Studying abroad is one of the best opportunities presented to college students and Alleia James, upcoming fourth-year finance major and UIC Business Scholar, has seized that opportunity. This summer, Alleia will be studying International Business and European Economics at University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain and shared with UIC Business how she made it happen.
As a first-generation college student of color who never knew that an opportunity like studying abroad would be possible, I’m glad to share the steps I took to make this dream a reality. I decided to study abroad because I want to experience an entirely different culture, enhance my cross-cultural communication skills, and refine my Spanish speaking and writing skills. Studying abroad will allow me to broaden my educational and career goals on a global scale and return to UIC to stride into my senior year. Studying abroad will give me a competitive advantage in the business world because fewer than 10% of USA college students study abroad according to Forbes. Employers value the skills cultivated by studying abroad such as resilience, independence, and adaptability.
My outstanding family, advisers, and professors encouraged me to study abroad because of the immersive experience and plethora of networking opportunities. My cousin, who is a UIC alumni told me, “Studying abroad is the opportunity of a lifetime because of the different styles of teaching, exciting new traditions, and distinct architectural buildings.” My study abroad adviser, Katherine Aldag, helped me through the process by providing relevant information and personal support. Katherine helped me narrow down to a specific program, notified me of scholarship opportunities, and provided real-life advice that will help me navigate as an international student.
The entire process of selecting a program, filling out paperwork, and searching for funding took one year. I conducted extensive research by utilizing the UIC Study Abroad website, Office of Financial Aid, and meeting with Katherine several times throughout the summer and fall of 2017. I compared different prices, locations, and housing options. I knew that I wanted to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country and what better way to learn the language than in the country from which it originated?
At the conclusion of my research, I selected the "Business, International Relations and Spanish at the University of Deusto" program. Spain’s deep history and sophisticated culture separate it from other countries in Europe. I was attracted to this program for its affordable tuition, the residential housing, generous meal plan, courses offered and the opportunity to interact with Spanish professionals and locals. The program also offers company visits to Mondragon Cooperative Society, Bilbao Stock Market, and IDOM Consulting.
I successfully secured funding from various scholarships both inside and outside of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In addition to the financial support I received from my family, I also received the Honors College Study Abroad Scholarship, Honors College Sally and Kevin Desouza Family Scholarship, Financial Executives International Chicago Chapter Scholarship, UIC CHANCE Financial Assistance Scholarship, UISAVES Scholarship, as well as financial support via a GoFundMe campaign.
My scholarships and family contributions covered my ENTIRE Study Abroad program. I am so grateful for the tremendous amount of financial and personal support I received from my family, the Honors College, and cultural support departments like the UIC CHANCE Program. It is definitely possible to study abroad without spending an outrageous amount of money or taking out five-figure loans. However, it is always good to have a contingency plan, which is why I saved an emergency study abroad fund just in case I didn’t receive financial aid. Also, be aware of the hidden costs that come with studying abroad, which include the UIC Study Abroad fee, plane tickets (most programs do not cover the cost of flights), purchasing a passport, and a few other expenses. I worked several part-time jobs and saved 80% of my paychecks, so I advise prospective study abroad participants to start saving early!
I am looking forward to developing intermediate-level Spanish speaking skills. Spain is the perfect place to practice Spanish because it will provide me an unparalleled advantage in gaining fluency through my regular interactions with native speakers and students. I hope to become more open-minded and gain an in-depth understanding of cultural variations. I enjoy trying new and exciting food—as long as it’s vegetarian-friendly.
I am super thrilled to travel to different parts of Europe and speak to as many locals as possible! I have dreamed of walking on cobblestone sidewalks, watching Spanish La Liga football in person, visiting Gaudí’s La Pedrera, and zipling in Comares. I can’t wait to take adventures and explore Spain with my study abroad group. I hope to make lifelong friends on this trip and become more independent.