Story by Pam Connolly
Photo courtesy of aquinas.edu
A standout storyteller and loving mother to a “canine child,” Shelli Rottschafer, Ph.D., is a Grand Rapids native who attended Grand Rapids Christian High School where she first began her love affair with the Spanish language and culture. Rottschafer reminisces fondly about one of her earliest influences as she recalls, “my first teacher there was originally from Cuba and I just really enjoyed hearing her stories and I loved to travel so it’s definitely a wanderlust type of thing.”
This wanderlust carried her to Salamanca, Spain during her time as an undergraduate student at Hope College where she fell in love with the city and formed lasting friendships. Just one semester, however, did not fill her insatiable hunger to learn and experience more. Focusing on Latin American literature, Rottschafer spent summers in the Dominican Republic, Peru and Brazil and traveled to Mexico and Cuba while working on her masters at Miami University of Ohio. Rottschafer used these opportunities to expand her knowledge of and appreciation for the language, history, culture and literature which she had so closely studied.
When Rottschafer began her college career, she was unsure about majoring in Spanish but was determined to become fluent. She ultimately decided to study both Spanish and history as a way to enter the fields of anthropology and archaeology.
“I wanted to be the next female Indiana Jones. That was my thing,” Rottschafer admits with a smile. “I wanted to be in a dig excavating down in South America, that way I would use my Spanish.”
Though this dream has not yet come true, she has used her Spanish in various capacities; from teaching high school in New Mexico to her dissertation in Latin American literature focusing on Chile and Argentina. Not least of all, she began as an adjunct professor at Aquinas College and in time followed the tenure track. In addition to her Spanish courses, she teaches Inquiry and Expression which she feels is a good challenge.
“It’s not so different in that my focus is literature, but this time…I’m focusing on nonfiction and themes of sustainability and environmentalism,” Rottschafer said.
Rottschafer certainly has taken her life and career many places but is far from being done learning and expanding her resumè. Currently, her goal is to be published for the novel, poetry, personal essays and memoir she has written in addition to her already published academic writings. Through this process, Rottschafer has noticed that there is “definitely a difference between academic writing in what my field is… versus what I’m trying to do now which is writing in English or bilingually; fiction, poetry.”
This career path, though intriguing and covering an impressive range of topics and continents, was not always smooth sailing. Rottschafer admits that there were “in between times” when she learned that “you make it work and you have to keep on finding alternatives,” even if that means waiting on a ton of tables. Yet, Rottschafer’s path often took her right where she needed to be, like it did last fall as Aquinas students settled into their semester-long home in Salamanca. Rottschafer was part of the orientation process and so was able to revisit the city she fell in love with during her own study abroad experience. This reunion fit perfectly with her feeling that “in each place that I’ve traveled, there’s definitely a city in particular that I’ve found some sort of connection with and really enjoy.” And in the case of Salamanca, she simply yet fondly states, “it was good to be back. It was a homecoming.”
Rottschafer recounted her connections with her host families, friends she made while studying abroad and her hands-on involvement with the Chican@ culture, all with a vibrant map of Latin America as the backdrop to these narratives.