Q&A with Center Director Javier Martínez de Velasco

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Q: You were working as Director of the Madrid Center when you were recruited to launch a new Center in Granada. What were your motivations to make the move and build a Center from the ground up?

First of all, I was intrigued by the professional challenge of building a new Center​. After two years in Madrid, I was able to carry the baggage of a Center with 40 years of history behind it while exploring new ideas and directions. It was a formidable challenge, but extremely rewarding. I also saw great potential in the city of Granada and the region for a unique study abroad program, opening windows to the southern shore of the Mediterranean. On a personal level, I had always enjoyed living in mid-size cities, and Granada felt like an excellent place to raise my young children.

Q: How has the Granada program evolved since it first opened in 2005?

Well, it has grown, a lot. I also feel it has developed an even more intimate relationship with the city of Granada. Most of our students feel a deep connection to the city, and see it as the ideal place to develop their personal interests, their willingness to serve, their linguistic, and intercultural skills.​ For instance, new courses such as Watercolor Painting allow our students the simple pleasure of finding beauty in the city, and experimenting with ways to recreate it.

Q: What is the first thing you tell new students when they arrive in Granada?

To be ready for a bumpy but fascinating journey, a journey that is both outward and inward. I invite them to explore their new surroundings as well as their own identity. To decipher but also to defy cultural norms. And to make sure they spend a lot of time, most of their time, in Granada.

Q: Tell us about one of your favorite memories from a field trip you took with students.

There are so many! Our trip to Morocco alone if full of them. Even though I have gone to Morocco every semester, I always develop a special bond with the students on the trip, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of Moroccans. A few years ago I was exploring the Rabat old city with three or four students. We somehow joined a wedding party in the street, and we were invited to the wedding. They dressed us up, and we ate and danced all night. After about one hour of sleep, we had to join the rest of the group to continue our travel, and we could not even articulate what had happened. 

Q: What are you most proud of as Director of IES Abroad Granada?

Without a doubt, the over 1,000 students whose lives have been transformed by their time at the Granada Center. I am still in touch with many of them, and they all have made personal or professional choices which were in some way or another affected by emotions, knowledge, and skills acquired during their time in Granada. I am also extremely proud of the outstanding faculty and staff at the Granada Center. What an inspiring group of individuals to work with every day!

Q: You are a product of study abroad yourself, having received your doctorate in Hispanic Literature from the University of Kansas with a minor concentration in International Theatre. How did study abroad impact your career choices?

​I first studied abroad when I was 14. I had been learning English for a few years, but nobody had told me that Yorkshire accent would be completely impossible to understand!​ I then studied in France, in Germany, in the United States. I was Bill Martens’ (IES Abroad CFO) next-door neighbor in Wisconsin for a summer when I was 17! After completing my doctorate at KU, as an international student myself, I began my career as a college professor, but I knew my true calling was international education. I began designing and leading study-abroad programs, and I held a visiting professorship in Hungary for a year. Soon after that (and soon after my tenure!) I was offered the IES Abroad Madrid Center Director position.

Q: We also hear that you are an accomplished theater director. Does theater still play a role in your life?   

​I feel fortunate that I still teach theater. I teach a Contemporary Spanish Theater course at the Granada Center every spring. We read and study theatrical texts, but we also attend performances, participate in workshops, develop design projects, and finally play with the idea of directing theater. I also like to imagine some sort of parallel between what I do as a theater director and what I do as the director of an academic program. ​​In both roles you try to create the conditions (the mood, the sense of space, the intellectual disposition, the emotional engagement) ​to ignite a transformation, as small as it may be, in the mind of an individual.

Q: What is your favorite “secret find” in Granada?

It is interesting that the Alhambra is one of the most visited monuments in the world, yet it is still full of hidden corners. One such place is the Peinador de la Reina, literally the place where the Queen would have her hair brushed. ​It is an exquisite little tower with Islamic patterns of decoration but also with Renaissance frescos. You hair must shine a thousand years if you brush it in such a place!

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