Jordan Salama is a Spanish and Portuguese (SPO) alum who graduated from Princeton in 2019. He is a writer, journalist, and producer who has written for The New York Times, National Public Radio, The Forward, Mongabay, ReVista: The Harvard Review of Latin America, and more.
In his responses below, Salama shares some insights about his decision to concentrate in SPO and its impact on his professional life.
Why did you concentrate in Spanish/Portuguese?
The Department of Spanish/Portuguese is unique to Princeton because it allows for a tremendous amount of flexibility--in the "track" system of courses that count towards the concentration, in the kinds of research projects you are able to undertake, in the sheer number of diverse countries where the languages are spoken--and I saw that flexibility as invaluable for someone like me, who is pursuing a career as a writer.
Do you have a favorite memory from your experience as a SPO concentrator?
It was during my senior thesis research, for which I traveled the entire length of the Magdalena River, the most important river in Colombia, and wrote a nonfiction book about the people and places along its banks in order to better understand Colombia's transition from war to peace. 1,000 miles over the course of several weeks -- I traveled through the Andean highlands, jungle lowlands, sticky swamps, it was exhausting. And the end of this river is this crazy place called Bocas de Ceniza where a five-mile rock jetty extends out into the ocean. I was on all fours, scrambling to reach the end, and finally I stood up in the wind and looked at these huge waves that were forming as the Magdalena River crashed into the Caribbean Sea. And in that moment I thought about all that I'd seen and experienced -- not only for that project but over the course of several years traveling throughout Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Panama, etc.) as a student in SPO -- and about how lucky I was, just a regular college student, to be able to have special moments and connections with people in places so far from my own home. That's what's so special about SPO: it introduces you to whole new worlds and makes you want to keep exploring them and learning about them long after you're done with Princeton.
Can you tell us about what you are currently doing? Has your SPO degree helped you in your professional life? How so?
This year I'm working through the Princeton ReachOut International Fellowship to produce a children's television show about children living throughout the Americas with incredible stories to tell. I get to go all over (mainly) Latin America and work with students and families in amazing communities. And at the same time, I'm freelancing as a writer and a journalist -- I've written for The New York Times, NPR's All Things Considered, the Harvard Review of Latin America, and a number of other places. It's all very exciting, and if you take a look at my work (https://www.jordansalama.com) I think it goes without saying that Spanish and Latin America is a common thread throughout it all.
What advice do you have for undergraduates who are considering majoring in SPO?
SPO is a special place where you can do radical, amazing things. And everyone in the department is doing something different. I've seen my classmates' independent work range from investigating patterns of Alzheimer's in rural Colombia, to researching the similarities between Spanish and South Asian cultures, to writing a philosophical and spiritual meditation about Patagonia. The department is so small that you get to know most professors personally; you will never feel "drowned out," like you're not getting the attention and help you need to succeed. And you get to see the world while you work -- it doesn't get much better than that.
Salama’s latest opinion piece titled "When It's Safer to Stay Apart" was recently published in Scientific American.
More about his work can be found on his website.