Environmental Sciences major Mary Summers Rogers spent a semester studying abroad in Valencia, Spain. During her 5 months abroad, she took some of her major and minor classes in Spanish and explored Europe in her free time. Now back at NC State, Summers spends her time outside of class as an Academic Ambassador for the Environmental Sciences program. Check out her hands-on immersion experience in Spanish culture, supported by the CNR Student Assistance and Enrichment Fund, or read more about her experience as an Environmental Sciences student here.
How did this experience impact you?
Studying abroad was an amazing experience. I learned a lot about myself and the rest of the world. That may sound cliche, but living on my own in a foreign country has put me in new and sometimes uncomfortable situations, which challenged me and caused me to learn and grow as a person. I’ve made a lot of friends from countries all around Europe, and other parts of the world, and I gained lots of insight about different cultures and viewpoints, often challenging my assumptions or beliefs I may have held previously. It only took me a few days in Spain to realize that studying abroad was one of the best decisions I could have made.
Why was participating in this experience important to you?
First and foremost, participating in a study abroad program was important for me to do because I have been wanting to study abroad since my freshman year of high school. I’ve always loved to travel and considered myself to be an adventurous person, so studying abroad seemed perfect to me. I always felt like my college experience wouldn’t be complete without doing this, and so far my experience has lived up to my excitement and expectations. I think it’s really important, for myself and for everyone, to see and experience the world and everything it has to offer. There’s so much to the world beyond the borders of North Carolina and the United States, and I thought it was important to push myself outside of my comfort zone (both emotional and geographical) and spend a small portion my life in another culture. I’ve learned from myself, from the Spanish people and culture, and from the other international friends I have made here.
What did you enjoy most about your experience?
My favorite memory of my past few months was the Las Fallas Festival in Valencia. Las Fallas is a festival that begins at Carnival, and goes for the next few weeks of March, culminating in a weekend of music, parties and fire. Las Fallas was just as interesting and crazy as that description sounds, and it was like nothing I’ll ever experience in America. Every afternoon from Carnival through the final weekend, there was a cannon and fireworks show in the main town square that was loud enough to hear more than two miles away; kids and adults were throwing firecrackers in the streets all day and night long; there were parades, costumes and bands throughout the month; and, the celebration finale was even more fun. Classes were cancelled and many businesses shut down, the city’s population doubled, food and drink trucks piled onto the streets that were closed off to other vehicles, and there were the most amazing fireworks every night. The final night of Las Fallas, they burned down all the fallas (elaborate creations of wood, styrofoam and paper mache that were scattered throughout many of the intersections in the city, all of them between 1-4 stories tall), which was an amazing sight. It was really cool to experience a cultural event that is unique to Valencia, and is even listed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Cultural Event.
What did you find most challenging about your experience?
The biggest challenge for me was adjusting to a different educational lifestyle. The organization and operation of my university in Valencia was very different from that of NC State. I had some very stressful days of adjustment at school, and taking science classes taught entirely in Spanish was not easy. But, I improved my Spanish nonetheless, so the challenges were well worth it.
What did you learn about yourself during your experience?
I learned a lot about myself since coming to Spain. I learned to be more self-reliant and have more self-confidence in situations that can be challenging or otherwise uncomfortable. I lived on my own the last two years since I’ve been in college, but living without my parents in Spain was a completely different ballgame. I learned how to be alone sometimes, without the comfort of my family, friends or boyfriend that were such constants in my life. I learned to push my boundaries even more and I like myself and my experiences so much better for having done so.
Would you recommend this experience to other students?
Absolutely, 100 percent. Living and learning in another country and culture can be challenging at times, but it is such a fun and rewarding experience. Not only do I love the city and country I lived in, but I got so many other places outside of Valencia and Spain that are just a flight or a train ride away. It’s one thing to travel to and visit other parts of the world, but actually living and creating a ‘new’ life in another country is an entirely different one-of-a-kind of experience. Studying abroad is a great way to enhance your college experience overall, and as I’ve already said, it’s been really great to have my experiences and lessons from seeing other parts of the world.
Have you participated in other hands-on experiences?
Last summer, I had an internship with Crescent Communities, a commercial real estate development firm in Charlotte, NC. I was the sustainability intern working under the company’s Director of Stewardship and Innovation. I really enjoyed this internship, both in terms of the work I was doing and the company I worked for. Being a company whose main activities are typically detrimental to the environment, it was heartening to see that Crescent made notable and impactful efforts to lessen their footprint and operate in a sustainable business model. Beyond environmental sustainability, Crescent did a lot of stewardship work to improve education and housing in Charlotte, and I loved being a part of the team that worked toward those goals. Because of the scope of Crescent’s outreach and partnerships in Charlotte, I gained a lot of firsthand experience about sustainability in business, the importance of private corporations having a stake in the livelihood of its city, and I learned a lot about what I desire for the future of my career and education.