Challenges in Contemporary Spain

A Study Abroad Program in León, organized and sponsored by the Department of Sociology, the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, and the Center for West European Studies at the University of Washington

August 24 to September 18, 2016 (5 credits SOC/JSIS)

Program Director: Professor Edgar Kiser, Department of Sociology & Site Coordinator: Marisa Herrera, Ed.D., OMA&D

Students on this program travel to the UW León Center in Spain to learn about some of the critical issues affecting Spanish society in the wake of the global economic crisis. The program will explore a range of themes related to Spain’s efforts to rebuild and reform after an economic crisis that threatens to create a ‘lost decade’ in this major European nation. Specific topics will include the challenge of regional diversity and separatist movements, integration of immigrants and minority rights, youth unemployment and the broader challenges and repercussions of economic austerity.

The program will be based at the UW León Center, taking advantage of the Center’s connections to the local community. The León Center is located in the heart of the old city in the 16th century tower of the Palacio del Conde Luna. Students will be housed in single-room dorms in León within walking distance of the León Center.

Founded as a settlement for a Roman legion (legio – hence the city’s name), the ancient city of León today serves as the capital of León province in Northwest Spain. The historic city is famous for its Medieval architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The very popular Camino Santiago pilgrims’ trail runs though León, and the city receives thousands of pilgrims and other visitors every year. Home to a major university, León boasts an active and vibrant student population. A very livable and approachable small city, León is an excellent venue for getting acquainted with Spanish culture and society.

The program will begin with a four-day introduction to Spain in the nation’s energetic capital, Madrid. The session in Madrid is designed to introduce students to historical and contemporary Spain, and will include site visits and meetings designed to update students on the country’s current situation and challenges as seen from the nation’s capital. The Madrid stay will also include visits to the royal palace and the famous Prado Museum, as well as a walking tour. The program also includes an overnight stay in Bilbao, in the Basque Country, a visit to the Occupy Movement in Madrid, and to a Roma camp in León. The trip to Bilbao will expose students to Spanish regionalism and Basque culture, while also having a chance to visit the city’s famous Guggenheim Museum.

CWES and the Department of Sociology have partnered with the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity to offer this program to help further the University of Washington’s mission of preparing students to gain a worldwide perspective and engage in our global community. OMA&D offers study abroad programs in collaboration with academic departments that focus on minority perspectives all over the world.

Gran Vía, Madrid, Spain. Students begin their program with a 4-day stay in the nation’s capital.

The León Center will house students in local dorms.


Prerequisites/Language Requirements:
This program is open to current UW undergraduate students from any discipline, interested in learning more about Spain, its contemporary social and economic challenges, and students interested in social sciences, Hispanic cultures & societies.

There are no prerequisites for this program. All courses and excursions are conducted in English.


Total costs are made up of the estimated Program Fee of $3,950, plus the UW Study Abroad Fee ($300), UW Study Abroad Insurance ($62/month), airfare and personal spending money.

Program fee includes site visits to The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (left) and El Prado in Madrid (right).

SOC 401 or JSIS 488 (5 credits)
Contemporary Spain faces many serious challenges: they are still trying to recover from an economic crisis caused mainly by a housing bubble, the state is deeply in debt, unemployment is very high (especially among young people), inequality is high and increasing, and there are ongoing conflicts over religion, regional differences, and immigration. This should all sound very familiar, since Spain is facing many of the same problems that plague the United States. This class will use theories from sociology, political science, and economics to analyze contemporary Spain, focusing on the challenges the nation currently faces. We will address several specific questions, including: are neoliberal austerity policies the best way to increase economic growth?; do economic crises increase conflict between majority and minority groups?; what is the best way to integrate immigrants into new societies?; when do regional differences within countries lead to conflicts and separatist movements? We will also explore issues such as gender equality in the workforce, the Spanish Monarchy and how it relates to Basque and Catalan separatist movements, and the legacy of the civil war in contemporary Spanish politics and society. Contemporary Spain provides a perfect context for discussing some of the most important debates in the social sciences today, and will also give us new insights into our own country.

Learning Objectives: This program has three interrelated learning objectives. First, students will get to know Spain in depth through a combination of classroom lectures and reading, visits to several important sites in different parts of the country, and exploring the diversity and dynamism of Spanish culture in their free time. Second, students will learn general theories of economic crisis, group conflict, immigration, and diversity and use these ideas to understand important features of contemporary Spain. We will constantly be going back and forth between abstract ideas and the concrete realities of contemporary Spain. Third, we will use the Spanish case and a lens to analyze similar problems and issues in the United States. We too are affected by the global economic crisis, and we have our own debates about how to handle immigration and minority rights – by seeing how these issues are addressed in Spain we can gain new insights about our own country.

Assessment: Students will be evaluated on a final paper on a topic of their choosing that they will present to the class (70%), and on participation both in class and in other program activities (30%).

Plaza de San Martín in León, Spain.

Most forms of financial aid can be applied to study abroad. You can verify that your financial aid award will apply to your program costs by contacting the Financial Aid Office. Financial aid or scholarships awarded as tuition waivers or tuition exemptions might not apply, so you will need to verify that these funds are eligible for use with study abroad by contacting the funding office.

Financial aid and most scholarships are disbursed according to the UW Academic Calendar. Exploration Seminars take place in early fall, but have payment and financial aid disbursement schedules that mirror autumn quarter. Since Exploration Seminars start before the start of the autumn quarter, your autumn quarter financial aid will not be available to you prior to your departure. This means you will have to finance any upfront costs such as airfare and health insurance at the start of your time abroad on your own. Please take this into consideration when you plan for your time abroad.

Student short-term loans are available from the UW Financial Aid Office during quarters that you are enrolled. If you do not plan to take summer quarter coursework and are interested in taking a loan to cover upfront costs, you need to apply before spring quarter ends. The bulk of the program fee for Exploration Seminars is not due until October, after the program has ended.

The UW León Center, located in 16th century tower of the Palacio del Conde Luna.

To apply for this program, click here!

As we are doing rolling admissions for this program, we strongly encourage you to complete your application as soon as possible.

Please note that students are required to upload a copy of their unofficial UW transcripts to this dropbox as part of the application process.

Late Summer 2016 application deadline: March 31, 2016

Plaza Mayor in León, Spain.