by Tom Parisi
They live more than 5,000 miles apart, one at the edge of Illinois cornfields and the other at the foot of the Andes. And their cultures are about as different as the tango and the twist. But in some ways, Mirta Pagnucci and Corina Murcia speak exactly the same language.
They’re both leaving home with the same goal in mind – to experience cultural immersions that will enrich their own teaching skills.
Pagnucci is an instructor in the NIU Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. She will head soon to the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, located in the city of Mendoza, Argentina, where she will teach English literature and composition in a collaborative course with five Argentinean professors.
Meanwhile, Murcia is an English professor at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo. Early last month, she arrived on the NIU campus, where she will teach several sections of Spanish this semester.
The two are each recipients of the prestigious Fulbright Teacher Exchange grant, awarded on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential. This will be NIU’s second exchange with Universidad Nacional de Cuyo in three years.
Pagnucci lives in DeKalb with her husband, NIU Law Professor David Gaebler. She is one of about 450 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad through the Fulbright Teacher Exchange during this school year. A 5-year veteran of NIU, Pagnucci teaches Italian, French and Spanish language courses and also works with the teacher certification program. She previously taught at Oak Park and River Forest High School, where she was the department chair of foreign languages for two decades.
“Spanish is my fourth language, and I started with Spanish later in life,” she says. “This is a wonderful opportunity to live and function in a totally Spanish-speaking environment while getting to know the Argentinean culture.”
Pagnucci will be living in Argentina with Professor Amparo Argerich, who came to DeKalb on a 2006 exchange with NIU Spanish instructor Kerry Chermel.
Pagnucci’s counterpart, Murcia, is already getting to know the NIU campus, as well as the City of Chicago and a diverse cross-section of NIU students. She is living in International House – a wing of Douglas Hall that houses the Foreign Language Residence Program, the political science/public service floor and a wide array of international students and domestic students with international interests.
“We are thrilled to have Corina with us this semester,” says Anne Birberick, chair of Foreign Languages and Literatures.
“Being able to have a Fulbright exchange teacher in the classroom enriches the cultural experience for our students,” she says. “They not only get a first-hand introduction to Argentina, but they also experience a different style of teaching. Our first exchange was a terrific experience and this one promises to be the same. We’re also excited because, by having a second exchange, the department and NIU can work toward establishing a more permanent relationship with the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo.”
For Murcia, the flatlands of Illinois are quite different from her mountainous homeland in Mendoza, although the rolling fields remind her of the Argentine province of Buenos Aires. This is Murcia’s second exchange. She spent a school year in 2001-2002 at Webster University in St. Louis as a teaching assistant.
“I knew this would be a good opportunity to revisit that experience, which was so interesting and enlightening for me,” she says. “People have been very welcoming.”
The Fulbright Program, America’s flagship international educational exchange, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program operates in more than 150 countries worldwide.