What has inspired you to pursue a career in study abroad?
Carmen: Three factors have inspired me to pursue a career in study abroad: my personal experience as a foreign student at the University of Iowa and at the University of Chicago; my first experiences as professor and director of US students groups abroad; and perceiving the impact that studying abroad had on students.
Studying in a foreign culture, in a foreign language and interacting with people from different backgrounds than mine not only deepened my academic knowledge, but also formed me as a more round person, and triggered my interest in international environments.
My first experiences as a professor and leader of students abroad allowed me to become acquainted with the wide variety of possibilities and tasks implied in a study abroad career.
Finally, perceiving the remarkable change that students go through while living abroad (regarding their academic understanding, maturity or self-confidence, for instance), prompt me to work in the field.
Why is cultural immersion important to you?
Carmen: First of all, cultural immersion is a key factor for students to learn the language of their new setting. In the case of BCA-Barcelona, students live in a Spanish home, take classes at the University of Barcelona taught in Spanish, can join the language exchange program with Spanish students.
They also can hold a volunteer practicum: all of them elements that help students to learn and practice Spanish daily.
Cultural immersion, however, implies much more than just the learning of a foreign language. It also implies to get to know the other culture from the inside and to perform in it.
That is, it implies to interact with and to learn from people with different life standpoints, strengthening students’ possibilities to widen their horizon and to perform effectively in future life situations.
What was your favorite travel experience?
Carmen: Travels that have involved living and relating with people from another country have always been the most rewarding personal travel experiences for me.
Having had the possibility of studying and working in the US for a good number of years has been a life changing experience that has highly contributed to my educational and personal growth.
I was also able to live and travel in Italy where I continued with my linguistics studies, learned the Italian language, and enhanced my knowledge of Art History. In recent years, I also had the chance to travel several times to Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay, becoming acquainted with the social and political reality of these three impressive countries.
What is the best story you’ve heard from a student of your program after they’ve returned to the USA?
Carmen: There are many good stories that I have heard from my alumni, most of them are currently working in the field of business, medicine, linguistics, education, law, fine arts or international relations, among others.
The fact of having studied for a semester or a year at the University of Barcelona with BCA has helped them to open doors, inside the US and abroad, in terms of their personal and professional development.
Recently, a student from the University of Virginia returned to Barcelona with his family and explained to me that he is now working in Washington DC, as consultant in a firm related to the US government.
Another student from Bates came back to Barcelona just to stay with her host family before initiating her work as a lawyer in California. As other alumni, they both said that her time with BCA was very important in their experience.
What positive changes do you notice in your students during their time studying abroad?
Carmen: While in the BCA-Barcelona program, students highly improve their Spanish language skills. This is the change that can be measured. Besides this, students go through many other changes that imply a more profound development.
As my students themselves recognize, the fact of being exposed to and of overcoming situations that they were not used to before, in a foreign language, makes them nervous and insecure at first.
However, seeing that they are able to overcome those situations and that they can do rather well in their new environment, provides them the rewarding feeling of being constantly learning and strengthening their self-reliance.
I believe it is this kind of change that prompts former BCA-Barcelona students to refer to their time abroad as an enriching and enlightening experience.