Put The Spotlight On… Will Fowler

Translated by Rebekah Dawes
25 September 2016

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Will Fowler

We met with Will Fowler, Head of Modern Languages at the university, to learn a little more about what he does on a daily basis. He welcomed us into his office, gave us a cup of tea and prepared to open his heart in response to our questions…



Kelly: Where were you born and raised?

Will: I was born in Barcelona to an English father and a Catalan mother: that’s why I’m called Will Fowler and not Guillem Luffit (laughs). So I was born in Barcelona and I studied in Barcelona, or, rather, I grew up in Barcelona, I went to an English school in Barcelona and so I did O-Levels (the old GCSEs) and A-Levels in Barcelona, in an English school in Barcelona. And then when I was 19 I came to England to study.


Rebekah: I have a question that we haven’t got written down: is that ok? You said you’ve got a Catalan mum and an English dad: how many maternal languages do you speak?

Will: By way of maternal languages, I speak English, Spanish and Catalan.


Rebekah: And how do you do it? You see, my boyfriend’s Spanish…Catalan… whatever… too, and if we have children, we don’t know what to do.

Will: That’s quite a personal question, right? It’s a very personal decision, so I think, for example, there would have been some of my Catalan friends that spoke Catalan at home because they thought they’d learn Spanish easily seeing as it’s a language you can learn everywhere and Catalan was their identity language which defined them. In my case, I thought the other way: I thought that if I spoke Catalan to them at home, they could only speak to eight million people but if we spoke Spanish at home, they could then speak to more than, what?, four hundred million Spanish speakers and they would learn Catalan during the summers when we went there. But that’s a personal opinion (laughs).

Rebekah: Ok. (justifying) It’s important to me.


Kelly: Do you have a memory that has stuck with you from childhood that you want to share with us?

Will: Well, one memory that’s stuck with me is that during my childhood I went… we were living in a southern part of Barcelona where there was a community of Uruguayan exiles. Because in the 70s there was a dictatorship in Uruguay. All my childhood friends were Uruguayan, or, rather, in my group of friends they were Uruguayan. And when we played football, instead of playing Barcelona against Español or Barcelona against Real Madrid, we were Peñarol and Nacional, which were the two Montevídeo teams. And then, one fine day, as the dictatorship was finishing, they all went back to Uruguay and left me friendless. And I didn’t understand. Suddenly they were there, and then suddenly they weren’t anymore.


Kelly: What did you study at university, and where?

Will: For university, I went to the University of Bristol and I studied dramatic art and Spanish. Because, at that time, I wanted to be a theatre director and actor: that’s what I wanted to be. And then at university I discovered that I was far more passionate about history, literature and Hispanic studies and I abandoned my career in the world of theatre to dedicate myself to being an academic.


Rebekah: Which part of Barcelona are you from?

Will: I was born in Sant Gervasi, the Sant Gervasi district in Barcelona. It’s above the Diagonal.


Kelly: Have you worked in any other universities? Why St Andrews?

Will: Yes. I worked, before coming here, I worked in the Leicester Polytechnic for four years. It was called the Leicester Polytechnic in the first year I was there, then it changed name: it changed to Demontford University. And I was there for four years and then I came here in 1995, 21 years ago.



Kelly: What does your role as Head of the Faculty of Modern Languages consist of?

Will: Well, we have a school that functions, I think, under a federalist system where each department has its Head of Department and its culture and its tradition and its way of doing things. Let’s say my role is kind of getting everyone to work following similar guidelines but while respecting, on the other hand, the School’s diversity. So unity, not uniformity, is what we’re looking for.


Kelly: What do you specialise in?

Will: In terms of my investigation, I specialise in Mexican history, especially 19th century history and especially the three decades that go from gaining independence to the middle of the 19th century, to the reformation.


Kelly: How many books have you published or edited?

Will: (laughs) Let’s see, it’s quite a few. I think I have five books which are just mine, let’s say monographs. And I think I’ve already got fourteen books which I’ve coordinated or edited. But maybe even more: I’ve lost count (laughs).


Kelly: Can you describe a typical day in the life of a tutor at the University of St Andrews?

Will: In my case, there isn’t a typical day because being Head of School, something unexpected happens every day. So there isn’t a typical day. There are either problems to sort out or mini crises in one place or another or there are lots of meetings to plan for the future, to look for strategies, for example. Now we’re having meetings about Brexit and how we’re going to deal with it, things like that. On the other hand, there’s also the matter of teaching: preparing classes, correcting homework when it starts to arrive, finding time in the semester to do more research, write, read, apply for scholarships… There are lots of things.


Rebekah: What do you like most about teaching?

Will: I love teaching: I really enjoy it and I really enjoy it because of the relationship you establish with the students. Or, rather, the dialogue. I think the nice thing is not just that you, well, enjoy teaching but that you enjoy learning as you teach. I also learn a lot teaching.


Rebekah: And I think you have – I think – a reputation of being a cool teacher, right?

Kelly: Yes! You do.

Will: (laughs) Well, I don’t know about that but it sounds good.


Kelly: Do you prefer teaching culture, history and literature classes or Spanish language classes? Why?

Will: I like everything. Or, at least, I think the fun thing about teaching language classes is that in some way you get to know the students better because the groups are smaller and in oral classes you just inevitably end up speaking to them about things and you get to know them better: their personalities and their problems and what they like and what they don’t like. On the other hand, seeing as history’s my speciality and I’ve also studied literature, I also enjoy teaching precisely those classes that are based more on a deeper knowledge of my research topics. I enjoy that a lot, too. And I also enjoy not just undergraduate students, but also postgraduate students: we have students that are doing their Masters, or, as we call it here, an MLitt, because its Scotland, or PhD students. So I have three PhD students, each one working on things related to Mexico (surprise surprise) and that’s also interesting because their research is obviously just as interesting as mine.


Rebekah: Do you want to say anything about your Mexico class to get more students… to advertise it?

Will: (laughs) In fact, we’ve already got to many students in the Mexico class and what we want is… right now in the Spanish department we’re exploring the possibility to maybe offer more options so there’s more, let’s say, of a variety of options, so the students can choose and they don’t all go to certain modules that seem to attract more and more students. It’s a fascinating module, obviously, because it’s about Mexico in the 19th century and how a country went from being a colony to being a, let’s say, maybe modern country in the matter of a century.


Kelly: Now I’m a Junior Honours student: what advice do you have to give me for the first semester of these two years?

Will: Work hard. I think the important thing is working, enjoying working, enjoying studying and as well finding time to do the activities that students do: having late night kitchen discussions to solve the world’s biggest problems and making the most of your time, because although it seems you don’t have time because you have so much work and so many classes, when you finish university you’ll realise that you really don’t have time. So now there’s also time to explore, experiment: not just study. That’s my advice.


Rebekah: And for Senior Honours, or is it the same?

Will: I think it’s the same except from with Senior Honours you’ve obviously got the worry about what’s coming afterwards, right? So you also have to think about the future a bit. But the important thing anyway is to finish studying with a good grade and not let the job search impact it, and keep enjoying university life.



Kelly: How many countries have you lived in? Which one do you prefer and why?

Will: Let’s see, I’ve obviously lived in Spain, in England, in Scotland and in Mexico. All of the places have been charming and I’ve enjoyed them so it would be difficult to say. Obviously Barcelona for me… I suppose it has a special place in my heart because it’s where I was born and studied, but I also feel a deep fondness for Mexico, especially the Veracruz Province, and Mexico City too. And, to be honest, I’m very happy in St Andrews: it’s ideal. I don’t have anything negative to say about any of the places I’ve lived.


Kelly: Do you have a favourite Spanish word?

Will: A favourite Spanish word… I don’t know, there are too many. What I do like is a Catalan word, which is “visca”.


Kelly: Visca… what does it mean?

Will: Long live…


So, visca Will Fowler! Until next time.