"I love Spanish," said Wing, a 23-year-old Montana State University student. "Studying another language has introduced me to various global perspectives. The world came alive."
Wing, of Helena, will graduate this spring with a double major in Spanish and political science with an emphasis in Latin American studies. She was recently named Student of the Month by the Bozeman chapter of Rotary International.
"Claire is one of those unique students who is completely open to the world," said Bridget Kevane, head of the modern languages and literature department. "She is someone that you wish would come work for you not only because of her intelligence, but because of her incredible outlook on life. She has been an outstanding student in Spanish, and I know she will go far."
When Wing first entered college, she majored in political science to "make some sense of the world," she said.
She took a Spanish language course her second year on a whim. By her third year she was headed to Valparaiso, Chile for intensive language training and then to Mexico to study international relations.
"For someone wishing to speak Spanish as a professional, it's vital to go abroad," Wing said.
A Pacific Ocean port town of 200,000, Valparaiso overwhelmed Wing at first with its size, traffic and noise. But Valapaiso is a center for writers, artists and musicians and Wing's host family were musicians: the husband a cellist, the wife an opera singer.
"Being in a home really gives you a chance to learn about a culture," Wing said. "You get to talk about politics, religion, nearly everything."
By the end of her stay at Valparaiso Wing had, in her words, "fallen in love with the place."
Her six months in Central and South America whetted her appetite for travel and she hopes after graduation to teach English abroad. Her top choices are Peru -- for its geography and culture -- and Spain, where she could deepen her understanding of Spanish.
Her travels also helped her empathize with foreign students visiting MSU. Since October, she has been a weekly conversation partner with a student from Taiwan through the A.C.E. Language Institute.
"I've been in her shoes," Wing said. "So it feels good to help her and I've learned a lot from her as well."
As she gets ready to leave MSU, Wing has a little advice for entering freshmen.
"Bozeman attracts really excellent professors for the quality of life, not the pay," Wing said. "The professors here have a lot to give students, but you have to show up and keep up your end of the bargain. Just one day in class can spark something you're passionate about and explode into something cool."