Language, Love & Writing in Spain - Alum of the Month Lori Tharps

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Lori TharpsMeet Lori Tharps (IES Abroad Salamanca 1992-93 | Smith College), Author, Journalist, and Associate Professor of Journalism at Temple University. While studying abroad in Spain, Lori became fluent in Spanish, met her future husband, and decided to become a writer after meeting “so many Europeans who unashamedly were following their bliss without excuses.” In 2008, Lori published a memoir Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain (Atria), and her most recent book is Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families (Beacon Press). Read on to find out why Lori credits study abroad with keeping her humble, and why she believes it is important for students of color to study abroad.

IES Abroad: As an undergraduate at Smith College, what motivated you to study abroad in Salamanca, Spain, for a semester?

Lori Tharps (LT): I actually chose to go to Salamanca for completely practical reasons. I had never even heard of Salamanca, but the University of Salamanca was the only university I could find that offered classes in my major, and IES Abroad allowed me to take classes at the University. I couldn’t afford to study abroad and not satisfy my major requirements, so off I went.

IES Abroad: What are some of your most impactful study abroad experiences?

LT: I hate to sound silly, but I met my husband while studying in Salamanca. It took us seven more years to marry, but because of our relationship, I’ve had the opportunity to return to Spain (including Salamanca even though he’s from Cadiz) many times, write about Spain, and build deeper connections with Spain. I never thought I’d get all that just by studying abroad for a year.

IES Abroad: How did study abroad challenge you?

LT: Probably the most fundamental change I experienced by living in Spain for a year was becoming truly fluent in another language. I’d studied Spanish for years in classrooms, but it wasn’t until I was fully immersed in the country that a switch flipped in my brain and I could read, speak, and understand the language. I remember that my head hurt for the entire first semester as I tried to adjust to speaking and hearing only Spanish. Sometimes I grew frustrated but it had always been my dream to be a polyglot so, I kept at it. Sadly, I still only speak Spanish and English, but I haven’t given up on learning another language.

IES Abroad: What led you to become a writer and journalist? How did you get your start?

LT: Funny thing. I always attribute my decision to be a writer to my year in Spain. When I got to Spain I had every intention of becoming a teacher and eventually a school administrator. I had big dreams of doing big things in life. Writing was a passion but I never thought it could sustain me financially. But in Spain, during all of those delightful hours of siesta, I remembered how much I loved writing. I met so many Europeans who unashamedly were following their bliss without excuses. I decided about half way through my year in Salamanca that when I returned home I was going to try being a professional writer, which in my mind meant journalist. And the rest is history.

IES Abroad: In 2008, you published a memoir Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain (Atria). Tell us about the book and the inspiration behind it.

LT: Kinky Gazpacho is the story of my racial-coming of-age and my love affair with Spain. It starts with my early childhood and ends with the birth of my second child. Really, the book deals with what it means to be Black in the United States and in Spain, and how I came to terms with the limitations of racial politics in both places. I also delve into Spain’s fascinating hidden Black history, which I discovered when writing a story for an American travel magazine. The Washington Post included the book in their "best of" list for the year it came out in 2008.

IES Abroad: Are you working on any projects currently that we should look out for?

LT: My most recent book, Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families (Beacon Press) was released in 2016. Most recently I’ve been spending all of my creative energy developing my blog, My American Meltingpot, where I write about parenting, pop culture, and identity politics from a multicultural perspective. I write about everything with a multicultural flair from books to travel.

IES Abroad: You are also an Associate Professor of Journalism at Temple University. What impact do you hope to have on your students?

LT: No matter what class I’m teaching, I want every student to understand that everybody has a story to tell and that as journalists it is our responsibility to tell those stories, even when it might be difficult to do so.

IES Abroad: Are there any skills or lessons you learned abroad that you continue to draw upon today, personally or professionally?

LT: In addition to my language skills (Spanish is really useful) it is always clear in my mind that the way we do things in this country is not the right way, it is simply one way and we have to be mindful of that when we approach the world. Living in another country humbles you and that memory keeps me humble today when meeting new people from different cultures and communities.

IES Abroad: Why do you believe it’s important for underrepresented students to study abroad? What advice do you have for students considering studying or interning abroad?

LT: I have been fortunate enough to lead two groups of Temple students to London to study for the summer, once in 2014 and again in 2017. I always encourage students with the means to do so to study abroad because it is truly life changing. Often times, students think study abroad is too expensive, but there are many scholarships and fellowships that fund overseas travel. It’s important for students of color to travel abroad so people in other countries can experience America’s diversity beyond stereotypes, but more importantly, it’s important for students of color to see themselves outside of this country’s limiting stereotypes.

Learn more about studying abroad in Salamanca and our study abroad resources for underrepresented students.

Check out all of our Alum of the Month profiles to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives and careers of our former students.

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