When she was looking at schools, Sofia Herrera knew she wanted to pursue international studies. As soon as she visited Indiana University (IU), she realized the Hamilton Lugar School (HLS) was the right fit for her. She says, “I was so impressed with the Global and International Studies Building — the modernity of it, the architecture, and all the resources available to students.”
As she prepares to graduate in December 2022 with a B.A. in International Studies, a B.A. in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, and with proficiency in Arabic, Herrera confirms that HLS lived up to her expectations. She says, “There is always something going on. Even if you feel like you have really niche interests, there are so many people to share it with.”
Herrera credits the HLS Living Learning Center (LLC) with getting her off to a great start. She says, “It was incredible – I feel like my whole college experience was better because of the HLS LLC. I lived with people who shared my interests – we could help each other with our assignments, eat together, go out together. Having that circle and solid support system was amazing. One person said, ‘If IU is home, then the LLC is family.’”
Like most of her HLS peers, Herrera has a penchant for learning about different languages and cultures, and a habit of thinking deeply about topics ranging from self-identity to the role of language in colonization. She grew up speaking Spanish and English, then studied German in high school. At HLS, she was able to take classes in Haitian Creole and Arabic. In her spare time, she also studied Japanese on her own.
In order to learn the Arabic language and culture, Herrera participated in the Arabic Flagship Program. She explains, “For most of my time at IU, I was planning to do the capstone year in Morocco for the Arabic Flagship Program. At the last second, I decided not to do that, but I still wanted to go to Morocco. The Office of Overseas Studies helped me find the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) summer program in Rabat, Morocco.”
While in Morocco, Herrera was immersed in learning the local language and culture. “During the two-month CIEE program, we typically studied Modern Standard Arabic in the morning, then the local language in the afternoon,” she says. “After that, we would do cultural activities. We also took field trips, got involved with different organizations, and visited other cities in Morocco.”
As for her own language and culture, Herrera found herself thinking back to classroom discussions at HLS. She says, “Identity is one thing we talked about in my International Studies classes, and whether it is you who defines your identity or if it is defined by the people around you.”
Herrera explains, “My background is Latin American, and I grew up in the U.S. speaking Spanish and English. Many people have said to me, ‘Oh, you’re Mexican! I love Mexico!’ And then it would be clear that their idea of ‘Mexican’ would be filtered through the popular media like the TV show Narcos – glorifying gangs and violence.” She reflects, “It’s good that you’re interested in this culture, but there is so much more to it than what is portrayed in the media.”
As she interacted with new people in Morocco, however, Herrera found herself reflected differently in the eyes of others. She says, “When I was over there, people would say, ‘Where are you from?’ Even after I told them I was from the U.S., I could tell that that did not line up with what I looked like. A lot of people thought I was Moroccan. When I was alone, people would talk to me in the local language. It made me realize a lot of things about my own identity.”
Herrera found herself reflecting on language, culture, and power during her time in Morocco. “Just like the colonizers’ language in Latin America is Spanish, the language of colonization in Africa is French. You can compare and contrast their demographic maps and the numbers of people speaking the indigenous languages post-colonization.”
At the end of her stay in Morocco, Herrera says, “We did presentations in Arabic class. I did mine on immigration. When I came back, I translated it into English and gave the presentation to my friends. We were able to have a great discussion about whether there is a way to spread a shared language without the violence of colonialism, as well as discussions on identity and cultural appropriation.”
As her December graduation nears, Herrera is seeking to apply her international studies knowledge to an internship in the tourism or hospitality field.
Herrera feels confident that lasting and meaningful relationships with her HLS friends, a solid educational foundation, and a life-changing study abroad experience have prepared her well for what comes next.