The Beauty of Different Cultures
Professor Ruben Perez-Schulz
BA, Universidad de la Frontera, Chile
MEd, University of Lethbridge, Canada
PhD, Currently in process
Interviewed by Rachel Arner
Tell us a little about your background.
Every year when I introduce myself to different classes, I always tell them, “My parents told me that I was made in Chile, but born in Argentina.” I come from a very rare background—my father is full-blooded Chilean and my mother is Argentinean but a full-blooded German. That’s not very typical, but people from Europe did migrate from South America after World War II and settled in various parts of South America. After I was born, my parents were working in Chile. My father is a pastor, and on my mother’s side I am a 4th generation Adventist. On my father’s side, he is the first Adventist in his family. When he was 19 years old he met the Lord became an Adventist. So he decided he wanted to be a pastor and went to study theology. During his last year of education, he went to Argentina and that is where he met my mother. Within six months they got married and then they went back to Chile. I am the second oldest of four brothers and we are all educators. My oldest brother did decide to become a pastor after teaching; my youngest brother is a school administrator, and so on. We all work for the church in 3 different countries.
How did you find your position here at AU?
I was working as a principal at an Adventist academy in Chile, and then someone called me and told me about an opening at Andrews University for a Spanish professor who is a native Spanish speaker but can also speak English quite fluently. So at that point I decided “why not give it a try?” I submitted papers and was selected for an interview. After a few weeks passed, the director of the international language department contacted me and said I was their first pick. After that we decided as a family that we would come to Andrews. I have two daughters, and we actually lived in Canada for 10 years while I was doing my graduate studies at Lambridge in Alberta. So both of my daughters were born there. After finishing my graduate studies in Canada we decided to go back to Chile to work for the church. We worked 10 years there, mostly for school administration.
That’s great! Do you hope to stay here at AU for a while?
Well every day I ask God what it is he wants me to do that day. My daughters have finished their studies here at Andrews. Our oldest daughter finished her nursing degree and is now working in Mishawaka. Our youngest daughter finished speech pathology here and is now doing graduate studies. At this point we are open to wherever God calls us to go. Now that our girls are on their own, we are confident they will go where God wants them to go in life. We have very much enjoyed our time here, and are very happy to stay. This is my 11th year working here at Andrews University, not only as a Spanish teacher but also being in charge for the general studies degree, assistant dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, and so on.
You mentioned going where God calls you to go. For freshmen or sophomores trying to figure out their majors, what advice would you give to them?
I would say that prayer is definitely a powerful component to my life. If I didn’t have that daily connection with Christ then I would be lost. If a student has doubts about what they should do, just remember that God will use you where your skills will best be used. He will let you know at the right time, and it will be very clear to you one day. Keep a daily connection with him, trust him, and listen for his voice. He will guide you the rest of your life if you do that.
What classes do you teach here at AU?
I teach a range of different courses. From elementary to intermediate classes, and also in the upper level of classes for those who want to be Spanish teachers. There are many opportunities to become a Spanish teacher, and so I teach a methodology class for those who are wanting to teach a foreign language. I also teach upper division classes that are related to translation and interpretation.
Does your class ever go on trips to other Spanish speaking countries?
Yes, we do promote students to travel. Every summer we have a study tour for students, either to South America or Spain. It’s great to travel to better learn a language, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn about other cultures.
It’s currently Hispanic Heritage Month (from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15). What are some things that you would share with others to make them more aware of what that’s all about
The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30 day period. This is a country made out of immigrants from all over the world, and that is one reason why the United States is such a great country. We feel proud of being Hispanic or Latinos, and the rich culture that we bring to this country. Look at the food – it is absolutely delicious! Everyone always loves the food. My students always ask me if we can go to a Spanish-speaking restaurant so they can practice speaking in Spanish. Look at agriculture here in the United States. This time of year I go to Eau Claire, and there are a lot of Hispanics working land. What would happen if they weren’t around? There are many different aspects that we bring to this country. We make a great effort to make this country a great country. We are proud of that and we value that.
You mentioned immigration – was it hard for you and your family when you came to the states?
It wasn’t an easy process. It took some time – about 5 months. When we were accepted to come into the country to work and live we were happy for that invitation. It has become more and more difficult to come into this country, but it has always been quite a process.
There are people who agree and disagree that the United States should keep welcoming more immigrants. For those who disagree with that, what would you share with them?
We need to be very respectful. People who come here from other countries need to respect those who already live here, and vice versa. This country has been blessed unlike any country on this earth. That is why this country has become quite a magnet to people. Another reason is the Christian heritage that this country has is another reason why it has been so blessed. This country has been and still is a safe haven for those who think differently and worship differently. I think we also need to continue to be a country as a safe haven for those who are looking to develop themselves but also bring to this country the talents they may have. I think we should respect others all around on both sides of the matter. Everyone should be seen as a knowledge that has the willingness to work and wanting to continue and develop this country. That should be a very important view because this country was based as a Christian safe haven. Having the freedom and liberty here is such a blessing to so many people.
You mentioned celebrations for Hispanic Heritage Month. What kinds of things are done to celebrate?
If you have ever travelled to a Spanish country you will notice that everyone is loud, happy and wants to get their point across. We are very friendly, driven and we love other people. Whenever people visit our country we want to show them the area and tell them about our culture. Latin America or Hispanic countries you will find a lot of musical activities. And that has become a part of the Hispanic culture. Food is one of the best parts and spending time with friends. We have our typical Spanish dishes to eat and we love that. Within our Spanish speaking countries we might speak a similar language but we also tend to be very different within various parts of different Hispanic or Latin American countries. If there is a commonality that would be that we are very friendly people.
For students or faculty here who might want to visit a Spanish speaking church where might they go for that?
There is a Hispanic church right here in downtown Berrien, and I always tell my students that if they want to get better at speaking and understanding the language then they should go to Spanish-speaking churches. I am the head elder of the church so I am very connected with the church. I also invite students to come to our church because it is a great way to better understand Spanish. If you want to see how the culture interacts, it is a great way to do that. We have translating devices if you want to know what is being said in English. We also have potluck on some Sabbaths, which is very nice. There are 200-250 people who come to the church here in Berrien. There is also a church in Eau Claire, which is only 10 minutes away from Berrien. Benton Harbor also has a Spanish church. There is also a Spanish group on campus which meets every Sabbath at the Seminary. So there are many options for students who want to be around the culture and language. There are two clubs on campus that are involved with the Spanish community.
Lastly, what do you like to do for fun?
I love to play soccer, and it’s a highlight of my week. It’s a great time to exercise, and the last 5-6 years we have asked the University for the faculty to be able to play soccer at the gym on Sundays. And this is not for just Hispanics but everyone as faculty here at Andrews University. It is a great time to get together and have some fun.