Mariana Rojas-Montoya

Mariana Rojas-Montoya
Major: Physics
Term Abroad: Winter 2023
Program / Location: Spain FLP

Why did you want to study abroad? 
I wanted to explore something completely different from my major, and it was a good reset for myself before starting a new semester. When I first started college, I didn’t think that studying abroad was even in the cards for me since my major did not require a study abroad experience. When I found out that there were programs that covered a student’s area V, I got excited. It was an impulsive decision since I applied right after I read about it, but such spontaneity led to academic growth. On top of that, I’ve been wanting to practice my Spanish more, so a program for Spain was my immediate first choice.

What has been your most surprising, positive, or challenging experience abroad?
The thing that I enjoyed the most was how much time I was able to spend with my classmates. My favorite moments include touring historical spots, cooking together, shoe making, learning about the production of certain foods, and being introduced to new dishes during our group meals. I especially cherished the activities that my classmates and I did during our free time. It was during those moments that we were able to bond through laughter, curiosity, sharing stories from our own lives, and expressing our gratitude for having this experience abroad together. I am incredibly lucky to have traveled with this cohort. They really did make the program even more worthwhile.

How are you managing your academic success abroad during the pandemic?
I was able to manage my academic success abroad by being mindful of my assignments and their due dates. I also view my experience in the program as a form of management for my overall academic success in San Jose State. I wanted time to think about how I’ve been feeling with my studies back at home, and the trip provided me the chance to disconnect from anything related to my major, which felt refreshing. Regardless of what major a student has, it is always healthy to just step back from it for a little while and rest. By being in a setting that allowed me to learn and unwind at the same time, I was able to make choices upon returning home that will help me achieve my academic goals.

What are some ways that you are interacting with the local community ?
A memorable interaction that I had was with a store owner who ran a stationery store in Barcelona. My roommate and I were looking for a gift while exploring small alleyways during our free time, which is how we ended up in the store. I started chatting with the store owner, and that is when she told me that the notebooks were special since they were all handmade in house. She shared a story about her upbringing and how she developed her interest in making notebooks. I then learned about how people in that town would have a vision of things that they like, so they would open a small business to share it with the public. It felt special hearing these stories through her, and she even told me about other antique stores that she recommended I visit during my trip. Barcelona is filled with nooks and crannies of people’s art, and making those discoveries is the best part of interacting with the locals.

What are some tips for managing your health and safety while abroad?
Coordinate with your classmates regarding communication. Always let them know where you or someone is going, which is crucial if anything were to happen. Always observe your surroundings, keep your purses/bags in front of you to protect your belongings, and stay in areas where there are plenty of people and enough lighting. As for health, do bring masks, sanitizing wipes, and medication.

Any advice to potential study abroad students?

  • Research the weather for all of the programs offered. This might be a no-brainer for those who travel a lot, but it could be something that doesn’t cross someone’s mind if they don’t travel much or at all.
  • Even if your major does not require a study abroad experience, Spartans Abroad does offer programs that can cover an upper division general education area such as area V. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the office and/or professors with questions about those details, I really encourage speaking with them if you have any doubts about anything!
  • If you are considering doing a program, then go for it! As mentioned before, sometimes you just need to step back from your current major studies and take time to explore new things. It is beneficial since you are able to realize/reflect on what is truly making you happy in life. Just go out and live!

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