Catching Up With A Bilbao Alum

Study abroad is a life-changing experience, and our program alumni are living proof that the decisions you make abroad can influence where life takes you after graduationWe love hearing from our alumni about how their time abroad has shaped their lives, so we reconnected with some alumni to chat about their study abroad experiences and where they are now. Keep reading to hear from Rochelle, a USAC Bilbao alum.

Rochelle graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with degrees in International Affairs and Spanish. She studied abroad with USAC in Bilbao, Spain in the Fall of 2015. After graduation, Rochelle worked in the USAC Central Office before continuing her education in nursing.

Outside of the Guggenheim in Bilbao
Outside of the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Why did you decide to study abroad?  

I decided to study abroad because I knew both of my majors would benefit from the classes offered. I also wanted to travel, and my sister had studied abroad in college and loved it, so I knew it was something I wanted to do.

Why did you choose your program?

I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country for my major. Bilbao stuck out to me because it seemed to be the best of both worlds. It was on the coast, so I could go to the beach, but it was also a city, so there would be a lot to do. I also wanted to travel around Europe, so Bilbao seemed like a great home base. 

How did study abroad fit into your academic and professional goals? 

Academically, it fit in extremely well. I was able to finish my Spanish major even faster because of the language tracks that Bilbao offered. All the courses I took while abroad went toward one of my degrees in some form or another. Professionally, I knew that studying abroad would look good on my future resume and that Bilbao offered many internships that I could take advantage of. 

Rochelle explores the region around Bilbao, Spain.

When did you graduate? What are you doing now?

I graduated in 2016 and immediately hopped on the first flight back to Spain that I could find. I loved study abroad so much, I decided I was ready to go back, so I taught English with the Ministry of Education. However, now I have switched gears, and I am currently halfway through finishing nursing school.

Looking back, how did study abroad play a role in getting you to where you are now?

Looking back, study abroad absolutely helped me academically, especially in allowing me to take more diverse courses and letting me finish my major faster. However, the biggest role it had was making me more flexible, and I think that has helped me to get to where I am today.

Studying abroad showed me that I could live in a new city with new friends and a new host family who did not speak English and love it. It made me more confident in my abilities and showed employers I was adaptable. Additionally, knowing a second language is always going to be useful. Before starting nursing school, I worked for a genetic research study, and being able to talk to Spanish-speaking patients was very helpful.

Why do you think international education is important?

International education is important because of all the reasons I have discussed above. Of course, studying abroad is going to add a lot to any major, because of the experience and the diversity of courses you get to take. It is so much more than that though. Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to travel while staying on track to graduate. Once students graduate there is a lot less opportunity to take six months off to go travel, so this is truly the best time to do it. It also exposed me to different people, cultures, and places, and helped me to grow as a person. 

Rochelle shares a meal with her host family. Photo taken before COVID-19.

What was your favorite class you took while studying abroad?

My favorite class hands down was Basque Language & Culture. Every Friday we went on a field trip somewhere around Euskara, like Guernica or Saint Jean de Luz. While there, we would learn about the area and its importance to the Basque culture. We usually stopped for a Basque meal somewhere and learned some Basque language. Knowing a little Basque went a long way, especially in the small towns. This class was so fun, and I learned a lot about my host city and culture.

Do you plan on returning to your host city? If not, where do you plan on traveling next?

Yes! I think I have a problem. I have already been back three times to Bilbao, and I plan to visit again within the next couple of years. I am still in touch with my host family, and they always have my family and me over for a big lunch when I visit. 

Is there any advice you would give to students interested in studying abroad?

My advice for students interested in studying abroad is to make it happen. It does not matter where you go, but you’ve got to go. At first, I was nervous about the cost, but USAC’s affordable programs make it doable. Most programs were around the same cost as tuition for me, and some were even less than my normal tuition! I recommend a semester to really get the full experience, but if you can only do a summer or a winter, then do that. My semester in Bilbao was amazing, and I will always remember it. The only regret I had was not staying longer. Just go, trust me.

A spread of Basque cuisine commonly found in Bilbao.
If you’re a USAC alumni interested in sharing your study abroad story, reach out to us at usacmarketing@gmail.com.