Jamie Aciukewicz found ways to sharpen his Spanish language skills on campus, in the city of Lowell and by studying abroad.
After transferring from Davidson College to UMass Lowell in 2020 to start his sophomore year, the Spanish major took classes online and then participated in two study abroad experiences. In the fall of 2022, Aciukewicz began volunteering at the Coalition for a Better Acre, a nonprofit organization in Lowell where he could practice his Spanish. He also joined the Latin American Student Association and played intramural basketball during his senior year to meet students with similar interests.
“I knew I wanted to be involved with the university and the campus life, but I also wanted to be involved in the city of Lowell,” says the Harvard, Massachusetts, native.
Aciukewicz's affinity for the Spanish language and his desire to integrate himself with the local community led to him creating his award-winning research project, “Para Salir Adelante: Resiliency within the Hispanic Community of Lowell, Massachusetts.” He interviewed 24 Hispanic immigrants for the project – 22 of them in Spanish – about why they came to Lowell and their experiences since arriving.
Combining the anecdotes he gathered with research on the history of immigration into the city, Aciukewicz won the best undergraduate project award from the College of Fine Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences for his presentation at the 2023 Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium in April. He also earned a Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Academic Achievement in May for graduating with one of the highest GPAs in FAHSS.
As the culmination of his efforts, Aciukewicz presented his research project at the Coalition for a Better Acre, speaking in Spanish, to an audience that included its staff, UML students and faculty, as well as the Lowell residents whom he had interviewed.
“It was nice to be honored for my work, but I knew how much work went into it,” he says of the symposium award. “Even without the recognition, I would have been happy and proud of myself.”
Aciukewicz considered taking time off after his first year of college was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, he decided to transfer to UMass Lowell for its well-established online programs, proximity to home and affordable price.
He took high-level Spanish classes, including advanced composition, to build on his prior knowledge. He credits World Languages & Cultures Department Chair Maria Matz and Assoc. Prof. Daniel Arroyo-Rodríguez with refining his linguistic skills – even during his online courses.
After he graduated from high school, Aciukewicz took a gap year and spent three months living in Costa Rica. That experience sparked his passion for the Spanish language.
Aciukewicz followed up on his time in Costa Rica by studying abroad at UML: He went to Granada, Spain, in the fall of 2021 and Oaxaca, Mexico, for the spring 2022 semester. He says those trips were paramount to his desire to improve in Spanish.
“For me, studying abroad was everything,” Aciukewicz says. “If you take a (language) class … you're working in that language for an hour and 15 minutes, class ends, and you're immediately back in English mode. But when you go to another country or study abroad anywhere, you're really immersing yourself in that language.”
With his undergraduate career behind him, Aciukewicz says he plans to rest for “a month or two.” After that, he wants to go to another Spanish-speaking country and is considering graduate school.
While he may not plan to live in another country permanently, Aciukewicz says the Spanish language will be with him wherever he goes.
“Learning Spanish has definitely helped me see my place in the world better,” he says. “Spanish will always have a part of my life from here on out.”