Hello, “hola,” “oi”: The three languages represented through one simple word can be vastly different. Luckily for St. Mary’s, the directors behind the Undergraduate Southern Cone Studies program are hoping to help bridge the gap.

Mark Lokensgard, Ph.D., professor of Portuguese, Spanish, and Multi-Organizational Studies, has a special history and interest in bringing cultures and dialects together. He grew up speaking only English and had his first experience with Spanish in high school. Upon learning the language fluently, he was excited to be able to put it to the test on a volunteer excursion to Paraguay.

During his time there, he took a trip across the border to Brazil. Dr. Lokensgard realized something that shocked and attracted him: The Spanish he spoke to the Brazilians was understood, yet he received replies in Portuguese, a language he could barely follow. This sparked his interest and he soon began the task of mastering Portuguese. Since his high school days, he has returned to Brazil many times, putting his language skills to good use.

Zaida Martinez, Ph.D., professor of International Business and International Relations, began the Southern Cone Studies program in 2002 after receiving a grant from the Department of Education. Aware of Lokensgard’s history with South American countries, she quickly recruited him for help. Through the co-directors’ organization of this two-part program, students first study and prepare during the spring semester at St. Mary’s then travel to Brazil, Chile or Argentina for a three-week course involving classes, exploration and site visits in the summer.

Two faculty members – one concentrating on languages and the other on international business or international relations – serve as mentors during the semester, then accompany the students to consult, guide and advise them abroad. Planning during the spring is vital. Students work closely with a director of the program to organize a research topic to be completed during their travels. Upon returning to school, the students plan a presentation to be given in the fall to present their research, showcase their new skills and discuss their international experiences with faculty, students and important figures from around San Antonio.

All majors and levels of Spanish or Portuguese proficiency are welcome to participate. Through the Undergraduate Southern Cone Studies program, St. Mary’s students are given the opportunity to gain valuable experience with languages, diverse cultures, international organizations and once-in-a-lifetime research in some of the most important countries in the Americas.

For students who may be interested in other options, St. Mary’s partner institution in Brazil, the Catholic University of Paraná, also sends exchange students to St. Mary’s and accepts St. Mary’s students to spend a semester in Curitiba. 

By Rachel Grahmann, St. Mary’s Honors Program and English Communication Arts major

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