Alexandra Ripp is a Spanish and Portuguese (SPO) alumna who graduated from Princeton in 2008. Currently, she works as the director of Five College Dance, a collaboration of the dance departments and programs from Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
In her responses below, Ripp shares some insights about her decision to concentrate in SPO and its impact on her career.
Why did you decide to major in Spanish and Portuguese?
I spent my gap year in Spain, learning Spanish, and then in Costa Rica doing volunteer work. I fell in love with the language and Latin America and wanted to continue that work, though I didn't know I would major in it.
My freshman year, I took an amazing seminar with Gabriela Nouzeilles, with only three other women, and loved the way she thought and taught. I felt very supported by her, as well, and I knew she would be a great advisor.
I also learned that being a major did not just mean majoring in a language — it meant studying the culture, and literature, and politics, and so much more. There was so much flexibility in the department (I even directed a Chilean play in addition to writing about Argentine theater), and since it was small, there was a great deal of mentorship and support, which was very important to me.
My time abroad in Argentina was also very rich, and I was lucky that Gabriela could advise me on life in BsAs and academics there, too. I also got very interested in Portuguese — I started the language at Princeton, worked with Pedro Meira Monteiro on my junior paper (a wonderful experience!) and studied abroad for a summer in Brazil. I loved being able to engage both languages and a variety of cultures.
Has your SPO degree helped you in your career?
I'm the Director of Five College Dance, so I work in arts administration in higher ed, but I did my doctorate in dramaturgy and wrote my dissertation on Chilean theater and politics! I also continue to translate Chilean plays for the stage.
Having a specialty like this doesn't directly affect my job, but I still do work with Chilean theater artists — writing about them, translating them, helping them connect with U.S. presenters — and my specialty in Latin American performance is known in the field, so I often advise performing arts professionals. It's important to bring Latin American work to the U.S. and too few people are doing it. But beyond that, I attribute a lot of my intellectual curiosity and cultural sensitivity/awareness to being an SPO major.
Do you have any advice for undergraduates considering majoring in SPO?
Even if you don't know how you will "use" the degree, you should major if you're interested in the classes and want to work with the faculty. First of all, having a language is so useful in any field. But also, it turns out, it really doesn't matter what you major in when you're an undergrad — you should do what inspires you intellectually and culturally.
For me, having one-on-one attention and a great deal of flexibility from my department — which allowed me to involve my theater interest — was a key reason I joined the department, and these were crucial to my college experience, as was my ability to go abroad and engage with the languages and cultures I'd studied in the classroom.