Alumni Story: Jessica Elfstrom ‘07

In 2008 I joined the U.S. Navy. Today I am a Lieutenant pursuing a master’s degree in Mexico. Upon entering Dartmouth I knew that I wanted to study in the LALACS department. Everything about Latin America intrigues me: the history, culture, politics, geography, and people. As an interdisciplinary program, I was able to satisfy my interest in all these areas. Additionally, with the flexibility of the D-plan and the encouragement of the LALACS department, I was able to spend three terms of my Dartmouth experience in Brazil.

Upon graduating from Dartmouth in 2007 my goal was to obtain a job with international scope. The Navy has provided me with great opportunities and training, I’ve visited and learned about many parts of the world, and now they have sent me to Mexico! In 2014 I was selected as an Olmsted Scholar – a program that provides unique leadership development for exceptional active duty military officers. Olmsted Scholars experience two years of immersion in a foreign country while pursuing graduate studies at a foreign university.

Olmsted Scholars must present a list of ten countries where they would most desire to study and of course my list was top-loaded with Latin American countries. Ultimately I was selected for Mexico. At Dartmouth I studied Portuguese and, through the Rassias method and outstanding Portuguese professors, I was able to speak it well upon graduation. Building off this base of strong Portuguese skills, I was able to learn Spanish easily at the Defense Language Institute, where the military trains its linguists, before moving to Mexico.

I am now one semester into a two-year philosophy course at the Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City. In just these first six months abroad, I have been fortunate to travel through much of Mexico and to Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. I plan to continue to travel as much as possible while down here. The more I integrate myself into my Latin American life, the more I am enchanted by this place. I am certain my LALACS background was an influential factor in my selection as an Olmsted Scholar, which is allowing me to broadly, through regional travel, and deeply, through immersion in Mexico, cultivate a better understanding of Latin America.

Although our country’s relationship with Latin America does not make international news headlines, we do have and continue to need Americans with expertise in regional affairs and fluency in the regional languages to direct our engagement. I am grateful for the solid educational foundation that Dartmouth provided me and that LALACS provoked in me a fervent curiosity and concern for what was happening beyond our borders, both of which have placed me where I am happy to be today. I am confident that the Latin American knowledge and appreciation I gained through LALACS will continue to contribute to my career performance and choices.