Roam if You Want To

During a stint studying abroad at USD’s Madrid Center, students enjoyed the Las Fallas de Valencia festival. At far left is Tess Robeson ‘18 and Melinda Sevilla ’18, accompanied by four Spanish students from Comillas, Spain.


With stunning gardens, carefully maintained fountains and views of Mission Bay, the University of San Diego’s physical beauty makes it difficult to imagine that more idyllic vistas exist. But in truth, the opportunity for students to leave campus and venture out into the world is one of the greatest gifts USD’s students are given, one that more than 70 percent of undergraduate students enjoy.

Whether it’s a program in Madrid, Spain that occurs during Intersession or a film class that makes an annual pilgrimage to the Sundance Film Festival, opportunities are varied, but the experiences are similar: students grow in unexpected ways.

For Professor Eric Pierson, PhD, co-creator of the Sundance Film Festival class, the opportunity to study off campus — whether it’s in another state or to another continent — is important, because it gives students a high-impact learning experience.

“You’re dropping them into a space that’s unfamiliar to them. When you move out of a space where you’re comfortable and know all of the answers, and move into a space where you don’t know all the answers and aren’t sure what the questions even are, something magical happens,” Pierson explains.

“The students are there to engage in an environment that they couldn’t be a part of in San Diego. There’s an energy and a pace that you get drawn into. They get caught up in the energy and the excitement. It’s something you can’t duplicate in the classroom. During Sundance, it’s about the films, the people, the weather. All of those things contribute to the overall student experience.”

For the Sundance Film Festival class, there’s only one prerequisite: a genuine interest in film. In fact, most study abroad programs at USD don’t require special advance courses or requirements. Instead, students are encouraged to pick programs that truly appeal to them. And often, the ability to complete a study abroad program in just three to four weeks makes it possible for students to complete multiple trips during their time at USD.

Director of International Studies Abroad Kira Espiritu sees these sorts of opportunities as invaluable. “Studying abroad provides students the opportunity to travel together and experience many different aspects of culture in the host location in a very short amount of time,” she explains. “Our Intersession programs are three weeks long and our summer programs are between three and four weeks long. Taking a class abroad, and then being able to actually go and experience pieces of the academic content in person, is a fantastic learning experience and, often, the most impactful part of the program.”

One of the most popular ways for students to study abroad at USD is through the Second Year Experience Abroad program.

“It’s a special opportunity for sophomore students to study abroad together with their class cohort. It’s a great introduction to studying abroad,” Espiritu says. “Students enroll during their freshman year and participate in seminars to prepare for the experience during the fall of their sophomore year. The large majority of sophomore students who participate in the program participate in a second or third study abroad experience before graduating.”

But students aren’t the only Toreros involved in studying abroad. Alumni are regularly asked to participate as local guides or mentors. “We’re always looking to connect with our alumni abroad,” Espiritu explains. “They serve as great sources of information for our students on the city, region or country and are often very generous with their time. They meet with students and faculty, organize guest speakers and help provide contacts for company visits or other activities in the region.”

With more than 80 different cities to explore through study abroad programs at USD, there’s no limit to the growth and discovery that can occur when students step outside of their comfort zone and explore the world. — Taylor Milam

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