IWU students travel abroad with scholarship aid


Tia Patsavas

For many students, studying abroad is an experience filled with voyaging to a variety of locations, sampling unique cuisine and taking part in cultural events.  But two Illinois Wesleyan University students, Thalia Novoa ’16 and Huyen Nguyen ’17, will add another dimension to their travels as they conduct research while abroad and blog their experiences for the IWU community.  For these students, studying abroad will be enriching, inspiring and much more.

The Hispanic Studies Department named Novoa and Nguyen the first winners of the Luis Leal Endowed Scholarship, which honors qualified students who will participate in Hispanic Studies research while studying abroad in an IWU-affiliated program.

As a part of SIT’s Ecuador: Development, Politics and Languages program, Novoa will live in three different regions within Ecuador: Quito, the nation’s capital, Los Chillos, a smaller, middle-class town and the Amazon, where she will be among the indigenous people of Ecuador.

“With SIT, classes are not a typical classroom; you learn by excursions,” Novoa said.

Novoa, a Hispanic studies major, developed the base for her research during a social justice course she took last semester, for which she assessed the self-esteem and education of Latinos.  Next fall, she will narrow her focus to Ecuador and analyze how the geography of indigenous people affects their self-esteem and their education.

Though she is fluent in Spanish, the official language of Ecuador, the people Novoa will communicate with in the Amazon speak Quechua, the most widely spoken language of the indigenous people of the Americas.

“I am taking a class on Quechua because I want to be as respectful as possible,” Novoa said.  “I want to dress like them and speak their language…I just want to embrace it.”

According to Novoa, Christina Isabelli, chair and professor of Hispanic studies, encouraged her to apply for the scholarship.

“I thought [this opportunity] would be awesome because you have to share [your experiences] with all Hispanic studies students,” Novoa said.  “Even with people who can’t study abroad, I think it will be special for them to see and live it through me.”

As a part of the scholarship, honorees must share their research endeavors during their time abroad.  Though she has not yet decided the way in which she will communicate her experiences, Novoa is considering using the blog ¿Qué pasa?, which is run by Illinois Wesleyan’s Department of Hispanic Studies.  Her weekly or bi-weekly posts may include photos, interesting facts, or videos of her excursions.

When she came to Illinois Wesleyan, Novoa said she wanted to pursue immigration law, but her focus soon changed.  She discovered that she wanted to improve her Spanish skills and learn more about Hispanic culture.  Inspired by the stories about Latino culture that were shared by her parents who were both born in Mexico, Novoa longed to know more.

Intrigued by the topics of self-esteem and education that she has already begun to pursue, Novoa said, “I think I want to be a professor…and do more research in the future.”

Nguyen is off to explore a region in which she hopes to become immersed, and will travel to Spain in the fall of 2015, as a part of IWU’s Spain Program.

“I’ve always wanted to travel, but it wasn’t until high school that it was my goal to travel to Spain,” Nguyen said.  But after learning about and researching Spain and Spanish culture, Nguyen decided to pursue a study abroad experience in Spain.

“I’ll be in the autonomous community of Catalonia for the majority of my trip,” she said.  “The area is very diverse culturally, so it includes languages such as Catalan as well.  But hopefully, I can draw from the Spanish community to help me with my Spanish.”

The international business major said that she enjoys different cultures and working with people.  “The chance to work with people around the world and see the world through their eyes really appealed to me,” Nguyen said.  “It’s amazing to me that we don’t concern ourselves enough with the rest of the world, so I really wanted to change that for myself.

“My research will mainly focus on the language,” said Nguyen.  “I’m looking forward to being surrounded by native Spanish speakers so I can improve my limited speaking skills.”

Nguyen will create an online blog where she will post pictures and share stories for the IWU community to follow.

With the help of this scholarship, both students will have experiences that are unique to their region and often wholly different than their experiences in the United States.