By Katelyn McBride
Lauren Sieben was one of the hundreds of University of Iowa undergraduates that traveled abroad in spring 2010 but one of the few that came back with more than just souvenirs and memories — She was nominated for an award by one of her instructors in Spain for her outstanding performance in a semester-long project, and recently Sieben found out she was one of two students who received the award from a large pool of nominees.
Sieben, a UI senior, received a Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) 2010 Student Recognition Award for her exemplary academic efforts in the CIEE Liberal Arts study abroad program in Seville, Spain. The nomination was inspired by an article she wrote in a journalism class for the student-produced, bilingual publication mas+menos about a controversial class required in Spain’s school system.
Her article, “Morality goes to school,” looks at the government-mandated course Education for Citizenship and the Human Rights, which students in all Spanish schools have been required at the elementary and high school levels to complete since 2007. It was introduced by Spain’s President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), and the course has received vehement opposition from educators and parents of students in private Catholic schools, but also from parents who chose to send their children to public schools. Critics claim the course blurs the line between teaching the Spanish Constitution and socialist indoctrination.
“It’s not a black and white issue,” Sieben explained in a recent interview. “It’s not Catholic versus non-Catholic, or secular versus non-secular. There are completely dissenting opinions.”
To complete her research, Sieben interviewed (in Spanish) a plethora of sources for the article from all sides of the issue, including teachers and academic directors at various public and private institutions in Seville, a faculty member at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid and two parents — one Catholic and one atheist. She also gathered information from the course recommendation produced by the Council on Europe, a declaration of support from the group Christians for Socialism, a lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defense Fund in the European Court of Human Rights and an article from the newspaper El País.
“It forced me to be less bashful about Spanish being my second language,” Sieben said of her many interviews. Having an extensive background in journalism prior to traveling abroad, she said the class only enhanced her education and it was definitely beneficial to her overall growth as a journalist.
The article was featured in the education-themed spring 2010 mas+menos magazine and translated to Spanish with help from local students at the University of Seville.
“Ultimately she produced an extremely mature report that could have been published in any magazine or newspaper,” said Oscar Ceballos, coordinator of the mas+menos publication at the CIEE study center in Seville.
Ceballos is the instructor who nominated Sieben for the Student Recognition Award. In his nomination letter, Ceballos commends Sieben on tackling a very complex issue and going above and beyond to create a compelling piece.
“Lauren acted very much as a professional of the field and created for herself opportunities that even for a local professional journalist would have been challenging to find,” Ceballos said.
In addition to contributing her article for the magazine Sieben edited articles in English alongside Eduardo del Campo, a staff reporter of one of Spain’s highest circulating daily newspapers, El Mundo. Del Campo also edits the biannual mas+menos for CIEE. Sieben spent part of her spring break at the computer emailing revisions back and forth to del Campo, but said she also got plenty of time to enjoy the festivities at Feria, a spring festival in Seville.
Along with her work for the journalism class, Sieben studied 20th century Spanish literature, Spanish grammar and Spanish history and culture, all at the CIEE study center in Seville, as well as Spanish cinema at the University of Seville.
Sieben will be attending the CIEE conference in Philadelphia this November to accept her award and said she is looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and visiting the city for the first time.
“I was surprised I got the award,” she said. “It was rewarding in itself to have the experiences in Spain.”
This December, Sieben will graduate from the University of Iowa with hopes to begin a career in bilingual journalism.