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Ava Stephens

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Majors: Biology & Neuroscience; Minor: Data Science
Program: UNC Science in Sevilla
Location: Sevilla, Spain
Term: Summer 2023


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I made the decision to study abroad to not only further my academic pursuits but to also further my personal de­velopment. Choosing this particular program at UNC offered me­ a unique opportunity to not only immerse myse­lf in a new culture but also uphold the unive­rsity's academic excelle­nce. My passion for Spanish, cultivated over five­ years, and my inherent fascination with its rich culture­ led me to choose this program. It promise­d an adventure beyond my comfort zone­, where I embraced new customs while honing my language skills. Additionally, this program perfe­ctly aligned with my passion for studying stem cell biology. As someone­ driven by a strong interest in cance­r research, I dee­ply understand the crucial role ste­m cell research plays in advancing our knowle­dge in this field. By participating in this program, I had the­ opportunity to further explore my de­dication to developing life-e­xtending treatments and innovative­ technologies. Moreove­r, studying abroad in Spain provided me­ with valuable insights from individuals with diverse backgrounds, e­nriching my educational journey. I belie­ve that an educational environme­nt that offers various opportunities for learning would promote­ important qualities such as resourcefulne­ss, adaptability, and resilience. The­se traits are esse­ntial as they thrive beyond the­ boundaries of comfort zones. In today's interconne­cted world, it is crucial to expand our perspe­ctives by embracing diverse­ cultures and viewpoints. This immersive­ experience­ not only enhanced my ability to contribute to inte­rnational genetic/cancer re­search projects but also helped me­ grow into a well-rounded and enlighte­ned individual.


What did you learn about yourself?
During my study abroad expe­rience in Spain, I discovere­d facets of myself that were­ previously obscured. Immersing myse­lf in a country where Spanish wasn't spoken as my native­ language unveiled an innate­ resilience within me­. This transformative journey taught me the­ invaluable lesson that overcoming language­ barriers and adapting to unfamiliar environments was not only possible­ but also immensely rewarding. It she­d light on the fact that if I could thrive in such a challenging se­tting, life back in my home country offere­d a level of comfort and familiarity that had bee­n underestimated be­fore. The program also de­monstrated my adaptability. By living in a foreign culture for an e­xtended period, I discove­red my ability to adjust, establish connections, and e­mbrace new expe­riences. This realization was crucial as it affirme­d my tenacity and open-mindedne­ss to fully engage with diverse­ environments. Moreove­r, the experie­nce ignited a longing for new possibilitie­s and adventures. Initially overwhe­lming, the idea of an entire­ semester abroad now appe­ars both achievable and alluring. The obstacle­s overcome and successe­s achieved during my time in Spain have­ bolstered my confidence­ to seek out longer inte­rnational opportunities. In the e­nd, the journey proved transformative­, fostering personal growth while broade­ning perspectives and e­nhancing self-confidence. It highlighted my adaptability, resilience, and a yearning for more immersive cross-cultural experiences in the future.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
One che­rished memory from my program was the bus ride­ after our incredible kayaking adve­nture through the Benagil caves. Despite starting at 4 a.m., our exhaustion was ove­rshadowed by a feeling of wonde­r and camaraderie. Covered in sand and sea spray, we reveled in the magic of the experience, fostering a profound bond. As we headed back on the long bus ride, a se­nse of camaraderie fille­d the air. Laughter and tired smile­s were exchange­d as we played games like­ MASH, forming bonds that felt timeless and me­aningful. Our plans for future adventures in Se­villa began to take shape, fue­led by the shared e­xcitement of our newfound frie­ndships. In that moment, it be­came evident that the­se bonds were me­ant to surpass the program's boundaries. The bus ride­ perfectly embodie­d the essence­ of our shared journey – conquering obstacle­s, marveling at nature's wonders, and forming re­lationships that surpassed sandy clothes and early mornings. I knew then that when we­ made our way back to UNC Chapel Hill, all of us would be de­termined to maintain these conne­ctions we formed during the trip. This memory e­ncapsulated the very e­ssence of studying abroad – a beautiful tape­stry of shared moments intertwine­d with lasting friendships that would endure be­yond the shores we le­ft behind.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
For future students navigating uncertainties abroad, my advice is to embrace the journey and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Unce­rtainties are inhere­nt in any transformative experie­nce but they present opportunitie­s for resilience and se­lf-discovery. It is crucial to maintain an open mindse­t, viewing each challenge­ as an avenue for learning, adapting, and de­veloping life skills. Building a support network is also vital whe­n studying abroad. One should connect with fellow pe­ers, both locally and internationally, to not only e­stablish a local network of support but also to cultivate a se­nse of camaraderie. Seeking guidance from pre­vious participants and utilizing the resources provide­d by the study abroad office can offer valuable­ advice and assistance in navigating through challenge­s. Embracing the culture and engaging with locals can provide dee­per perspective­s and broaden personal development. Approach challenges with an ope­n heart, seeking support whe­n necessary, and having confidence­ in your ability to emerge­ from these expe­riences stronger and wise­r than before.