Julie Gassaway - 2012 Program Participant

A recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, Julie’s study abroad trip with ISA in Málaga, Spain is still fresh in her mind. She feels it was a truly unique and unforgettable experience and she is now an avid supporter of studying abroad as a vital gateway to both personal growth and professional success.

Flamenco dancing.
Flamenco dancing.

How did you come to the conclusion that you should study abroad with ISA specifically?

I chose ISA largely because of talking with the Rep at my school. I was wandering around the Study Abroad Fair, knowing only that I wanted to study in Spain, which lead me to the ISA table and Raquel. She was such a lively, sweet woman and really helped me zero-in on what I wanted from the experience. She asked great questions and helped me figure out that Malaga would probably be the best city for me to study in.

What advice do you have for other students from Virginia Commonwealth University on studying abroad in Spain?

Do NOT go abroad until you have everything set credit-wise with VCU first, especially if you are studying a language and you have to take a placement test when you arrive in the country. Too many people in the language advising department assured me “everything would be fine” but did not know ISA well enough to guarantee I would get the credit I needed. I ended up placing too low to receive the credit I was hoping for. It all worked out well for me in the end as it still gave me a big elective credit boost and helped me graduate early, but I had to take far more upper-level Spanish courses than I wanted.

What made Malaga the best place to spend your summer studying in Spain?

For me, I did not want to be in a huge foreign city where I was not fluent in the language. However, I still love the city, so Malaga (a smaller yet still lively city) fit perfectly. It felt safer but still had plenty of fun things to do. And their seafood is incredible!

Which class did you enjoy most during your study abroad program?

Honestly, I loved the Spanish Grammar class the most because I learned so much. In southern and central Virginia, the Spanish language is not as necessary for daily communication as other parts of the U.S, so my teachers in high school and even in college did not go as in-depth as I would have liked. I also loved learning the differences between Castilian Spanish and the Spanish taught in the US. You would be amazed at how words mean completely different things depending on location.

Looking back, how has studying abroad shaped your life?

I had been abroad before, but Spain was my longest stay at two and a half months (I went to stay with a friend of my family after the five week program with ISA). I’ve always fancied myself independent, but studying abroad taught me how to be so on a whole new level. Also, it taught me how my view of the world is not the only one out there, and that the backgrounds and viewpoints of others are just as valid as my own. I recommend that everyone study abroad if they can, especially somewhere that forces you outside of your comfort zone. Otherwise, what’s the point in leaving home at all?