Latin American, Latino/a
and Caribbean Studies at Miami University
Student Profile: Juli Smith
Juli Smith is a senior from Alexandria, VA, with majors in comparative religion and Latin American studies. She has a minor in Spanish. After graduation, Juli is moving to Guatemala to work with the Young Adult Volunteers organization through the Presbyterian Church (USA).
"Hi, I'm Juli Smith, a senior with majors in comparative religion and Latin American studies, and a minor in Spanish. Last spring, I studied in Latin America, in Valparaiso, Chile, and it was absolutely life changing!
Though I entered college as an architecture major, after one year, I realized that wasn't where my heart was. I pursued other passions, including different cultures and religions. This led me to a Spanish minor and then to Latin American Studies, where I discovered my passion for the peoples of the world that speak Spanish. Although I initially thought I would go to Europe for study abroad, I decided to go to Latin America instead. After poring over brochures for Miami-accepted programs, I chose the IFSA-Butler [Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University] program in Valparaíso, Chile.
This program was such a wonderful experience because I lived with a host family. I was forced to speak Spanish all the time, so I was able to improve my Spanish tremendously and I really got involved in Chilean culture. Additionally, because I was directly enrolled in the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, I got to interact with and really befriend Chilean students. Though it might seem a bit daunting, being completely immersed was an incredible way to meet other students and to study Spanish.
One of my favorite aspects of the IFSA-Butler program was that I was in Latin America for five months — 1.5 months longer than an American semester. Living with a family and attending a local university really helped me to get acclimated with the area, and made Valparaíso feel like my real home. Because I was there for so long, I was able to travel a lot (where the dollar was very strong), but still spend some weekends at "home" in Valpo, building friendships there, while still being able to see a lot of South America.
I traveled about every 2 or 3 weeks, visiting Peru, western and eastern Argentina, Uruguay, and much of Chile — from the very north to the very south. While many of my friends who studied in Europe had amazing trips, they were gone nearly each and every weekend, visiting new countries for a few days each week, and so they were not nearly as familiar with their "home base" or their families as I became. In retrospect, I'm very grateful that I got to know Valparaíso so well. I feel that I'll have a home there when I return one day.
After graduation, I am moving to Guatemala to work with the Young Adult Volunteers organization through the Presbyterian Church (USA). I'll work with faith-based organizations and churches in Guatemala in impoverished communities for at least a year. I'm excited to be able to continue to use my Spanish and to experience first-hand the concepts and history that I've learned in my LAS and Spanish classes. I'm also excited to be helping to meet the basic needs of my brothers and sisters in Guatemala. What a neat experience to combine all of my interests that I fostered through the LAS program at Miami!"