Building Career Confidence Abroad

USAC Alumna Katelyn Cartwright, a recipient of the Frances C. and William P. Smallwood Foundation Scholarship, studied abroad in Costa Rica in 2012. Katelyn credits her successful career in healthcare to her time abroad. From scholarships to shadowing to making friends with her peers and locals, she shares how San Ramón changed her life. 

Katelyn poses with her internship instructors at a hospital in San Ramón, Costa Rica. Photo taken before COVID-19.

“My study abroad experience led to my career. I’m currently a physical therapist, and while in Costa Rica I had the opportunity to job shadow, which ultimately led to me choosing it as a profession. 

I gained many skills studying abroad, especially proficiency and confidence with the language that has carried over most directly to my day-to-day life. I work in California, and being able to communicate with my patients in their first language with confidence has truly been pivotal. Specifically, the Spanish for Healthcare Professionals class directly prepared me for my current career. 

But the other amazing skills that I gained beyond language confidence were building connections and learning to communicate with a whole new group of people outside my hometown, both with the Costa Rican natives and with my fellow students. It was because of these interactions abroad that I have a better ability to connect with anyone I meet, even years after my study abroad.

Of course I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Frances C. and William P. Smallwood scholarship that I was awarded through USAC. While I like to think that I would’ve done anything to make study abroad possible due to its life-changing nature for me, the truth is the scholarship meant that I could focus on preparing for and getting more out of my experience without the extra financial worry. I can’t thank USAC or the Smallwood trustees enough!”

To learn more about her study abroad experience, we asked Katelyn some questions about her time abroad.

Katelyn enjoys a bike ride near the beach.

1. What was your main goal for study abroad? Did you expect this experience to impact your professional life as much as it has?

My primary goal for studying abroad was becoming more fluent and confident in my Spanish. At the time I had no idea what my career choice was going to be. I actually was an undeclared major when I went abroad. However upon arriving I mentioned to an on-site director that I had an interest in physical therapy. She had amazing contacts and connected me with physical therapists at the local hospital, and it ended up being a really impactful experience.

2. Why did you choose San Ramón?

I chose San Ramón primarily because I knew I was interested in science and science-based classes, and San Ramón had the greatest variety in that area. Although my primary goal was to learn Spanish, I was pretty certain that language alone wasn’t going to become my career, so I wanted to take the science-based classes in Spanish that could go toward a STEM degree while increasing my proficiency in Spanish.

3. How did you discover the Smallwood Scholarship? Did you apply for any additional funding?

The Smallwood scholarship was introduced to me when I applied for scholarships through USAC. I applied for additional financial aid, including the millennium scholarship which is offered at my university and could be used to fund my study abroad.

Katelyn and her USAC Costa Rica cohort pose for a group photo on the beach. Photo taken before COVID-19.

4. Would you recommend USAC to prospective students? 

I would absolutely recommend USAC! It was a great study abroad program, and I feel like they prepared all of us well prior to departure and made sure that we had the resources we needed while we were there.

5. What advice do you have for students interested in studying/interning abroad?

My largest piece of advice would be but if you have any interest in studying abroad, you should do whatever you can to make it happen. For me, studying abroad was truly an invaluable experience, and I think it has the potential to be that for anyone who is able to make that happen. The other note I would like to share is that I was very for my Spanish foundation when I arrived in Costa Rica. I definitely had classmates who knew no Spanish, and they did very well and learned a lot, but I personally was very appreciative and felt much more comfortable at the beginning having that general knowledge when I arrived. I was able to really fine-tune and advance my language skills while I was there. 

To jumpstart your Costa Rican study abroad, visit the USAC website.