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The University of Montana's main hall. 

Sophie Hewey was awed by the power of Aconcagua, the tallest peak in the Americas.

As part of a study abroad program, she grew to appreciate the traditional greeting of a kiss on the cheek and watched some of her male classmates negotiate that different level of intimacy in Argentina.

“They would kiss their host father on the cheek, and that’s something that maybe they had never done with their own father,” Hewey said.

Last semester, Hewey was among nine students who traveled to South America with the University of Montana’s Spanish program of the Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures department. The students lived in Cordoba, studied alongside Argentine university students, and adventured near the Andes.

“We were pushed outside our comfort zone a little bit,” Hewey said.

She also witnessed the world of high fashion in close proximity to Third World poverty, and she said the journey was both rewarding and challenging.

The trip wasn’t Hewey’s first time overseas, but it was the first time she’d lived in such a big city. It was the first time some of her classmates had traveled outside of the U.S. or Mexico.

“The first three weeks were pretty difficult for them, for all of us, actually,” Hewey said.

That’s when some of the small cultural differences, such as the Argentine greeting, arose. But she said the time abroad also forced the students to learn Spanish more quickly.

The trip also demonstrated the way the histories of countries in the Americas are interconnected, she said. She saw firsthand the way policies of one country affect others, and she was able to communicate with people about the effects.

“Opening my eyes to that and being able to talk to people who live in Latin America in their native language has just provided me with so many valuable lessons,” she said.

From Livingston, Hewey is a double major in Spanish and sociology, and she said the studies complement each other. She appreciates the student-teacher relationships at UM and small class sizes, and she hopes to continue learning Spanish the rest of her life.

People don’t need to know another language to feel empathy, Hewey said, but it helps. And she said knowing how to communicate directly is different than reading a document translated by Google.

“The world needs language learners, it needs people who connect with one another across borders,” Hewey said.

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