For University of Arkansas – Fort Smith student Lydia Bush, Spanish is more than just a language. It’s allowed her to embrace a new perspective, understand the importance of diversity, and change the world – all of which she is doing during her five-month stay in Temuco, Chile.


Bush is studying at the University of the Frontier in Chile through the UAFS Spanish program, which requires time spent studying abroad for students to experience cultural immersion to apply their learnings and garner an appreciation of other cultures.


She found learning the culture more challenging than learning the language. Bush, who describes herself as independent, balked at the attention Chileans gave her. She perceived the odd questions they asked – about what she had for lunch or what she would be doing that night – as nosiness.


“What I thought was initially people being nosy – because that’s how it’s perceived in people in my culture – was actually people caring about me,” Bush said. “The Chileans are so well-meaning, and it’s so obvious they wanted to take care of me.”


When she first arrived in Chile, she traveled with a student to Coyhaique – a city in southern Chile – and stayed with a family there as an opportunity to get acclimated to Chilean culture.


“Staying with them gave me the opportunity to relax and observe the culture without all the hustle and bustle of the city, Temuco, that tends to overwhelm me,” Bush said. “The trip was a deep breath that empowered me to face Chilean culture with fresh willingness to be flexible, change, and grow.”


The opportunity also allowed Bush to hone her Spanish-speaking skills and passion for cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. Raised in Little Rock, Bush was homeschooled from kindergarten to 12th grade, graduating in 2012 and attending a local technical college.


While at the college, Bush saw what she perceived as injustice in the U.S. She realized friends of hers that were members of minority groups had less money than her and lacked access to job opportunities and basic transportation. Her time at the college widened her perspective.


“I was hearing my own family members say, ‘If you’re in my country, you should speak my language,’” Bush said. “That was offensive to me, because I have friends from all different ethnic backgrounds. I told myself, I didn’t want to live in a world like that. I love this world, but I want to see it change. And I can make that change by traveling and making a difference wherever I am.”


To make that difference, Bush wanted to travel the world, experience other cultures, and help people wherever she went. But to experience those cultures, she had to learn their languages. And she wanted to start with Spanish.


“It was a shoe-in. I asked, ‘What am I going to study?’ And the answer was, ‘Oh, Spanish.’ And now it’s half my world,” she said with a laugh. “Here in Arkansas, we’re not that far from the border.”


At UAFS, Bush is gaining new insight into multi-cultural collaboration through the professors in the Spanish program.


“I feel like I’ve gotten a three-dimensional education,” she said. “We have such diverse professors, and I’ve enjoyed the perspective that the instructors have brought of indigenous cultures. I’ve heard the cries of the oppressed in the classroom, and I’m very thankful for that.”


She’s also found caring professors that helped her in her studies. She became close with Dr. Ana Romo Blas, assistant professor of world languages, who helped Bush emotionally and academically.


Derrick Wise, who works in the university’s Academic Success Center, has become “like a second father” to her, quick to offer a word of encouragement.


“I couldn’t be here on my own. People move mountains when they love you, and I had just a beautiful web of people holding me up at UAFS,” she said.


After graduating in May, Bush plans on attending Beautiful Feet, a school in Oklahoma offering training for missionaries. From there, she will travel the world to help those in need while also learning from them.


“Where there’s injustice or lack of education, I’m going to go help. It’s important to me that wherever I go and whatever I do, I side with the oppressed: with women, indigenous groups, or the marginalized,” she said. “I believe that in loving the vulnerable members of our society, we are most effective in loving ourselves and our families.”


“I really recommend studying abroad and experiencing different cultures, and to understanding that the U.S. has a huge role and responsibility,” she said. “We’re leaving a footprint on the world, and it’s wise for us to study other languages and cultures because we’re not the end-all be-all.”


Dr. Mary Sobhani, program coordinator with the World Languages Department at UAFS, lauded Lydia and other like-minded students who seek to make the world a better place by broadening their idea of what is “home” and who is “family.”


“When a student steps out of his or her comfort zone, the benefits are incalculable. Not only are our students becoming global citizens through their experiences as ‘foreigners’ in distant lands, they are also enriching themselves in ways that are particularly evident in the workforce,” Sobhani said.


For more information about the World Languages Department at UAFS, contact Sobhani at 479-788-7979 or mary.sobhani@uafs.edu. For information on traveling abroad, contact Nicolas Patillo, executive director of international programs, at 479-788-7166 or nicolas.patillo@uafs.edu.