Heather MacNaughton ’10 danced her way through a semester abroad in Ecuador and Peru and is now bringing what she has learned to the HWS community.
With the aid of a Seay Grant, named for the late George Liston Seay ’62 who funded them for a time until his death, MacNaughton was given the opportunity to do a cultural project of her interest as a part of her study abroad experience. Seay Grants give financial assistance to students studying abroad to afford them the opportunity to “do their own projects that bind them to the cultures that surround them.” These projects go above and beyond the regular course of study abroad and may have an academic focus or may be more cultural enrichment in nature.
MacNaughton, whose project focused on the South American culture and tradition of salsa dancing, gave a presentation at the Office of Intercultural Affairs in April. The presentation was titled “Salsa, a Vibrant Tradition through Latin America: Discovering the Seay Grant through Dance.” The presentation highlighted MacNaughton’s experiences learning salsa while studying abroad in the HWS Ecuador and Peru program. She created a slideshow of photographs showing her learning the dance from the local people who helped to immerse her in their culture; she also gave a demonstration of basic salsa steps and encouraged the audience to try it themselves.
In addition to this presentation, MacNaughton has opened herself up to the Geneva community to teach 250 elementary students about Latin American Culture with both a presentation and a dance class.
“I had the initial interest [in salsa dancing] myself, but I still had hesitation with the language barrier and jumping into a completely new culture,” MacNaughton says of choosing to do this project. “Knowing that I had extra funds to really discover a unique aspect of the culture encouraged me to finally take that first step to learn.”
When asked how she has personally benefited from the opportunities that came along with the Seay Grant, she responds “My Seay Grant wasn’t about salsa itself; instead, it was really about the culture. If I hadn’t gotten involved in learning this local cultural dance I think I would have missed out on the best memories of my trip abroad.” She believes that the Seay Grant really does encourage students to immerse themselves into a foreign culture at a higher level.
Seay Grants will be replaced by Student International Initiatives Fund grants as the Colleges continue to enable students to obtain the fullest possible abroad experiences.
Since spending the spring 2009 semester abroad in Ecuador and Peru, the international relations and Spanish and Hispanic studies double major has also spent the fall 2010 semester abroad in Madrid, Spain and plans to go back overseas after graduation.