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Making the most of study abroad

| Sandy Taylor

Cora Cornett arrived at UW-Eau Claire in the fall of 2013. She's pursuing a a triple major in organizational communication, economics, and Spanish with an emphasis in linguistics. If that’s not impressive enough, Cora also is minoring in Latin American studies. This amazing and energetic student is focused on getting the most out of her time and education here at UWEC, so it should come as no surprise that she also spent two semesters studying abroad.

Cora recently took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her study abroad experiences.

What were your experiences in study abroad and National Student Exchange?
Both experiences were humbling yet absolutely exciting beyond words. The most important takeaways from my two semesters abroad were self-discovery, cross-cultural communication development, and learning how to “roll with the punches” and be extremely flexible/adaptable.

What did you learn during your two semesters abroad, both personally and in relation to your studies?
I made friendships that I would not trade for the world. They are incredible people and we shared experiences ranging from the most frustrating low points to the most jubilant high points, all while strengthening bonds and making our way through journeys of true self-discovery. This is the best I can put these feelings into words, and I still do not feel I’ve done the friendships justice.

I loved the city of Valladolid, Spain. The architecture never failed to take my breath away. For example, every day on my walk to and from school, I would go past a church built in the 12th century — how incredible is that? In addition to being surrounded by such rich history, I absolutely loved learning how Spanish/western European lifestyles differ from ours here in the U.S. Their conscientiousness about the environment and what people eat, for example, were incredible to me. I picked up many habits and values that will stick with me for life and will improve my own health and well-being. They’ll also help me live a more affordable and sustainable lifestyle. Learning about Spanish culture, history and language was a pure joy because we were living it every single day.

Studying abroad in Europe truly is the gateway to international adventure. Travel is so easy and inexpensive compared to here in the U.S., so those of us in the fall 2015 program were able to travel all over Spain and to Germany, Portugal, Poland and France. Being immersed in all those different cultures helped expose me to economic issues. I loved to ask people I met about their jobs and their thoughts on local and international politics relating to the economy. I was also able to see and read news sources from many countries I visited — this is where my Spanish, German and French backgrounds really came in handy.

During my National Student Exchange semester in Puerto Rico, I took two courses on economics, one on Latin American studies and two on Spanish linguistics. Even though one of the econ courses was online from UW-Eau Claire, the current debt/economic situation in Puerto Rico made me examine everything so differently than if I had been in Eau Claire. All of my face-to-face classes ended up being serious cultural and lingual immersion experiences on top of the explicit intent of the course. The Universidad de Río Piedras conducts classes in Spanish, and Puerto Rican culture is definitely not that of the Midwest. The immersion experience was incredible, challenging and amazing. Additionally, I had the opportunity to take classes not offered at UW-Eau Claire, like one focused on the economics of Puerto Rico. I saw the concepts taught in class in “real time” on the streets of San Juan, and I was able to use everything I learned in my linguistics courses in every kind of social interaction possible. It was like always being in the classroom, but in a great way!

Is there anything particularly memorable you’d like to tell us?
One weekend in Puerto Rico, four friends and I decided to rent a car and go on a cross-island road trip. We visited a lot of the must-see tourist attractions, as well as some local spots that our Puerto Rican friends had told us about. At one point in the day we managed to get wildly lost in the island’s mountainous interior. It was then that we discovered that Google Maps is inaccurate when it comes to the mountains. Some roads were closed due to damage and others were nonexistent. We drove around for hours narrow roads through a series of endless, blind turns hanging off the sides of the mountains. We were soon nauseous, lost and nearly convinced we’d never make it out. However, looking back, the situation was pretty hilarious, plus we saw some amazing scenery and grew even closer as friends during our wild goose chase of an adventure.

Are there any professors you really appreciated or a class that you’d particularly like to mention?
In Valladolid, Spain, Alfredo and Monse, professors of art history and literature, respectively, were my favorite professors. I loved their quirky senses of humor — it made the classes so interesting and entertaining!

At la Universidad de Río Piedras, I was blessed to have had Profesora Ida Jesus de Pilar for Economía de Puerto Rico and Profesora Miriam Lugo for Historia de Puerto Rico. They were so kind, caring and understanding, and they went out of their way to help me adjust to being an exchange student at their university. I owe many thanks to them for their help, and I can definitely say that my worldview has expanded because of them.

Here at UW-Eau Claire, Dr. Thomas Kemp, professor of economics, and Dr. Fredric Kolb, now professor emeritus of economics, have been my two greatest inspirations in the pursuit of my economics education. What began as a small curiosity in a general education course four years ago has become a full-fledged passion.

In the spring of 2015, I took Spanish 325 with Dr. Marcela Depiante, associate professor of Spanish. In that one course, I acquired most of the information, concepts and skills that became the foundation of my Spanish-speaking success abroad. Professor Depiante is also my advisor in the languages department and she has been a great inspiration, offering support and encouragement whenever I have questions.

Do you have any other advice or information you’d like to share?
I honestly learned insurmountably more Spanish through National Student Exchange in Puerto Rico than I did in Valladolid, Spain. At la Universidad de Río Piedras in Puerto Rico, students need to be able to pick up and speak the dialect in order to pass classes and do everyday, normal activities. Just out of sheer necessity, I learned an astronomical amount of Spanish in Puerto Rico — much more than I did in Spain.

Cora is also doing an internship this semester, so we asked about that.
My internship is with OneMain Financial, where I am learning the ropes of becoming a Personal Loan Specialist. I'm in my second month working at the branch on Hastings Way here in Eau Claire. In that short amount of time, I have already found myself using many skills I learned in communication and economics courses. I haven’t had any Spanish-speaking customers yet, but I'm certain that when the opportunity presents itself, I'll be ready to manage things well on that front, too.