Students who spent time in Latin America through UW-Eau Claire study abroad, internship or other immersion programs will share their stories as part of UW-Eau Claire’s Latin American Studies Week celebration Oct. 19-23.
Providing immersion experiences is an important part of UW-Eau Claire’s Latin American Studies program because those experiences help students develop a proficiency in the Spanish language, as well as an understanding of Latin America and Latinos/Hispanics in the United States.
With the growing Latino/Hispanic population in the United States and the increasing social, cultural and economic connections with Latin American countries, demand is high for professionals who have the language skills and the ability to work with Latinos/Hispanics and the people of Latin America.
Each year, the university brings additional attention to its LAS program through a celebration that highlights Blugold successes, and shares information about Latin America and the university’s LAS program.
A dinner, keynote speaker, trivia night and student panel are among the celebration’s highlights.
Senior Kate Leuthe, Chippewa Falls, and junior Bree Bryant, Delano, Minn., are among the Blugolds who will share their immersion stories during the LAS celebration’s student panel.
A Spanish major and Latin American Studies minor, Kate completed a six-week internship in Panama in July and August.
Bree, a Spanish and Latin American Studies major, studied in Nicaragua in June.
As they prepare for next week’s LAS celebration, Kate and Bree took a few minutes to share a little about their experiences in Latin America as well as their connections with UW-Eau Claire’s LAS program.
Why were you in Latin America this summer?
Kate: I had an internship in a small town called El Copé in the country of Panama. The internship lasted for six weeks during July and August.
Bree: I studied abroad in Nicaragua in June. My program was titled, “Women’s Lives and Experiences in Nicaragua.” I’d never been to Latin America before, and quite honestly, I had never planned on going to Central America, but Nicaragua stole my heart.
Please share some general impressions of the region you visited.
Kate: My first impressions were how different everything was compared to what I knew, but as time went on I realized how very similar life can be when you stop thinking about it. People have families, people work, people laugh, and people share what they know no matter where you go.
I was most impressed with the natural beauty of the country. I've never thought of Panama as being very mountainous, but as soon as you get on the main highway and start traveling toward El Copé you see these stunning ranges and huge peaks.
What were some of the highlights of your time in Latin America?
Bree: One of the biggest highlights of my time abroad was the family stay. I had the best experience with my host family; they were so good to me. It was a great exchange in the sense that they learned quite a bit about the U.S. and where I came from, and I learned so much more about Nicaragua than I ever could have imagined. One thing that surprises me the most is how strong the feminist movement is in Nicaragua.
Kate: The highlights of my time in Panama were interacting with the locals. They were all so willing to talk and didn't laugh when I made mistakes in my Spanish. I think they were thrilled that I was trying to communicate in their language.
How did your experience abroad change how you think about the world?
Kate: I came home and the first thing I saw was how much I live in excess. Since returning, I've gone through my possessions and streamlined everything, donating what I know I don't need. I've got so much stuff, so many things that I hardly use or even touch, and yet I'm somehow still unhappy. I really learned while I was in Panama is that you don't need as much as you think you do to be happy. Sometimes all you need is a hammock and a cold bottle of Coke!
Bree: My experience in Nicaragua has changed the way I think about a lot of things. I think that I am much more conscious of the privileges we have here in the United States. I also have been challenged to look at history through a different lens and further analyze the role that my country has had and continues to have in others such as Nicaragua. This has been difficult to grapple with, but I have learned a lot throughout the process.
What attracted you to UW-Eau Claire’s Latin American Studies program?
Kate: I've always been drawn to history and there is no shortage of rich, sometimes tumultuous, and awe-inspiring history in Latin American countries. There's only so many times that I could stand hearing about European history or even the history of our own country. LAS gave me an opportunity to learn about the parts of the world that are seldom spoken about or even covered in standard high school curriculums.
How do you expect to use your Spanish language skills and LAS knowledge in the future?
Bree: I’ve already used my LAS studies multiple times. For example, my knowledge of race has helped me in life and in other academic settings. Thanks to Latin American Studies, my knowledge of history and culture has been broadened and I have been exposed to new perspectives. Ideally, I would like to spend some time working or volunteering in a Latin American country, and I am sure that the information I have acquired from the LAS program will be of great help in that aspect.
Kate: I'd like to use my LAS/Spanish studies to better understand the world as I travel. My internship really sparked something inside of me and made me eager to actually see the places I've spent four-plus years only reading about.
Top photo: UW-Eau Claire junior Bree Bryant in Nicaragua
Side photo: UW-Eau Claire senior Kate Leuthe