Chloe Zhelka - Program Participant

Why did you decide to study abroad?

I saw in study abroad the opportunity to challenge myself with lots of unknowns, to explore another place and culture, and to immerse myself in experiential learning. I felt passionate about heading to Latin America because of the opportunity to develop my Spanish. In short, the first time I studied abroad was so transformative that I decided to do it again!

Why did you choose this semester program?

I was first drawn to CGE Mexico: Gender and Social Change because of the course listings. They seemed to perfectly merge my academic passions for religious studies, social justice, gender, and social movements. There aren’t a lot of women’s and gender studies study abroad programs in the Global South, and this one seemed to be the most relevant and exciting. I also saw in CGE Mexico the chance to dive deep into a few places instead of moving around all the time, and to really get to know the local scene. To top it off, I saw the opportunity to engage in a meaningful internship opportunity around issues of justice and jumped at it!  

What makes the program you participated in so interesting?

As part of the program, we heard numerous firsthand testimonies from local leaders on immigration issues, indigenous issues, sustainable agriculture, religion, feminism, economic issues, and more. The chance to hear such amazing and life-changing stories about people’s experiences was really special, and not something most study abroad programs prioritize. 

What is the best thing about your program that future participants need to know?

The faculty and staff are simply outstanding. The professors were completely dedicated to the learning of their students, and also took the time to get to know us on a personal level. Each class was challenging, personalized to our specific interests, and required us to reflect on what the material meant for us personally, too. Simply put, the classes were among the best I’ve taken in my college career, and I go to a school that has great classes and prides itself on teaching. 

Additionally, the faculty and staff were really supportive of the non-academic priorities I had (doing more homestays, attending Jewish services), and went totally above and beyond to make this experience amazing and accommodating for me. Participants should also know that this program works hard to make homestays and other experiences LGBTQ-friendly!

What’s one thing you would have done differently?

Couldn’t think of anything.

Now that you’re home, how has study abroad impacted your life?

The coursework that I did in this program actually had a huge impact on what I ended up studying for the rest of college, and made a big mark on my senior thesis. In this way, it really enriched my academic life, and made me passionate about liberation theologies and the intersection of religion and social justice. Otherwise, it made me rethink my assumptions about world politics and economics in a pretty radical way. It also fueled my desire to go back to Latin America, which I did pretty much the first chance I got after returning!