Olivia Iekel ’14
Volunteer Coordinator, Nicaraguan Council of Protestant Churches, Nicaragua
Olivia Iekel

Mission minded

Olivia graduated from Northwestern with a double major in Spanish and translation and interpretation, as well as a minor in Christian mission. After joining the college’s short-term spring break mission trips to Bluefields, Nicaragua, two consecutive years, she was chosen for Northwestern’s Summer of Service team and placed in Managua, where she worked with the Council of Protestant Churches in Nicaragua (CEPAD). Invited by CEPAD to serve long-term, Olivia now connects people and churches in North America with ministries that work in impoverished Nicaraguan communities—helping people participate in God’s work in Nicaragua by facilitating communications, church partnerships and volunteer opportunities.

Why did you decide to attend Northwestern?
I wanted a school where I could grow in my faith and share it with others. Until I visited Northwestern, I didn’t think that would be possible at a Christian institution because I thought I would be too boxed in with people who were just like me. I quickly discovered Northwestern is a place that brings together people from diverse backgrounds and embraces questions about faith and God’s world—all in an environment that supported me in that process.

What led you to choose translation and interpretation, along with Spanish, as your major?
Translation and interpretation is a growing profession, with needs in almost any field of work—from legal to medical to business. However, the T&I program was designed for incoming students who were already bilingual; I wasn't one of them. My faculty adviser and the program director, Profe Piet Koene, gave me the opportunity to take the first course and see how it went. I joke now that I spent my first two years at Northwestern showing him that I could complete the program, while he spent the two later—and more difficult—years encouraging me that I could finish.

Speaking of professors, what are they like?
Classes on grammar and phonetics were engaging, and I learned not just about the Spanish language, but also about Spanish-speaking people groups. I found myself in all of my Spanish professors’ offices at one time or another: for paper revisions with Profesora Gonzalez; for guidance and prayer from Profe Clark; for help preparing to study abroad from Profesora McDonald; and for many conversations regarding my honors research and future plans with Profe Koene. Even after graduation, the whole department has continued to be one of my greatest supports and encouragements.

You studied abroad? Where?
I spent six months in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During that semester I had my first opportunity to establish a life for myself in a foreign place, which was a skill God knew I would need in the future. I joined a church where Spanish speakers from all across Latin America attended, I lived daily life with a host mom and roommates, I took classes with local Argentine students, and I even learned to dance the tango—all while speaking Spanish! I came home not only more confident in my language abilities, but with new friends, new experiences and a broader understanding of the world.

In what ways did Northwestern challenge and strengthen your faith?
Coming to college, I knew about God’s love for me, my salvation through Christ, and my responsibility to share that message with others. Northwestern asked me, “Why do you believe that?” and “If you believe it, what does that mean for your life?” These questions, among many others, came up in a space where I was challenged by them but also thoroughly supported along the way.