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Semester Abroad Broadens Horizons and Enhances Career Opportunities

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – MARCH 13, 2014 – Brownsville native Alexandra Barrientos, a junior English education major at The University of Texas at Brownsville, has found a second home in South Korea.

Barrientos experienced a successful fall 2013 semester at Soon Chun Hyang University in Asan, South Korea, and decided to return for the spring 2014 semester.

Leonel Garza at the Kazan Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church across from Herzen University.Leonel Garza at the Kazan Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church across from Herzen University.

“After my first semester, I realized the amazing opportunity this has been in my life,” Barrientos said. “I’m able to experience a new way of life by being able to live with not only other international students but Korean students as well. Because this program is so open and diverse there are many students from all over the world that have the same interest as I do. This feeling of understanding and acceptance has made Korea feel like home, which is what pushed me to try to pursue the opportunity to stay here longer.”

Barrientos is one of 16 UTB students spending their spring semester abroad at universities with academic agreements through the UTB Office of Global Engagement.

“I have been able to experience a way of life I could have never imagined,” Barrientos said. “From crowded subways to food I would never have tried back at home even if the chance was presented to me. This whole experience has really helped me realize that there is a world outside of not only Brownsville but also the U.S. I have occasionally missed home, but I have also realized that thanks to this program I’ve been able to create a new home in South Korea where I am still able to experience new things every day.”

Andres Orduña is another English major who is on his second semester abroad. Orduña travelled to Europe for the first time when he spent his spring 2012 semester studying in Vienna, Austria. He said he knew before leaving Vienna that he wanted to spend another semester abroad, and in preparing for this trip, he was torn between returning to Vienna, that he “absolutely fell in love with” or to stretch himself further to experience something completely different.

“Eventually, I narrowed down my choices and asked myself: ‘Which university has courses that directly connect with my major? Where will my money go furthest? Which country do I feel offers the greatest challenges and rewards for me on a personal level?’ And in the end, Poland was the clear choice for me,” Orduña said.

Orduña is studying in Kielce, Poland at Uniwersytet Jana Kochanowskiego, familiar to several UTB students who attended a conference there during a summer study abroad program.

Music education major, violinist Leo Garza studied music during his 2013 fall semester in St. Petersburg, Russia. Already somewhat familiar with the city, Garza had enjoyed a weeks’ trip to St. Petersburg in May of last year with the Mariachi Ocelotetlán when it was hosted by Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia to perform during the city’s Summer White Nights festival.

“I was so fortunate to experience St. Petersburg with my Mariachi Ocelotetlán music friends, especially at that beautiful time when everything had come alive after the winter and everyone was outside enjoying the warm, lengthy days,” Garza said. “Then to return in the fall for a longer length of time gave me greater perspective on actually living and being a musician in St. Petersburg.”

Garza said there were concerts playing throughout the city nightly; the only issue was deciding which one to attend.

“Academically, it was a growth period for me; I had private violin lessons with Olga Fyodorvna Rubalchenko, an outstanding violin professor known throughout St. Petersburg,” Garza said. “I have great memories of practicing and performing on several occasions with the St. Petersburg State Philharmonic Orchestra  ‘Klassika’ – conductor Alexander Kantorov is a phenomenal musician, and I learned a lot from him and playing with the orchestra.”

Another highlight, Garza said, was being among the crowd to witness the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch Relay as torchbearers ran along Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main avenue.

Mahalet Orozco, left, and Maria Fernanda Calderon, second from left, and friends at the Vatican.Mahalet Orozco, left, and Maria Fernanda Calderon, second from left, and friends at the Vatican.
Far from chilly St. Petersburg, Maria Fernanda Calderón and Mahelet Orozco were roommates last fall during their studies at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). Both graduate students, Orozco (UTB 2011) is pursuing her Master of Arts in Spanish and Calderón (UTB 2007) is nearing completion of the Master in Spanish Translation and Interpreting.

“I wanted to study in Barcelona because I thought there would be no better place to study Spanish literature than in Spain,” Orozco said. “In order to understand the literature and the authors, you have to understand the culture and the history of that place, and that is what I did.”

Orozco said she and Calderón had not planned to attend UAB together, but when they learned the other was going, they met and decided to be roommates.

“We went three days early and stayed in a hotel while we looked around at apartments,” Calderon said. “We used a local website similar to craigslist, and we found a studio apartment right in the heart of the city. During the week, when we weren’t studying, we spent our time exploring Barcelona and meeting friends for tapas and sangria; on most weekends, we would take off to see a new city.”

Over the course of the semester, Calderón and Orozco visited Madrid, Valencia, London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Rome, Milan, Munich, Berlin and Budapest.

“That’s one of the beauties of a whole semester abroad, being able to take advantage of local and regional side trips,” Orozco said. “Academically, this was a great experience for me. I had wonderful professors like Guillermo Seres, Fernando Valls, Beatriz Ferrus and Carmen Riera; these professors are well-respected experts in their field. I feel glad for having the opportunity to meet them, and learn a little bit more about other important local authors in Spain.”

Dr. Alla Paroiatnikova, Global Engagement Executive Director, said students benefit greatly from the semester abroad experience.

“Aside from their academic growth, students return more mature and more confident,” Paroiatnikova said. “Sometimes, the transformation is quite remarkable, especially for students who go out of their comfort zones on an adventure to live and study in a new environment. They always return with great stories of having made new friends and having broadened their horizons to embrace an international perspective. These experiences will help them significantly as they pursue their chosen careers in today’s competitive global marketplace.”

Currently, 16 UTB students are studying abroad this semester. Aside from UAB in Barcelona, UJK in Poland and Soon Chun Hyuang in South Korea, students are enrolled at Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin, Ireland; FHWien University of Applied Sciences in Vienna, Austria; INSEEC Grande Ecole de Commerce and Institut Supérieur du Commerce de Paris, Paris; and University of Castilla-La Mancha, Toledo.

The deadline to apply for fall semester abroad is March 31.

For more information on semester study abroad programs and scholarship opportunities, including the Walter Pierce Study Abroad Endowment and the Global Engagement Scholarship, contact the Office of Global Engagement at 956-882-7092 or​​


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