“Studying the experiences of Latin Americans—in their own countries and as immigrants to the United States—has truly allowed me to develop empathy for a population that is greatly underrepresented in U.S. society.”
While a junior at Transylvania, Laura Edwins ’13 spent six months living with a host family in Valparaiso, Chile, and studying at the local university. She was taking six classes—not the four she was accustomed to at Transy—and navigating a university with seven separate campuses in three different cities.
She quickly realized that her biggest challenges would be logistical rather than linguistic or cultural. The classes she had taken for her Spanish major and her Latin American and Caribbean studies minor had prepared her well in those departments.
“My first day there, my host family told me I spoke better Spanish than anyone from the U.S. they had ever met or hosted before,” said Edwins.
Most of the other students in her study abroad program were also fluent in Spanish, but Edwins found she was the only one who arrived in Chile with a good understanding of the history and culture of her adopted country, as well as the other countries she visited while in South America.
“I was able to take history classes with Chilean students and not only keep up with them, but I already knew much of what we learned, which really reinforced my decision to minor in Latin American and Caribbean studies.”
Edwins had chosen Transylvania in part because of the close relationships she could develop with the faculty. She occasionally babysat for her professors or had dinner in their homes. At the large university in Chile, only two of her six professors knew her name. Only one provided a syllabus for the course.
“Transylvania is two city-blocks wide, all your teachers know your name, and they hand you a syllabus on the first day. Experiencing the different teaching styles was exciting, but I definitely missed Transy every time we had a test or essay that no one knew about because the professor hadn't bothered mentioning it before the day it was due!”
Edwins also appreciates that Transylvania’s liberal arts curriculum reinforced her desire to take classes outside her major. She stumbled into her first Latin American history class, with professor Gregg Bocketti, when she was looking for a class to fulfill a General Education Requirement as a first-year student.
“It ended up being one of my favorite classes at Transylvania. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to continue to study Latin America, and because I had such a flexible schedule, I was able to take probably half a dozen classes, if not more, with professor Bocketti by the time I graduated.”
Following graduation, Edwins is teaching English in Malaga, Spain, for a year before she enrolls at the University of San Diego School of Law, where she hopes to specialize in international or immigration law.
“While teaching in Spain, I’ll be able to give my students a broader view of the world, having not only experiences and knowledge of the United States but of Latin America as well, whose history is very closely tied with that of Spain.
“Being aware of the different cultures, backgrounds, histories, and experiences of the people in Latin America and the Caribbean has broadened my view of not just the world but my place in it.”