Spanish majors speak at study abroad panel


Mohamed Togol

Professor Karen Spira speaks to the group about upcoming study abroad opportunities available through Guilford.

On Wednesday, Oct. 16, Guilford held a student panel for study abroad programs in Latin America. The event was a small FAQ session in Duke hosted by the Spanish department in support of the International Studies Abroad (ISA) program. The panel was made up of three students and one alumna who each took turns answering questions from Spanish Professor Karen Spira and the audience.

As students settled into their seats, the panel invited everyone to enjoy complimentary Chilean sopaipillas, fried dough made with pumpkin that resembles a pancake topped with salsa. Soon after, the panelists, including Spanish majors Andrew Orchowsky and Margaret Brown, Spanish minor Allie Eigsti and alumna Catherine Thompson, introduced themselves. All of the panelists had studied in Chile, while a few had also traveled to other Spanish speaking countries.

All of the panelists were enthusiastic about their experiences and urged the audience to study abroad, despite the common fears associated with traveling to unfamiliar countries. Brown acknowledged a few of these concerns, saying she was scared about being “stranded somewhere . . . but that really wasn’t the case at all.” In fact, Brown developed a strong relationship with her peers and her host mother, enough to go on trips and even refer to her gracious host as “mom.”

A few audience members were still fearful about the environment and safety of the countries, and questioned the panel about their experience with feeling well and sheltered. Thompson admitted to having fears about such wide travel, but she reassured the audience.

“If these countries were not safe enough to live in, they would not have those (study abroad) programs,” said Thompson.

After dispelling worries students may have had about studying abroad, the panelists pointed out a few of their favorite experiences while in Latin America. Orchowsky praised the education he received, saying he “definitely got a taste of the academic environment down there,” while Brown told a story about a wonderful road trip she planned with her new friends.

Thompson enjoyed her phonetics class in Chile so much that she is now planning to become an English teacher and is planning to move to Chile this coming winter. She eagerly promoted the Guilford Study Abroad program: “You might just make lifelong friends… just saying.”

In fact, Thompson suggested prospective study abroad students to “try to say yes to as many of the events that are offered to you” to make the most of the experience, because as all four students agreed, the time spent abroad was life-changing. Eigsti felt the same about not only her extracurriculars, but her education as well.

“Everything in the class was really valuable. I didn’t feel like there was any time wasted,” Eigsti said.

Orchowsky warned the audience about trying to do too much, saying students should be able to make the most out of their travel without stressing themselves out.

“Balance your ambition with realistic expectations and self care,” Orchowsky said.

Brown added that studying abroad should be a time to create “a foundation for you, a family for you, but you do what you want to do at the same time.”

As the four students chatted about their various sight-seeing trips and fun classes, Spira added her own experience into the mix.

“There’s always so many reasons not to go,” said Spira. “Once you take the leap and go, take your first step onto the airplane, you’ll be so glad you did it.”

Her time spent traveling with her family has taken some sacrifices, and it may not be cheap, but she recommends it all the same.

“There’s always a way for anyone to go abroad,” said Spira.

After the panel ended, a good majority of students stuck around. Some went back for seconds of the sopaipillas, others went up to ask questions to their favorite panelists or discuss costs with Spira. The room was filled with chatter.

And if the panelists had one last thing to say about studying abroad, Thompson said it best.

“The more social seeds you plant, the more your time will flourish,” Thompson said.


Editor’s note: This story originally was published in Volume 106, Issue 4 of The Guilfordian on Nov. 1 2019.