Determined to learn Spanish and immerse herself in a new culture, Lydia Lara ’19 reached for a city more than a mile high: Cuenca, Ecuador.
Lara is one of 2,800 students nationwide to receive up to $5,000 through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, founded by the U.S. Department of State in order to diversify the pool of students studying abroad by offering competitive scholarships to Pell Grant recipients.
As a Spanish and political science major with a minor in Latin American studies, Lara wanted more than exposure to the Spanish language, which is why she decided to travel to Ecuador. Despite the elevation and difficult hikes, Lara has no regrets.
“I wanted to go to Ecuador because I could advance in my language level, but I also think that going to a Latin American country was something I needed to experience,” she said.
“I wanted to feel challenged by an environment different from Europe or the United States, somewhere with a deep cultural Latino history and political climate. I feel like there's a certain type of energy and people here that you're never going to get anywhere else. I knew I was going to learn and thrive from it, being a Latina, and I have!”
Lara was selected for the award based on her academic achievements and her desire to strengthen intercultural competency.
In combination with grants from Augustana’s Freistat Center, Office of International and Off-Campus Programs and Augie Choice, the Gilman Scholarship meant Lara was able to cover all of the costs of her trip. Without it, she says, she would not have been able to study abroad.
Discovering a path
Along with hiking Machu Picchu and camping in the Amazon, Lara is interning with Education USA. She discusses the United States college experience with international prospective students in Ecuador through conversation classes, guiding them through selecting a college, and helping them understand American culture. Lara is an incoming junior from Chicago Heights, Ill.
“I now feel more affirmed about being Latina, but I also understand that I have a duty to encourage and motivate people, like me, who may not have as much opportunity,” she said. “It’s as simple as uplifting others while I am on my journey of being uplifted.
“I have experienced beautiful traditions unfolding right in front of me that have brought me to a newfound appreciation of the world, and especially of love for my own identity as a Latina… I have never felt more emboldened to love myself and my people.”
While the future holds many possibilities for Lara, including graduate school and world travel, her main ambition is to make a difference through representing marginalized communities. During her travels, she has unearthed the determination to make a difference as a leader and a proud Latina.
“I feel more empowered to be a leader within the Latino community. It’s really good for me as I’m learning the different facets of Latinos—not just in the U.S.— but throughout Latin America. I have so many different thoughts and experiences that I’ll bring from Ecuador back to the U.S., which are important because I as a Latina, with new perspectives and experiences, can share with other Latinos/as who may have otherwise not encountered stories about Latinos studying abroad,” she said.
“In this case representation matters a lot for Latino students looking to chase after bigger things, and I am really proud to be able to represent my community in this way. Estoy orgullosa de ser Latina.”
By Sabrina Hill ’18