Catching Up With A San Sebastián 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 Rachel, a USAC San Sebastián alum.

Rachel graduated with a degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry from the University of Nevada, Reno. She was a member of UNR’s Pre-Dental Society and is continuing her education at the UNLV School of Dental Medicine. Rachel studied abroad in San Sebastián, Spain in 2016.

Why did you decide to study abroad? Why did you choose your program? 

Being from Reno, Nev., I never really got a sense of what leaving home for an extended period of time was like. I was not interested in doing my undergrad elsewhere, but I was aware that I could take advantage of a school program that allowed me to study in another city, state, or country for a semester.

Once I went to college and fell into the routine of attending my science courses, I knew I wanted a change of scenery before my time in undergrad was over. I would have four more years of dental school and science courses after earning my bachelor’s degree, and I wanted to delve into something different and take advantage of the opportunity to travel and see the world while still attending school.

I never took Spanish language classes, though I had always wanted to. I heard that knowing Spanish would be helpful to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients in the future. I chose San Sebastián, Spain because of the location right next to the ocean, and the option to take a course to learn how to surf. Living so close to the beach sounded like a dream, and the location of the city itself was close to France, where I could go and keep up with the French that I had learned in high school.

Students smile during a gathering in San Sebastián. Photo taken before COVID-19.

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

At the time, I knew that learning Spanish would be helpful for communication with Spanish-speaking patients as a dentist. Now that I am in school working at the dental clinic, I can say with confidence that my Spanish is applied weekly, and has helped me immensely with interacting and understanding Spanish-speaking patients.

Beyond learning the Spanish language, I knew that experiencing different cultures would open my eyes to the world around me. This has ultimately led to a development of my understanding and respect that I have gained from learning about another culture’s way of life. 

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

My semester studying abroad is very near and dear to my heart. It was an experience that is so hard to put into words, and only the people that I experienced it with can grasp the emotion that comes with its memories.

There were many times that I was challenged; whether it be a language barrier trying to order food, the absence of a dishwasher and a dryer all semester, the difficulty of arranging travel in a foreign city, or the distance between myself and my loved ones.

Every one of those things and so much more was overcome, and any temporarily uncomfortable situation I experienced abroad is something I am thankful for today. I learned so much about the strength and curiosity in myself, as well as the raw beauty in this world, through my semester abroad that I believe has changed me for the better.  

Why do you think international education is important?

I think that international education is important in widening the mental horizons of students not only applicable to their education, but also to their lives. Learning more about the world by visiting, feeling, and tasting different cultures is so enlightening. The level of appreciation for different cultures is strengthened when you can not only witness it with your own eyes, but immerse yourself in it for an extended amount of time.

In the healthcare field, you are expected to be equipped to serve anyone that comes your way, no matter how similar or different from you they may appear. I believe that learning an alternative way of life is something that opens your eyes to the beauty in the differences in individuals and that these differences are to be appreciated.

USAC students learn to surf in San Sebastián. Photo taken before COVID-19.

What was your favorite class you took while studying abroad?

My favorite class was the surfing course that I took with many of my friends who were also studying abroad. It was such a unique class, and I loved how different it was from typical lecture courses. The instructors were surfers from all over the world, and they were so passionate about the ocean and teaching us how to navigate it. I believe many of us underestimated the difficulty of surfing, and it was very humbling to say the least! 

What was a typical day like for you during your study abroad program? 

A typical day involved myself and my two roommates waking up early in our apartment to get to school. We would make breakfast and hop on the bus that would take us all the way across the city to school. We would stop by the Spanish coffee shop a building away and grab a café along with a chocolate pastry. After our Spanish classes were out, we would walk back home the long way with our classmates, making sure to take the scenic route right along the beach. Some of us would stay to study on the sand, and others would continue their stroll through the streets to shop around. Nevertheless, we would make plans with our classmates to meet them later that night to stop by various pinxtos and tapas bars.  

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

My advice would be to truly live and experience every day that you are abroad. Put your phone away, try a new restaurant, book tickets for the weekend to see a new city, and truly enjoy each other’s presence while taking in what surrounds you. My semester abroad went by in the blink of an eye, but I am thankful to be left with so many meaningful and vibrant memories that I can appreciate forever.

Rachel and her friends enjoy a sunset in San Sebastián. Photo taken before COVID-19.
If you’re a USAC alumni interested in sharing your study abroad story, reach out to us at usacmarketing@gmail.com.