Staff Spotlight: Muirne de Búrca, Student Programs Assistant

Muirne de Búrca became the first Student Programs Assistant of the Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies in July 2021. Here she describes the core aspects of her role, along with how she fell in love with a plethora of languages and cultures at an early age.

“From a very young age, I have been adept and attracted to language, literature and culture. I studied Irish, German, French and Spanish growing up in Ireland.”
Student Programs Assistant

As a child, languages were a portal, transporting me out of a small town in rural Ireland. I was the only student in my high school to take four languages simultaneously—and three for the university matriculation exam (Irish, French and Spanish). The timetable technically allowed it and I wouldn’t listen to protests that taking more than one language would ‘confuse me’ (I found the opposite to be the case).

I began working in UBC in 2014, shortly after moving to Canada in 2013. Working at the Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies (FHIS) is particularly fitting with my natural interests, formal education and professional experience, as well as my career goals. My motivation is the students, and I am driven by the responsibility of enhancing the student experience through my work.

My favourite aspect of working at FHIS is our team. I love Min Ji’s enthusiasm and commitment to helping our students; Celine’s calm demeanor in the face of any deadline or task; Emanuela’s extensive experience and flair for French; and Raquel’s eye for detail and adding warmth to our space with plants and personality. I love Joël’s and Michael’s balance of wit and professionalism, along with their progressive approach to managing our team. I equally love meeting faculty members and students and all of the colourful elements of their personalities that enrich my daily working life here at FHIS.

Student Programs Assistant Role

The Student Programs Assistant is a newly created role within the department. There is a lot of variety to this position and no day is the same.

My favourite part — I am the Graduate Program Officer for our amazing group of MA and PhD students. While this involves lots of paperwork and deadlines, it is equally an opportunity to connect with our graduate cohort as I do my best to support their graduate journey.

There is also a HR analyst component to my role that sees me process all student appointments for the department (Teaching Assistants, Graduate Research Assistants, Undergraduate Academic Assistants, etc.).

Lastly, I support our Student Programs Coordinator with Teaching Assistantships, courses, scheduling and general advising.

Falling in Love with Spanish Language and Culture

“In every interaction I have had with Spanish culture, from childhood to adulthood, I have experienced warmth, colour and just this unparalleled zest for life. I feel most myself and most alive when I am connected to anything Spanish.”

As a child of two teachers, we spent many school summers in Spain and the surrounding countries. I won my first dance competition in Salou, Catalonia at the age of 5. It was also my first time (unknowingly) sampling sangría (looked like juice, hence my win).

After graduating with my Spanish and Portuguese BA degree, I moved to Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands. I had always wanted to live in another language. Years later, after completing an MA in Translation Studies, I moved to Sevilla for a couple of academic years to teach English. In every interaction I have had with Spanish culture, from childhood to adulthood, I have experienced warmth, colour and just this unparalleled zest for life. I feel most myself and most alive when I am connected to anything Spanish.

Coming to Canada, I gained exposure to Latin America and my passions did not wane. While working in UBC Finance and later Engineering, I took Portuguese language and Latin American culture evening courses with UBC Extending Learning; one instructor even hosted a group of us in her home in Guatemala for ten days. Working with Tec de Monterrey through Go Global continued to feed my Spanish appetite, and I embarked on the UBC Certificate in Intercultural Studies during my last year there. Now in FHIS, I have daily exposure to different languages and cultures in addition to Spanish, and I am satiated.

Fun Facts

I once spent a summer in Suomenlinna, an 18th-century sea fortress off Finland, representing Ireland in a European youth theatre project. I also really like to eat cake most days for breakfast. (Is that fun?) I also love to travel and explore new places, write fiction, wander around art galleries, and dance. In the current absence of typical travel, I spend a lot of my free time chasing dragons and fighting bad guys with my son, Cuill Beau.