Lindsey Sommer

Lindsey is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Guatemala

Major: Biology

Minor: Hispanic Studies

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Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?

I decided on Guatemala because I wanted to develop my language skills, and I also wanted to live in a country that would challenge my way of living. Guatemala appeared to have a culture vastly different than my own, and I wanted to be fully immersed in a new way of life, one that didn't allow me to live in the same way in which I live at home. The service component was also important to me, and I knew that through this program I had the opportunity to volunteer within the community.                           

Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.

Living with my host family was one of the most impactful parts of my experience. My host sister was the Indigenous Queen of Quetzaltenango, the city we lived in. She was always invited to attend events, like elections, processions, or citizenship days at elementary schools, and I went with her to a number of them. It was a really unique way to learn more about the Mayan culture, listen to Quiché, the Indigenous language in the area, watch traditional dances and music, and learn about the different patterns and colors in each city's traje, or traditional outfit.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

I truly do not have the words to describe all I learned, all the ways in which I changed, and all the memories I made while in Guatemala. I made lifelong friendships with my host family, students, and teachers at the school, all of whom showed me the true culture of Guatemala. We went to Lenten processions, local fairs, family birthday parties, bartered in the market, learned to cook local cuisine, played fútbol, hiked volcanoes, learned to salsa, volunteered weekly, shared daily life with our families, performed theatre, and so much more, all while learning and speaking Spanish. We were faced with ethical questions and given space to explore global connections as we learned about the brutal history and lived among many challenges still facing Guatemala today. My eyes were opened, and my values stretched as I learned about the culture. I learned more than I ever imagined, and made countless memories with some of the most incredible, hospitable, and beautiful people I have ever met

Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?

Personally, I grew in countless ways. I grew in confidence and independence as I stepped outside my comfort zone. Throughout the challenges of every day, and as I learned more about the realities in the Guatemalan culture, I questioned all I had believed to be true in my life, and the experience allowed me room to grow and explore both my values and way of living. Academically, I worked towards my Hispanic Studies minor, but more importantly truly learned to speak and love the Spanish language. Professionally, I changed my career focus as a result of my volunteer experience. I volunteered at a school for kids with disabilities, helping out in a first grade classroom. Falling in love with these children, I realized that working with children with disabilities is what I am passionate about, and I have since decided to pursue Occupational Therapy.

What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?

Do it, and go all in! Fully immerse yourself in any way you can. Don't be afraid to be uncomfortable, as that is when you tend to learn the most. The experience will be what you make of it, so my advice is to choose a program that will challenge you - the way you live, think, communicate, or in any other way - and you'll leave your program forever changed.