Libby Mueller, Senior Staff Writer

At the beginning of the summer, Miami University students spread out across the country for various jobs and internships, but some students look across the border for opportunities, diving headfirst into different languages and cultures.

Several students packed their bags and traveled for three weeks to Granada, Nicaragua for the Immersion Spanish Study Abroad Program.

Immersion Spanish is the Department of Spanish and Portuguese’s only study abroad opportunity in Latin America.

According to the program’s Director Nohelia Rojas-Miesse, the students spent three weeks in Oxford in order to cover class material, which includes content from Spanish 201 and 202.

They then head to Granada, where they learn to use their Spanish skills in diverse ways.

“One of the things that the students are required to do is volunteer work with nonprofit organizations; they do that on a daily basis,” Rojas-Miesse said. “They work for three hours a day…[for instance] at a public school where some of the students are teaching English.”

In most public schools in Nicaragua, elementary-aged students attend school in the morning and high school-aged students in the afternoon, according to Rojas-Miesse.

There are also centers, funded by donations, where the elementary school children can go afterward to avoid wandering the streets.

“[Nicaraguan] students can go and basically hang out there, get help with homework, do crafts and play,” Rojas-Miesse said. “Miami students give support to the staff.”

Sophomore Andrew Ledford said he volunteers with a preschool class

“It’s an after-school program for children who would otherwise be on the street or at home,” Ledford said. “They’re able to get an education, a small meal and be taught English.”

In addition to the activities that happened on a daily basis, students on the Immersion Spanish study abroad program also went on excursions.

Rojas-Miesse said her students visited two volcanoes and took a trip to the Pacific Coast to the beach. They also gained insight into the lives of some of the people, such as a local potter and his family.

“We visited a local potter in Nicaragua, who was very poor; the students learned how the family survives making pottery and selling it in Granada,” Rojas-Miesse said.

Ledford said his favorite experiences were volunteer work and a trip to the beach in San Juan. “We went to San Juan beach and got to see the most amazing views, like the turtles on the beach,” Ledford said. “We also had an amazing time being able to work with the children that our group helped in the school.”

The students stayed with host families, according to Jackie Hawn, a recent graduate from Miami who went on the Immersion Spanish program one year ago.

Hawn said learning to communicate with her host family was a huge growth experience for her.

“At first when I came, it was hard to communicate, so I had to really be descriptive with my body language,” Hawn said. “I became more outgoing, seeing [my host family] all day every day, living with them and trying to connect with them.”

In addition to vastly improving Spanish language skills, Rojas-Miesse said one of the ways she has seen her students mature is in recognizing the privileges they have living in the United States.

“I think that a lot of them have learned to appreciate what they have at home,” Rojas-Miesse said. “They have seen that when they are helping to serve a meal to the kids at the centers, this might be the only meal of the day and yet they look so happy with how little they have. This has helped them mature and appreciate what they take for granted at home.”

Hawn said it was eye-opening to see the systems of a different country, including the government and medical service.

“I felt really blessed to be living in the United States,” she said.