In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (CoDEI) at American Councils would like to celebrate Latinx alumni across the various study abroad programs we administer.
According to the 2020 Open Doors data report on international exchange, 10.9% of reported U.S. students studying abroad in 2018-2019 identified as Hispanic or Latino(a). We believe it is important to highlight these students’ voices and experiences abroad that demonstrate how their Latinx identities, in combination with cross cultural experiences overseas, have shaped their personal and professional development.
American Councils will continue to share similar experiences from students of color year-round and highlight the stories and achievements of program alumni. Every month is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the diversity of our participants.
Laura Viera Gonzalez
Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS), Korean, 2015
Laura’s interest in world cuisines and her work in hospitality led her to apply for the CLS Korean program as a student at Universidad Del Este in Carolina, Puerto Rico. A native of Puerto Rico, Laura was selected for the program and spent the summer of 2015 in Gwangju, South Korea.
When asked how her identity may have influenced her experience, Laura said, “My Hispanic heritage was very determining in my experience. I am so loud and proud of my culture and heritage; it was so exciting to share my culture when I was in Korea. Being Puerto Rican and having learned English as a second language put me in the right mindset for learning Korean. It was very helpful having two languages beforehand.” Laura’s advice to others considering CLS, “You should always be proud of who you are, anywhere you are.”
Laura’s study abroad experience continued to have an impact on her even after her completion of the CLS Program. “Coming back from CLS,” Laura explained, “you are left with such a hunger to learn and explore more about your target language.” Following this hunger, Laura applied for and won a year-long Fulbright scholarship to return to Korea to teach English as a second language. Back in Korea, Laura quickly reconnected with her host family, language partner, and friends from years earlier, explaining “the people I met in my host country were definitely the most rewarding part of my experience.”
Six years after her program, Laura still communicates regularly with her host family and takes every opportunity to fuse Korean flavors into her culinary creations. Read more about Laura or listen to our Instagram Live interview here.
Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Abroad, Indonesia, 2014-15
Adaptability has always been central to Emily Rodriguez, YES Abroad Indonesia alumna and native of Chicago. “YES Abroad was extremely valuable for me. It really showed me how important it is to give yourself time to acclimate to new people and new experiences. I’m very adaptable now, whether that be in my career or just in my social life.”
Following her YES Abroad experience, Emily charted a winding path before arriving in her current line of work as an insurance broker specializing in construction. “I went to the University of Illinois at Chicago. I studied integrative health science and Arabic. I was very much prepared to work in medicine, but over time I realized it was not the right life path for me . . . and eventually found myself where I am now, working on all sorts of infrastructure and construction projects around the world.”
Emily’s formative experiences on YES Abroad in Bekasi, Indonesia gave her valuable skills applicable to her current work. Though she did not know any Bahasa Indonesian language when she arrived to Bekasi, she quickly learned to navigate everyday life and relationships with her host family using the skills she had. By the time Emily finished her YES Abroad year, she was moderately fluent in Bahasa Indonesian, and today she uses those communication and intercultural skills gained in Indonesia in her work. “Essentially, to make sure everyone is happy, you have to understand their ‘languages’ and adapt them to make sure everyone’s on the same page and having their goals met. Also, construction and insurance language is a monster in and of itself!”
Six years after participating in YES Abroad, Emily still values the importance of new experiences. “One thing I’ve really learned over the years is how important it is to just give things a try. You never know how much you’ll enjoy something until you try it. You may absolutely hate it at the beginning, but it’s really crazy how adaptable we are.”
Lucas San Miguel
National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Chinese program, in Chengdu, China in Summer 2019 and New Taipei City, Taiwan for the 2020-21 academic year.
Where Lucas grew up, there was no access to learning Chinese in school. He began NSLI-Y with a Novice-Low proficiency, the lowest on the scale, and progressed to Advanced-Mid proficiency that allowed him to effectively communicate in Mandarin, which he accredits to his NSLI-Y experiences. “After NSLI-Y, I was able to continue studying independently by learning from the textbooks I received on program and communicating regularly with my host family and new friends.”
From the host families and local students to cohort peers and friends made along the way, NSLI-Y created a meaningful space for Lucas to connect deeply and build relationships with like-minded, global leaders who are passionate about transcultural competence and cultural relativism, particularly with regard to his Chengdu host family. Three years later, they still keep in contact weekly, and they send each other letters and packages, and text and call regularly. He also keeps in touch with many of his cohort members. “I look forward to visiting my friends and host family in Chengdu and Taipei again someday and am grateful to have continued my language journey post-program by staying in contact with them.”
NSLI-Y allowed Lucas to grow into a more independent, adaptive, and authentic leader in his professional and academic endeavors. Moreover, as part of NSLI-Y programming, he had the opportunity to volunteer abroad. Those experiences, interacting on a local level, further inspired him to continue intercultural volunteer work post-program. From teaching ESL classes at his high school and giving presentations on cultural perceptions to students around the world, to encouraging the next generation of global leaders, NSLI-Y inspired his to do so much beyond learning a language: “It has taught me countless professional and academic skills, the value of global leadership, and the importance of transcultural advocacy and volunteerism.” In the fall of 2021, Lucas began his studies at Emory University, double majoring in International Business and Chinese Studies. He can be found online at: https://lucassanmiguel.com/