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Grayce McCarley

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Chinese and Global Studies
Program: UNC Art on the Camino de Santiago
Location: Camino de Santiago, Spain
Term: Summer 2023


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
Developing awareness through global interconnectedness and seizing experiences to promote this contact have always been consistent motivators behind many of my major life decisions and learning opportunities. As a global studies major, I was intentional about spending my summer exploring the qualities of this area of study: I wanted to align myself with different cultures, ideas, and environments to expand personal perspectives on my own education and how the surrounding world affects that. The UNC Art on the Camino de Santiago program spoke to me for a multitude of reasons, but the initial draw was that it offered me the opportunity to experience both intense reflection and adventure at the same time. I was intrigued by the idea of being able to tangibly engage with the environment that I would be immersing myself in. The idea of art as a primary medium of reflection was also interesting to me, since I previously had very limited experience in using visual methods for personal reflection. I was looking for something that would intellectually, emotionally, and physically challenge me, and this program offered a perfect intersection of these desires.


What did you learn about yourself?
I learned, in great depths, about how to find endless supplies of love for the natural world around me, the community of people that enter and exit my life daily, and my own relationship to pain, progress, and pride. I defined my goals, surpassed them, and then defined them all over again--and usually, this goal was simply to be able to get up and walk another twenty miles day after day despite the exhaustion or physical ache this caused. I learned how to feel proud of myself and my accomplishments, when to allow myself rewards and rest, and realized that needing to take a break is not equivalent to failure or shame. The values that I pondered, remedied, and confronted were all concepts that encroached upon my central perceptions of the world or myself, and having the opportunity to reflect upon these lessons during my pilgrimage has completely changed how I now approach new things in my life and my future aspirations.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
One of my favorite memories of the program was inevitably when we reached the cathedral in Santiago, reflecting the end of our 486 mile pilgrimage. The emotion that I felt at that moment was near pure joy, almost to the point of uncontrollable laughter, and I laid on the ground in front of the cathedral for nearly five minutes before getting control of myself enough to stand up and hug my friends around me. That rush of emotion was something that I've never experienced to that intensity before. It was a moment of happiness, pride, relief, and awe so intense that I will undoubtably reach back into that memory for the rest of my life whenever I need a boost of reassurance or comfort. That moment warms my core like a golden ball of love tucked snug between my ribs.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
My biggest piece of advice would be to allow themselves time to let changes and experiences happen to them without feeling the need to totally control or understand it as it happens. To learn and grow is not a race--it is not instant, and often, they will not necessarily realize it is happening until they start to sense dissonance in how they think about or approach elements of their daily life. Change is both inevitable, scary, and a beautiful thing all at once. Being able to feel themselves undergoing these changes, while intimidating when in the middle of the process, will end with them feeling significantly more aligned with themselves, their motivations, and their future as they continue the journey of pushing boundaries and skills. Study abroad is an incredible vessel for allowing students to explore, understand, and appreciate new things around them while also becoming capable of seeing these reflections happen within themselves.


How do you identify?


Could you share any experiences where your identity played a role in your time abroad?


Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?


If you faced any challenges abroad, where could you turn to get the support you needed?