The Caribbean and Latin American Studies (CLAS) minor was an important part of my academic development at St. Lawrence University. As a Spanish and Global Studies double-major, the CLAS program served as an important bridge between my two primary fields of study that allowed me to explore the interrelationships between the language and literature of the Americas on the one hand, and the deep-seated local and global adversities afflicting the region on the other. With the guidance and counsel of Dra. Marta Chew Sanchez, Dr. Steven White and Dra. Evelyn Powell Jennings, I was encouraged to not only pursue my interest in Latin American literature, culture and politics on campus through CLAS courses but also to go abroad so that I could actively participate in the lived experiences of the people and directly apply the skills I had developed.
I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad with the St. Lawrence semester program in San Jose, Costa Rica the spring of my junior year. As a directly enrolled student at the University of Costa Rica, I took courses with native tico students on the issues immediately impacting their lives with the foremost resident scholars in their respective fields as professors. After completing the semester, I backpacked with my friend Jesus Ruiz across the length and breadth of Central America to further reinforce my connection to the peoples and cultures of the region. Not only were these incredible experiences educational and culturally enriching in their own right, through the CLAS minor I was able to build upon what I had learned during my travels in the classroom. By once again engaging with the material, everything came full circle; from introductory level course work my freshman and sophomore year to on-the-ground experience my junior year to analysis and reflection to bring it all together my senior year. Importantly, CLAS not only prepared me to be a scholar of the Americas, the incredible professors and engaging courses also helped me to develop the skills to think critically about global processes and apply big-picture theoretical frameworks to case-specific situations.
The profound connection that I feel with the language, culture, history and peoples of Latin America was largely inspired by the work that I did with the Caribbean and Latin American Studies department. Since graduating in May 2008, I have traveled and volunteered for a combined 6 months in Central and South America. Most notably, I lived for two and half months in a squatter settlement with a Harvard-based holistic community development project in the rural foothills of La Prusia, Nicaragua. Having recently returned from a 7-month trip through Southeast Asia, Oceania and Europe, I am now at home planning my next steps. Whatever that next step may be, I am confident that it will in some way involve Latin America or the skills that I developed through CLAS.