Sara Giska (Class of 2016)

photo of Sara Giska

  • junior honors double major in International Studies and Linguistics
  • from Dublin, OH
  • lived in Spain 3 separate times, first as a high school junior and most recently as a Miami sophomore in the Barcelona study abroad program
  • awarded $20,000 2014 Boren Scholarship for study in Brazil
"Pursuing what you're interested in and choosing a major here in the College of Arts and Science forces you to think outside of your comfort zone. It gives you a broader perspective than if you had a more specialized major and didn't have to take classes in the liberal arts."

Why Miami?

"I visited Miami a few times before even deciding to go here, but I was always drawn to the beautiful campus and college town atmosphere. It’s very similar to my hometown near Columbus, so it was easy to feel like a part of the community. Furthermore, I consider myself to be an independent person, and I saw in Miami many opportunities to branch out and discover more about myself and the career path I intend to follow.

"I became interested in foreign policy in high school, so I figured Miami's major in International Studies [ITS] would be a good fit for me. It allows me to focus on certain global issues that I'm passionate about and to explore them from different perspectives. I also have an insatiable love for travel and would like to work for some sort of international organization, so ITS was an obvious choice. When thinking about what I wanted my second major to be, I initially chose Journalism. After a few classes I decided it wasn't quite right for me, and that led me to the linguistics program.

"With linguistics, I've been taking upper-level Spanish courses, but you don't have to focus on foreign language. There are many different tracks, such as computer systems, engineering, philosophy, linguistic anthropology, and foreign language linguistics, which is the track I'm in. Linguistics describes how languages have evolved over time, and I believe that the material I've learned is extremely valuable for anyone who wants to learn another language. I currently have a laundry list of languages I'm eager to learn, though Portuguese is my most current point of focus.

"I've found all sorts of niches and opportunities here at Miami. My ITS classes have allowed me to make friends from places like Luxembourg and France. As a sophomore I studied abroad in Barcelona, where I began studying Portuguese. My time in Barcelona has been the highlight of my Miami experience so far. Miami's study abroad office is always working with you to help you take advantage of phenomenal opportunities. That experience ultimately led me to receiving the 2014 National Security Education Program (NSEP) Boren Scholarship through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). This award will allow me to study and do research on social inequality in Brazil next spring and summer."

Best Miami Experiences

"One of my best classes at Miami was ITS 301, Intercultural Relations, which is part of the ITS thematic sequence. I have invested a lot of my life in Spain and got a very strong Spanish language background, especially by spending 9 months there right after my freshman year. I've been studying a lot of Portuguese as well; I leave for Brazil this winter on the Boren Scholarship and won't be back in the U.S. until the end of August 2015!

"I owe a lot of these experiences and opportunities to Dr. Melanie Ziegler, my academic advisor in international studies. She helped plan my study abroad program in Spain and has given me lots of guidance for my Boren Scholarship as well, especially how my courses abroad fit in with the overall Miami curriculum. I came into her office wanting to go a million different directions, and she streamlined all of that for me.

"I also joined Amicus Curiae Pre-Law Society this year, as I am considering pursuing law school after graduation. The club provides a baseline for anyone who is thinking about a law career by teaching us about various law fields, bringing in lawyers from renowned firms, and helping us boost our professionalism through workshops throughout the year.

"I also work at the Howe Writing Center, which has provided a really great outlet for me because I enjoy writing. Both Dr. Kate Ronald and Kate Francis have been helpful to me since I got involved there as a freshman. Having started out as a Journalism major, I'm always looking for more writing outlets at Miami. I've taken 21 credit hours nearly every semester since I started, so it's sometimes hard to find the time for extracurriculars. Staying busy, including working at the Writing Center, helps to keep me motivated."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"Pursuing what you're interested in and choosing a major here in the College of Arts and Science forces you to think outside of your comfort zone. It gives you a broader perspective than if you had a more specialized major and didn’t have to take classes in the liberal arts.

"I really enjoy the fact that ITS is an interdisciplinary major. It's important to think of your education as cumulative rather than focusing on one particular field. Being in the liberal arts definitely gives you an advantage. I'm on a foreign policy track, which can be taken a number of different routes (government, NGOs, international law, non-profits, etc.), but many other classes, such as Anthropology 301 and economics, have given me additional perspectives that really make my majors unique. I'm able to pick and choose which courses will be most beneficial for my career, from the theoretical to the practical.

"I'm most proficient in Portuguese and Spanish, but I've also been taking Arabic and French, all of which will help me on the job market. Adding in my Linguistics major allows me to gain an even deeper type of skill set. It's one thing to say you can speak a language, but linguistics turns language learning into a science. I want to do translation and interpretation, and to do that effectively, you almost have to re-program the way you think about languages, at least in linguistic terms.

"After I graduate, I'll be completing my federal service requirement that's associated with the Boren Scholarship. I hope to pursue a Latin America-focused assignment, but the opportunities are truly endless. We have to spend a year doing something with a focus on national security, and I am flexible with anything—I may be placed in a situation where I would need to learn Turkish, for example. My ITS and linguistics background has provided me with unique skill sets that will certainly benefit me on the job market."

Language and Cultural Immersion Experiences in Spain

Sara Giska showcases Spain's Sierra Nevada.

"Living in Spain for 9 months was easily my most memorable Miami-related experience. I left as soon as finals were over my freshman year to be an au pair with a family for the summer, and then I stayed until the end of J-Term 2014 in order to pass the holidays with my host families whom I had met when I was still in high school. During those nine months I also had many opportunities to travel, both within Spain and throughout Europe. These trips were very important to me, as I maintain a travel blog in my free time!

"This was not my first time in Spain, however, but my third! I'd been there for 2 summers prior as a Rotary exchange student in high school, and that's what changed my entire trajectory. During my first visit, I lived with a host family, and this gave me insights into the inner-workings of Spanish culture—not just the little things like taking siestas or drinking sangria, or how people are so lax with their time. Spanish people value large family gatherings more than anything else, which I wasn't accustomed to. During subsequent trips to Spain, I also learned a lot about the economic crisis and the complicated political situation. By the time I left Spain in January, I felt I understood the underlying cultural idioms that took a great deal of time to comprehend—in a way, I now feel split between 2 cultures. I quickly learned not to find fault in anything, and that's what made my experiences in Spain so positive. I wasn't looking for cultural differences, but when I came across one it didn't bother me; instead, I felt intrigued to learn more. As a result, I never felt like I had to overcome many obstacles—I just kind of rolled with them.

"I developed my language skills even further the second time I went, and by the third time, as a Miami student, I felt really confident communicating with people. And of course, living with a host family helped me with the language acquisition process because you're forced to speak all the time. I also acquired a large group of Spanish friends my age, and we primarily communicated in Spanish; this has been the most invaluable experience in my second-language acquisition.

Sara Giska at Catalunya, Spain, independence celebration

"Becoming conversationally fluent helped a great deal since I was at the University of Barcelona and all the courses were taught in Spanish or Catalan. When I began learning Portuguese, my strong Spanish skills facilitated the language-learning process all the more, and now I feel prepared for Brazil.

"Having these international experiences has made me realize that I would have absolutely no qualms with living abroad for the rest of my life. I can see myself embracing, and settling into, a foreign culture. Living in Brazil and speaking Portuguese next year is going to bring about entirely new perspectives and experiences. I'll be focusing on social inequality between northern and southern Brazil and hope to be able to interview many Brazilians to document the tensions that are still pervasive between them. Southern Brazil is known for its affluence and for being the hub for start-ups and technology, while the North is not developing at the same pace. I'll be in the North for the first 6 months of my funded program, in Salvador da Bahia, where I want to get involved with grassroots organizations. After a brief hiatus, I will then head south to Florianopolis, a beach-hugging city known for its high standard of living. Politically, economically, and demographically, it is essentially the opposite of Salvador. Experiencing these 2 vastly different cultures is the central axis of my thesis, as I vow to show others that there is not one 'Brazil—instead, it is a diverse land with many different ways of life."

Advice to Students

"My background in international studies and linguistics has been quite scattered, but I appreciate the variety of classes I've taken both in my majors and outside them. There have been classes that I thought I wouldn't like, but they have sparked my interest and changed my mind. I suppose I could say I have a lot of interests, and I have not taken a single class at Miami that I have not enjoyed—even courses like geology and economics! Keeping a positive, open mind will benefit you a lot.

"I know that it can seem overwhelming with all the options Miami has—for me, it seems like both a blessing and a curse. Talk to someone within your major, go meet with your departmental head, and get advice for particular programs to pursue. Go study abroad, especially now that J-Term has really opened up the door for people to do so. Some people have had hesitations about leaving Miami for an entire semester, so J-Term has helped with that.

"Honestly, I wish that every Miami student had the opportunity to go abroad, because you come to see that the world is much wider than what you could ever imagine. I believe that it is important, especially for college students who are in a phase of discovering who they are, to pursue opportunities that take them out of their comfort zone. Going abroad certainly provides you with many of those! Given all of the ways Miami is helping students study overseas, the only thing you need to worry about is getting a passport!"

[May 2014]