Susanna O'Kula had a profound interest in the Spanish language. A year spent studying abroad gave her a greater understanding of the language and enabled her to further her work on several mission trips.
The daughter of Dr. Kevin O'Kula and the Rev. Holly Shoaf-Okula, of Evans, Susanna said she has long been interested in Spanish and used a year studying in Spain to fully immerse herself in the culture and become fluent in the language.
"I spent my entire junior year in Spain with the School Year Abroad program," said the 18-year-old Augusta Preparatory Day School senior. "I was an AP Spanish student during my sophomore year, and I loved the language."
Susanna can't speak highly enough of her first experience traveling abroad.
"It's a great program because it allows you to stay with a local host family and immerse yourself in their culture, but it's an American school, so all of the courses transfer," said Susanna, a National Honor Society member and member of the school's varsity soccer and cross country teams.
"It was amazing. I loved it and fell in love with my Spanish family. They're as much a part of my family now as the family I've had all along. It's ironic, but I'm homesick for them and Spain."
The trip excited Susanna on both an intellectual and personal level. She was able to use her ability to communicate with Spanish-speaking people during mission trips to Mexico and Peru last summer.
"I used my skills to serve as a translator," she said of her mission trips.
"It was tangible evidence of what I could do with my skills."
The mission trips, sponsored by Presbyterian churches in the Northeast, are opportunities that Susanna said she will be forever grateful to have participated in.
"I'm very glad to have gotten the opportunity to go on those trips," she said, adding that she is a member of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Augusta.
Susanna prepared her senior paper on the Irish Travelers and was invited to speak to the Augusta Genealogical Society.
She also placed first in the recent Georgia Independent Schools Association's state literary competition in the girl's argumentative essay category.
Monica Graser, a Spanish teacher at Augusta Prep who taught Susanna in the AP Spanish class her sophomore year, said that it's hard to remember that her former student hasn't always spoken the language.
"Her level of fluency is amazing, and it is easy to forget that she is not a Spanish native speaker when I talk to her," Graser said. "Now that she's back in the States, we speak in Spanish in the hallways and occasionally go out for coffee and Spanish conversation with other senior girls after school."
Those conversations will soon come to an end, however, as Susanna prepares to graduate from the school that has been home since she was in the first grade.
"This has been a wonderful place to grow up in," she said of Augusta Prep. "But I'm looking forward to going to college this fall."
Susanna will enroll in Columbia University in New York City and said she is considering majoring in either international studies or creative writing.
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