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From undecided to UWEC staff, alumna credits studies in Latin America for critical growth

| Alex Jansen

Courtney Brost entered UW-Eau Claire like many other students, casually following her interests at the time: She chose to study English since she loved literature and writing, and decided to continue studying Spanish because she enjoyed learning it while in high school in Wisconsin Rapids, WI. And like many other students, she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to do with all of that. It was a decision to apply for a semesterlong study abroad program in Costa Rica that brought it all into focus.

After applying, she decided to add Latin American Studies as a minor, and once she got back from Costa Rica, she made it her second major. She also became a peer adviser with the Center for International Education. Graduating in May 2015 with a double major in English and Latin American studies and a minor in Spanish, Brost is now a study abroad coordinator with CIE. When she looks back at her time as a student, three things stand out: peer advising, going to Costa Rica and LAS.

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Courtney Brost on study abroad program in Costa Rica

“As a peer adviser, I realized I love working with students and helping them fit study abroad into their degree plan,” she explains. “I would explain the ins and outs of study abroad and help them narrow down a program that fit their goals.”

Brost understands better than anyone how feasible studying abroad can be. After spending a semester in Costa Rica, she also did a summer program in South Africa, and still managed to graduate with a double major and a minor within four years. She also understands how beneficial study abroad can be. It was in Costa Rica that Brost found a passion for her studies, saying that it challenged and encouraged her to speak up and not be afraid to make mistakes. Returning from Costa Rica, she had confidence, a fresh perspective and a new major, Latin American Studies.

“I really valued the diversity of classes I could take in the LAS program,” Brost says. “I’m interested in so many different subjects, so choosing one major felt like a letdown. With LAS, there is no compromise: I was able to take courses in everything from sociology, geography, history and political science to even biology, all with a focus on Latin America.”

She explains that thanks to the interdisciplinary nature of the program, students rarely need to worry about fulfilling general education requirements because so many of the courses count toward those credits. Brost also believes the six-week immersion requirement for LAS majors and minors to be a great strength of the program, stressing that “learning about a culture in the classroom is very different than being in that environment and learning to live like a local.”

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Brost at the Center for International Education

As a study abroad coordinator with CIE, she finds her LAS background to be crucial in coordinating all of the Spanish speaking programs. For each of the programs, Brost collaborates with foreign partners to verify information, prepares pre-departure orientation materials and gives brief overviews of the country’s history, politics, culture and more. What she learned from LAS courses — the familiarity with the language as well as the cultures of the many different Latin American countries — prepared her to excel in the role.

Reflecting back, Brost found the LAS faculty to be very encouraging and supportive. From her adviser, Dr. Analisa DeGrave, encouraging her to pursue her passions both in and out of the program to time spent helping organize LAS Week with department director Dr. Manuel Fernandez — the program fostered Brost’s development and set her on a path to a rewarding career at her alma mater.