to take students on trips is seeing something that you love through someone else’s eyes for the first time. It’s so rewarding.”  

“I personally just fell in love with this country,” Buck said. “This green, mountainous sort of paradise that looks like Ireland, and everyone is super friendly. I’ve always enjoyed being there myself. And one of the greatest things about teaching here and being able to take students on trips is seeing something that you love through someone else’s eyes for the first time. It’s so rewarding.”  

During the trip, students spent the whole day with famous Basque author Bernardo Axtaga exploring a small Basque town. Axtaga is known for his work “Obabakoak, which is a collection of short stories that discuss growing up in a small Basque village. Buck said that Axtaga is roughly analogous in the Basque Country to successful American authors like Stephen King.  

Buck recalled how shocked she was when she learned that Axtaga would be speaking to students and showing them around an Eukskadi village. She did not even think to have her students read his work prior to the trip, believing there was no possibility that she and the students would get to spend a day with Axtaga 

Axtaga spent the day immersing students in Basque culture, and Buck recalled how both she and the students were enthralled to witness the cultural importance of family in the Euskadi culture. Axtaga referred to each house by its official family name and greeted nearly everyone he passed in the street; in fact, Axtaga spent so long showing the students around the area that they almost missed the bus back to their hotel.  

“The students laughed that we had our planes, trains and automobile trip,” Buck said. You had to take two buses, maybe a train, a couple of cabs to get there. We thought we were going to miss the bus, which is the only bus out of that town that day. [Axtaga] would have spent so much more time with us. It was so amazing. I’ve never met anyone so humble and generous.”  

Buck felt that it is important for students to have handson experiences through travel. In her class, Buck has discussed the political ramifications of the separatist Euskadi Ta Askatasuna group, which advocates for the Basque Country’s independence from Spain. 

On the trip, students would often see plaques placed throughout the territory with phrases that translate to “bring the prisoners home.” Since Spain identifies the ETA as a terrorist organization, the Spanish federal government is capable of putting members of the group in prisons throughout Spain, despite the nation’s legal protections for prisoners who are not designated as terrorists.  

She also recalled how when they were traveling through a small Basque town, the students asked a local what it was like to be a Basque native during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which outlawed and suppressed Basque culture. According to Buck, students from the College were surprised when the Basque native indicated the dictatorship failed to prevent Basque individuals from expressing their culture. 

“That was something that was super interesting for us to hear because, you know the mainstream history is that you just hear about all the repression and you don’t realize that people were able to resist and keep the culture going, especially in these little towns,” Buck said.   

“That was something that was super interesting for us to hear because, you know the mainstream history is that you just hear about all the repression and you don’t realize that people were able to resist and keep the culture going, especially in these little towns,” Buck said.   

One of Buck’s favorite memories through her trips to Euskadi was when she started a conversation with an old woman feeding cats, and how the woman proceeded to name each of the cats and describe their respective personalities to Buck.  

Those really human moments just kind of stick in your mind and just thinking that this woman probably has never been out of this area before,” Buck said.  “I don’t know. Every time I go, I just have some kind of persontoperson experience and I think that’s what we also want the students to have when traveling. We’re all so similar but people do organize their lives in different ways and do different things. You know, we can learn from each other.  

Buck urged all students to consider traveling abroad and discovering new cultures.  

“I just think that traveling abroad and putting yourself in that situation and speaking to people involved makes all the difference,” Buck said.