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Immersion with service focus helps Blugold connect with people, culture in Puerto Rico

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Blugold Leyirabari Gininwa has had many amazing experiences as a Blugold, but he says a service-focused immersion program that took him to Puerto Rico to work alongside and learn from local community members might be the best of all.

Leyirabari Gininwa has had many amazing experiences on and around the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s campus during his years as a Blugold, but a service-focused immersion on a Caribbean island might top them all.

Leyirabari Gininwa

Leyirabari Gininwa

His 10 days in Puerto Rico, working alongside and learning from community members, was among “the best experiences” he’s ever had,” says Gininwa, who will graduate in December with a major in Latin American and Latinx studies and a certificate in entrepreneurship.

The Winterim program helped him “connect on an ever-deeper level with the culture that I’m so passionate about,” Gininwa says.

“The work we accomplished while in Puerto Rico made me feel so fulfilled not only because we were learning from the people of Puerto Rico, but because we were able to give to them with our service,” Gininwa says. “It also felt so meaningful to be in a place where we could meet such amazing new people.”

Immersion trip to Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, Blugolds volunteer at various project sites, working on everything from maintaining trails to cleaning up beaches to assisting families with home repairs.

Everyone he met in Puerto Rico — a U.S. territory in the Caribbean — had a unique story to share, says Gininwa, of Mounds View, Minnesota. It was inspiring to hear their stories, and “so refreshing just to get to know them for who they are,” he says.

Gininwa was in high school when he discovered his passion for the Spanish language, but it wasn’t until he began taking LAS and Spanish classes at UW-Eau Claire that he realized “just how invested I was in that passion.”

Thanks to exceptional LAS faculty, he knew that studying LAS was the right path for him, Gininwa says. Their teaching “really allowed me to feel connected with the things that I was learning, and I really appreciated that,” he says.

Immersion trip to Puerto Rico

One of those professors and his advisor, Dr. Manuel Fernández, professor of Spanish and LAS program director, encouraged him to take part in the immersion in Puerto Rico. Another teacher and mentor, Dr. Cheryl Ana Jiménez Frei, assistant professor of history and LAS, was a program leader, along with Katy Rand, the coordinator of student leadership and Greek life.

The immersion was the latest of several outside-the-classroom experiences Gininwa credits with helping shape how he sees the world and his future. His interactions with members of the Navigators Ministry and Black Male Empowerment organizations also helped to “change my life for the better,” Gininwa says, adding that he’s become a better person because of the people he’s met through these groups.

“I’m very fortunate to have experienced so many beautiful parts of life that not everyone gets to see during college,” Gininwa says. “I believe every one of my experiences as a Blugold has helped me to feel equipped for the real world after college.

“At the end of the day, we’re all here to develop our future selves. Being a Blugold is the best decision I could have made to make that happen.”