Alumni Spotlight: Sean Glynn


Sean is a senior Undergraduate at UMass Amherst finishing up his degree in Economics and Psychology. Having a strong background in Spanish from High School, he chose to take a chance and spend a semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain.

During his semester, he took classes and engaged in an internship at a tech company in the city. He spent free time traveling including a 2-week backpacking trip with his roommate he met while abroad.

Why did you choose this program?

The CAPA program represented a unique opportunity for me for a few reasons.

I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country, which meant that I had the options of mainly South America and Europe. CAPA has opportunities in Argentina and Barcelona; however, after discussing with my high school Spanish teacher, I decided that Barcelona was the right choice for me.

The best part of the CAPA program for making my decision was the ability to have both an internship and school coursework. Being able to understand the city as a working city was a completely novel way to have an abroad experience that showed me the professional style of Spaniards.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

CAPA was a great resource. I had many back and forth emails with CAPA advisors to wade through the red tape of forms and passport certifications. I found the process to be lengthy, but the people were so helpful that I never go very frustrated. I didn't even need to pick my visa up from the consulate: a representative from my school actually went in and grabbed mine along with others themselves to ensure that everything was in order and that we could leave on time.

I must have sent twenty emails to CAPA and my school's Abroad office. They were always helpful and timely with their responses.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Take advantage of small programs and use your internship to boost your unique experience.

Many programs have set itineraries and things they are able to do with students. I found CAPA unique because they were constantly asking what we wanted to do and because we were a small group they could organize fun, intimate experiences in a way that truly couldn't be compared in a large program. With that, I think it's what you make of it.

I challenge someone reading this to seek out things that make them uncomfortable; if you aren't a good dancer, take some salsa lessons (you become better and at worst you do it in a place you might never have to come back to). In general, students should embrace the power of a new environment to explore aspects of themselves that they may not feel comfortable trying back home.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The program was pretty flexible and allowed me to largely design my own within the parameters of certain class times and hour requirements. I personally was able to do all of my classes and internship hours between Monday and Thursday, which left me with a three-day weekend to travel or explore places farther away in the city.

I would usually have class in the morning and go straight to my internship or vice versa on days when I had afternoon classes. Everything was close enough that I could seamlessly move between places without issue.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear of going abroad was that I wouldn't do enough to have an authentic experience in the country where I was going.

I worried I would be another American tourist who didn't immerse himself in the language and instead stayed with my tribe and partied. I never fully overcame it; I think that's something that takes a longer period of time to truly experience whereas I was only there 4 months. However, I also acknowledge that a truly authentic experience is one in which you allow yourself to be inspired and curious about things that are different from what you are used to.

I took salsa/bachata classes because I had never experienced a culture of dance as there was in Spain. I had roommates who were fluent in Spanish, so I regularly tried to speak to them in Spanish and wasn't offended when they tried to correct my speech.

My new view is that it isn't about coming back a changed person with a perfect understanding of the culture: it's about challenging yourself and being willing to embrace the fact that your way of doing things is just one of the many different approaches to tackling life.

Try new things and you may surprise yourself.

What is one thing you wish more study abroad students did/what is one mistake others often make?

I had many friends study abroad at the same time that I went. They had amazing experiences and a lot of fun. However, upon talking with them and looking at other people in similar programs that I interacted with, I found that, rather than trying new things and embracing the discomfort of a new place, most students decided instead to find friend groups within their program and set about surrounding themselves with others like them and eating/congregating around places that remind them of home.

While I often had this feeling, I would go to these places and do these things when I was feeling overwhelmed or homesick, but not as a regular habit. I think too often students who study abroad take the fact that they are in another country as a sign that they are getting a cultural experience.

In a modern world, it is too easy to set back into your own culture, especially in other Western countries whose values resemble our own. I am not perfect and I found myself doing these same habitual behaviors from time to time, which is why I want to stress the importance of being brave enough to meet and engage with people who aren't like yourself, that is where you really start to learn.