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Up, Up and Away: A Senior Reflects On Her Journey Across the World

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Emma Atkinson

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Korie Torres will graduate this spring with a degree in international human rights. 

Headshot of Korie Torres.


That was the first word uttered by a young Korie Torres.

“I’ve been traveling since the womb, essentially,” says the international human rights graduate student, who completed her undergraduate degrees in political science, Spanish and international relations at Simpson College in Iowa.

The story of Torres’ time at DU can’t be told without an understanding of her deep love of travel, language and culture.

Torres grew up in Houston, Texas, in a Puerto Rican family. Though her first spoken word was in English, her first language was not English or Spanish but rather, American Sign Language (ASL)—her mother, who works in deaf education, knew that her little girl would be able to communicate through signs much sooner than through words.

Torres’ passion for learning languages started early. Though she didn’t grow up speaking Spanish, she wanted to be able to communicate with her extended family. So, she studied the language from middle school onward, eventually becoming fluent.

But that fluency wasn’t enough for her.

“I was like, ‘Spanish is a pretty common language to know; where can I step out of my comfort zone? Where can I learn another language?’ And I was able to travel to Austria last quarter for the whole term, and I learned German,” Torres recounts. “Being able to learn languages and experience things that you typically wouldn't here in Denver—or the United States—is something that pushes me to travel at any chance that I get.”

In addition to going to Vienna last fall, Torres has had two other opportunities to scratch her travel itch and study abroad. She ventured to Cuba in 2022 and El Salvador in the summer of 2023.

Torres says her Cuba trip realized a travel goal she’s had since she was 13 years old.

“Cuba is probably my favorite place that I've ever been—it’s always been a dream of mine to go,” she says. “I went on a fellowship through [the Korbel School of International Studies] and it was unlike any place I've ever been before. The people were so warm and welcoming and inviting, and my Spanish grew tremendously.”

Through Korbel, Torres is majoring in international human rights with a specialization in environment and sustainability studies.

In El Salvador, these two interests came together when Torres interned for the National Science Foundation, working with small rural communities to learn about their capacity for and resilience against climate change patterns.

Torres worked as a translator between locals and her internship team.

“I was able to, for the first time, translate in an official capacity, which at first was really difficult for me, because I didn't know any of the terms,” she says. “I was having to make sure that the message from the local community members was being relayed correctly to my fellow cohort, but within a couple of days, I was just one or two words behind in my translation abilities. And I became so confident, and I learned so much.”

Torres recalls an environmental peacebuilding class at DU taught by Tamra D’Estreé, the director of the Center for Conflict Engagement, as one that opened her eyes to the intricacies of her chosen area of study.

She says her professional goals—continuing to see the world while working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—are informed by her passion not only for travel but also for social justice.

“One thing that I continuously see throughout my travels is that a lot of people aren't listened to,” Torres says. “There are systemic institutions that are suppressing voices that need to be heard—whether that be minorities or by race, sexual orientation, gender—they're everywhere.”

Torres fights that suppression through her participation in the Conflict Engagement and Resolution Initiative (CERI) at DU, in which students gather to tackle divisive topics in a civil and reasoned manner.

“What I learned in CERI I plan to translate to my professional realm, whatever that may be, because I understand the importance of using one’s privilege to create spaces for those who otherwise couldn't use their voices,” she says.

Torres is motivated by the prospect of seeing the world—but also by something a little closer to home.

“I want to make my family proud,” she says.