About My Study Abroad Program
Major/Minor: Majors in Political Science and Global Studies, minor in Public Policy
Program: Universidad de Deusto
Location: Bilbao, Spain
Term: Fall 2019
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I have known that I wanted to study abroad since high school; in fact, one of the reasons that UNC was so appealing to me when I was applying to college was all of the great resources that it provides for students who want to study abroad. I knew I wanted to do this at such an early age because I have always had a passion for travel and learning about different cultures. To me, study abroad was, and still is, the perfect combination of both. This time last year when I was searching for the perfect program, I already knew that I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country in order to develop my Spanish speaking skills. At the time, I had little confidence in my Spanish ability, so I also wanted to be in a program that had a strong, resourceful, international program in a part of the world that might speak a little bit of English just in case I got in a jam. For these reasons I was drawn to a couple of different programs in Spain. I ultimately chose the University of Deusto in Bilbao for two main reasons. (1) It was the right price and (2) it was not affiliated with UNC. Another big reason I wanted to study abroad was to get a different perspective in my education, and I didn't feel that I would be able to accomplish that at UNC in Seville. I'm so happy with my choice!
What did you learn about yourself?
The cliche is true that study abroad changes people. There is so much that I could say, but there is one particular revelation that I had about myself that has quite literally changed the trajectory of my life. It was after class one day that I realized that after undergrad, I want to continue on to some other form of higher education. What I had just learned in that class blew my mind and made me realize that there is so much more out there to learn. Quite frankly, it humbled me, because for once I recognized that I wasn't the smartest person in the room. On top of that, I realized that learning is not only reserved for inside the classroom. We learn as much, if not more, in our everyday experiences and interactions. That realization lit a fire in me to continue on in the pursuit of knowledge. And here I am, today, studying to take my LSATs this summer and planning my next big adventure!
What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
One of my favorite memories from my program was on Thanksgiving day. For many study abroad students, the distance between you and your family can feel even bigger on this holiday, so I was missing my family and having a hard time. To acknowledge this important American holiday, my program coordinators put on a huge Thanksgiving lunch for our whole program. We had a Spanish version of a Thanksgiving meal (which was absolutely delicious for the record). All of my friends sat around a huge round table, and we took turns one by one to say a couple of things that we were thankful for. It ended up being quite an emotional meal, with many hugs and tears, because we all realized how thankful we were for each other and for our home in Bilbao. In that moment I felt surrounded by a different kind of family and I didn't feel homesick anymore. It was a tender moment that I often look back upon to remember those feelings of love and friendship that I continue to have for the people I met abroad.
What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
My advice to students who want to study abroad in a Spanish speaking country is: you know more Spanish than you think you do. There is definitely an adjustment period of getting used to hearing it all the time, reading it on all of the signs, and speaking it of course, but I promise that it will come to you better than you think it will. I had huge anxiety about not being able to navigate around the city with my limited Spanish knowledge, but I was more than capable of doing so. I worried too much beforehand, so I want so save you the worry now and tell you that you're going to kill it!
Would you do it again?
Yes! But then again, it is hard to imagine studying abroad without the same group of people surrounding me: my friends, my teachers, and my host family. It would be impossible to recreate that experience. But I would do it all over again if I could.
How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at UNC?
The first major difference was that I was able to take classes in Spanish. My favorite class was about the European Union and it was taught in Spanish. Listening to lectures in another language challenged my listening and comprehension skills and proved to be a very beneficial way for me to learn Spanish. My professor, being a citizen of the EU, spoke passionately about the ins and outs of the European Union, about its foundations, and about the contemporary problems it faces. I don't think I would've gotten that kind of enthusiasm at UNC, nor the unique perspective that my professor brought to the classroom.
How do you identify?
Covenant Scholars, Scholarship Recipient, Rural County Resident
Could you share any experiences where your identity played a role in your time abroad?
One of the major appeals of studying abroad in Western Europe is the prospect of travelling to other countries. This prospect was not as open to me as it was to other students in my program due to my financial situation coming from a low-income family. However, looking back, I would say that I travelled an ample amount during my time abroad. I was very lucky in finding a group of friends who were also money conscious. The mindset of our group was to be cost-effective, which allowed us to plan some really great trips at a low cost. When it was all said and done, I visited 5 new countries outside of Spain, all while staying within my budget! I learned that it is possible to travel on a budget. Maybe I didn’t get to go to the most luxurious locations in Europe, but that’s not what studying abroad is about at the end of the day. Travelling while studying abroad is not supposed to be the goal, but just an added bonus. It all in an effort to see new things, make memories, and learn about the world around you.
Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
My first piece of advice is a bit obvious, but it’s to go into your destination country with a plan. Make a budget and stick to it as best you can. Leave a little bit of cushion for unexpected costs you may incur (like losing the keys to your host parents house and having to pay for a lock change… yikes). Budgeting was so important to me because it took away the stress that comes with money problems. It had a major impact on the maintenance of my mental health, which allowed me to embrace each and every experience with open arms and a clear mind. My second piece of advice is to really get to know the city that you’re studying in. Seeing some of my other friends travelling every weekend gave me FOMO in the moment, but in retrospect I’m so glad that I didn’t travel any more than I did. I really got to know Bilbao for the beautiful and unique city that it is; I saved a lot of money too! I suggest that you, too, try to form a bond with your city instead of trying to see the world in four months. Studying abroad is such a unique experience and you may never have the opportunity to get to know a city in another country as intimately as you can during your time abroad.
If you faced any challenges abroad, where could you turn to get the support you needed?
The International Spanish Office, or CIDE for short, was always there for me when I needed it. For example, I had the unfortunate experience of my luggage getting stuck in customs in Madrid for two weeks (pro tip: don't Fedex your luggage to Spain). To get it out of customs, I had to go through a complicated procedure with the Spanish tax office. Luckily, someone from the CIDE team was with me every step of the way. He went to the tax office with me and I got my luggage back a day later. I don't know what I would've done without his help! The CIDE office was also very supportive in accommodating any requirements that UNC stipulated, which made the credit transfer process go really smooth for me on my return to UNC.