With her passion for music and Latin American literature, Carmen Muñoz-Fernandez, Instructor in Spanish, strives to inspire the same love for Hispanic culture in her students.
Now in her second year at Andover, Muñoz has immersed herself in both teaching and extracurriculars. She is an instructor of Spanish-400, an elective course called Latin American Perspectives, a house counselor in Double Brick House, advisor to Friends of Orphans and co-advisor to Alianza Latina, a member of the Global Perspectives Group on campus and an instructor in Zumba.
To spark students’ interest in the days topic, Muñoz plays music at the start of every class.
“I always have music that is very related to what we are going to be studying on that specific day [playing] when the students are entering [the classroom]. For example, if we are studying the Mexican culture of the 1930s, then I have music from that time period in that area,” Muñoz said.
She continued, “I think it is a great conversational piece because it helps students [to] start thinking in Spanish without even realizing it. I understand that it really is hard to switch gears right away.”
Although Muñoz’s love for music started well before college, she truly realized its power when she left Spain to attend the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, England. As she was not fluent in English before moving to England, Muñoz used music to overcome her language barrier.
“The only way I could communicate with my roommate from Liverpool with a really thick British accent, was through music at first. We both played guitars and we would play songs together even if we couldn’t really understand each other,” she said.
“I love the interaction with [Andover] students, in and outside the classroom. It’s a great feeling when I see my current and old students at Commons and they always speak to me in Spanish. It is going to be hard, because I teach a lot of Seniors, students that I’ve had in my classes for nearly 2 years now, and I’m going to miss them!” wrote Muñoz in an e-mail to The Phillipian.
Muñoz loves doing Zumba because it allows her to merge her love for music and dancing with exercise. She also looks forward to giving students the opportunity to release their stress. Muñoz first learned about Zumba in 2005 from a presentation by two of her students at Harvard.
“The whole [Harvard] class did Zumba, and I just thought to myself that that was the best thing ever. I started attending Zumba classes [afterwards], practicing on my own, and now I am certified in Zumba,” she said.
Born on Palma de Mallorca, an island between Italy and Spain, Muñoz grew up in Talarrubias, a small town in Southern Spain, with her parents. She said that although moving to the United States was always a goal, she chose to attend a college in England at first because it was much closer to home.
“I lived in a tiny little town with about 5,000 people in the middle of nowhere in Spain basically, and I always, always wanted to leave Spain for some reason. I have always loved traveling, seeing new cultures, experiencing how other people lived, learning new languages,” said Muñoz.
Muñoz said she loves the freedom to express oneself in the United States, she misses the sense of community in Spain and the spontaneity of Spanish people.
“In Spain, people always make time for friends, but I think here it is really hard to make time for anything because everyone seems more concentrated on work here, and it gets prioritized,” she said.
Muñoz moved to the United States in 1999 to obtain a master’s degree in Spanish and Latin American literature at Western Michigan University. Muñoz then attended Tulane University in New Orleans, where she obtained a Ph.D. and simultaneously taught Spanish courses.
During her time at Tulane, she was awarded a travel grant to study in Latin America. Muñoz chose to travel to Mexico, where she taught for a year in the Yucatan Peninsula and fell in love with the culture. Muñoz eventually finished her dissertation on the Riviera Maya in Cancun, Mexico and returned to the Yucatan every summer after.
“I was reading a lot of literature at that time, and I wanted to see if there were any parallels or connections between the literary production coming out of the coast and that of the islands. I loved Mexico, so I decided to concentrate on that area… I ended up going there that summer, having a lot of adventures, and coming back every summer ever since. Life is weird, I even ended up living in that area, in the Yucatan Peninsula for a year and teaching at the University there! It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Now I have made a lot of great friends, one day I’ll buy a house there,” wrote Muñoz in an e-mail to The Phillipian.
Muñoz then took a position in the Department of Romance Languages at Harvard University, where she taught for six years before coming to Andover.
Muñoz had always imagined herself teaching at the university level, but she was ultimately attracted to Andover because it would allow her more freedom. She said that she would have had to follow a rigid research track in order to earn a permanent tenure at Harvard.
“Instead of spending my weekends and summers in front of a computer, sifting through big books, I wanted to something different, more active. Now I spend my weekends doing something with my dorm kids or preparing my next Zumba class. I wanted to concentrate more on the community aspect and the teaching itself rather than research,” Muñoz continued.
“I had heard that students at PA were exceptional, but I didn’t know what to expect. I was coming from teaching at Harvard so I had my own perspective on “exceptional” students. When I started teaching I was so pleasantly surprised to see that it is actually true. It is such a pleasure to prepare your classes, give it your best, and know that students will do the same, that they actually want to learn what you want to teach them!” wrote Muñoz in an e-mail to The Phillipian.