Joel Alvarez-Rinconeño, Study Abroad ’17 & ’18, Northwestern ’19
Going into Northwestern, I never expected to go abroad, let alone THREE times. The wonderful thing about going to a school like Northwestern is the fact that there are so many resources, scholarships, and support networks in place to help any student make their study abroad dreams come true.
Freshman year, I was awarded an NU SIGP grant, which funded my unpaid summer English teaching internship in Lopburi, Thailand (a tiny village two hours north of Bangkok). Many of my students had little exposure to the English language and had actually never met a foreigner before. As you could imagine, I found myself challenged in profound ways, especially being so far away from home in a country where I didn’t speak the local language. Despite the hardships, I came out of this trip with newly refined skills of adaptability, as well as a keen desire to continue traveling the world.
Coming home from Thailand, I remember being in the States for approximately 13 days, then immediately jetting off to Granada, Spain. Living and studying in Spain for my sophomore Fall quarter was an absolute dream! I took some incredibly interesting classes like Lorca literature, Islamic history, transcultural psychology, and advanced Spanish. On top of that, I made strong connections with my classmates, one of whom I still consider my best friend today. Being in Spain was such a formative experience for me. For the first time ever, I was able to see the physical manifestation of my growing independence and maturity as a young adult.
After my sophomore year, I embarked on my final study abroad experience in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This summer GESI program was awesome because I earned two credits from the pedagogical pre-departure classes. The GESI classes emphasized the importance of local community empowerment as opposed to imposed methods of social relief. Once in Bolivia, I worked at IDH, a human rights non-profit. Working with a group of 3 other NU students, we researched drug prevention for adolescents. We contributed materials including, bi-folds, stickers, pamphlets, and informational brochures.
Returning to campus involved a whirlwind of emotions. I struggled to acclimate myself back into my NU course load and to find the time to reconnect with all my friends who I hadn’t seen in months. In the midst of this readjustment, I remember receiving an email regarding an opportunity to work at the GLO office. I applied to the Marketing and Public Relations Fellowship and got it! I am so grateful for this role mainly because it has given me a platform to share my abroad experiences with prospective students from under-represented backgrounds.
Using my experience as a queer person of color, I updated GLO’s “Identity Abroad” page, reviewed CARE’s Canvas module, and directed the LGBTQ and First Gen. student highlight. Additionally, I participated in a couple of panels, including “Stories from the Deep: Being a Student of Color Abroad” and “International Education Week’s Identities Abroad Panel.” Being able to talk about my identities with fellow students and faculty has been incredibly empowering. I appreciate the agency I was given to make an impact on the direction of the Canvas modules and GLO’s identity pages.
In terms of the marketing side of my role, I worked on multiple campaigns to raise awareness about going abroad. My main goal has been to make sure that every student feels as though they have the ability and right to go abroad regardless of who they are and the identities they hold.
During Fall quarter, Sabrina and I worked on SummerPalooza, an event in which we gave out Mexican popsicles to students in Tech and talked with them about NU abroad programs. For this event, I created a beautiful graphic, as well as a giant banner hung near the Arch.
During Winter quarter, I marketed and coordinated the Returnee Dialogue, an event where returnee students were given the space to reflect on their study abroad experiences under Marlowe Padilla’s guidance (an IES Student Outreach coordinator). We had such an amazing turnout, probably because we served a delicious Mexican dinner. Regardless, the attendance increased exponentially — we went from 4 students last year to 26 students!
This Spring quarter, I worked on the NU ExCHANGE the World campaign. Using our meager budget, we bought Andy’s Mini Cups and invited students to engage in intimate conversations regarding NU Exchange programs. Another one of my main tasks this quarter was re-designing and re-invigorating the #NUStudyAbroadBecause campaign. Ultimately, I think my lasting impact will be the sticker/plotter poster that I drew by hand!
As I get ready to graduate in two weeks, I cannot help but notice my transformation into a global citizen. For me, being a global citizen has involved building meaningful and enduring connections with people from a variety of different backgrounds. Overall, my experiences abroad were such introspective times. I personally found myself reflecting on questions regarding my identity, life, and future. I don’t think I would have engaged this level of thinking and reflection had I not escaped the NU campus bubble. And for that, I am so tremendously thankful for NU and all its resources that have allowed me to travel and explore this world.