Studying abroad expands students’ learning beyond classroom

From Barcelona to Beijing, 58 programs in 32 cities prove transformative for students

Outside of Barcelona, the peaks of Montserrat stretch into the sky, dotted with green forest and reddish roofs. The ascent to the top is a rite of passage that University of Chicago student Sally Wan experienced during her first weekend in Spain as part of the spring study abroad program in Barcelona.

“I connected with many wonderful people in Spanish, including three Catalonian grandfathers who were hoping to summit for the first time,” recalled Wan, who will be a fourth-year student in the College. “It was an incredibly special experience for me.”

Later that quarter, Wan returned to Montserrat on an excursion with her class, stopping to snap a photo of a watercolor she painted to commemorate her hike—and her transformative experience studying abroad.

Moments of learning and connection like Wan’s give UChicago students a taste of the world beyond campus. Through a range of study abroad programs, undergraduates bring knowledge gained in the classroom to transformative, real-life experiences—from dusty hikes in the Sahara Desert to tours of the gilded palace of Versailles.

About half of all students in the College participate in study abroad programs. Many of them pursue an immersive experience of their subject as part of UChicago’s distinctive Core curriculum, learning from UChicago faculty who bring intellectual curiosity and rigor to classrooms in 21 countries and 58 programs.

Every year, UChicago collects student photography, writing and videography in its annual study abroad contests. Below are some of this year’s winning entries, which included Wan’s second-place photo entry from the mountains of Spain.

The photo contest awarded prizes for first, second, and third place as well as best portfolio and photos featuring students in action. Venturing on class excursions and personal travels, the winning photographers were immersed in new landscapes and locales. Along the way, they captured the rich textures of their surroundings—like rising fourth-year Gwyneth Hochhausler’s snapshot of a blue rug hanging in Chefchaouen, Morocco—and gained insight into the local populous through glimpses like rising fourth-year John Luo’s portrait of a busker on a train in Paris.

For her winning essay entry, rising third-year Erika Steiner reflected on her brief stay at a French hospital after an allergic reaction.

“A few nurses picked up the woman with swollen feet and tried to move her to the leaking chair…. At one point she slipped and instinctively reached for my hand, intertwining her soul with my fingers for just a moment. She apologized quickly, but I smiled softly and squeezed her hand. ‘Ça va,’ I said with an utterly atrocious accent.

“I had been in France for less than 72 hours, so all I knew how to say was this phrase, ‘It’s okay.’ (Unfortunately, ‘You are so brave, your presence is fundamentally changing me. I will wait here forever if it means every doctor can help you feel better. Your family deserves that,’ was not one of the 10 French phrases YouTube told me I needed to know before going abroad.)”

Second-prize winner Sophie Zaller, AB’19, wrote about her experience with a host family in Morocco. Her essay described how she and her roommate helped their cook create a Moroccan stew, earning praise from their host mother, who called them her habibtis, an Arabic term of endearment that roughly translates to “my beloved.”

Rising fourth-year Ellen Askey took first prize for her video “Granada in Gesture,” a subtle look at the Spanish city’s residents, both young and old.

For more information, visit UChicago’s Study Abroad website.