The University of Iowa

Alexia Sanchez (BA '20) reflects on the impact of her three global learning experiences as an undergraduate

October 2nd, 2020

As Alexia Sanchez (BA political science, social justice ’20) begins her fellowship with Running Start, a non-profit, non-partisan organization with a mission of getting more women involved in politics, she took some time to reflect on the impact of her three global learning experiences as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa.

Alexia Sanchez in Verona, Italy

Alexia Sanchez in Verona, Italy

Alexia, you had three global experiences as an undergraduate student at Iowa (USAC in Verona, Italy; three-day Global Women Leader Forum in Iceland; Migration and Social Entrepreneurship program in the Dominican Republic). What motivated you to seek these global experiences?

Throughout college I always had the mentality of saying yes to opportunity and making the most out of my time here. I knew that my time as a college student was short but the possibilities were endless. Growing up, I didn’t have opportunities to travel because of our family’s low-income status. Our biggest trips were to nearby Chicago or Minneapolis. In college, things were different because of the scholarship opportunities I was awarded and the support that the institution was able to provide. I was motivated by my family to always travel as much as possible and I was supported by the University of Iowa to make it happen. If it weren’t for those two factors, I am not sure if I would have traveled as much as I did. The planning of the three trips was not at all easy. In fact, a lot of hard work went into play but one thing was for sure, I never wanted to let my socio-economic status get in the way of opportunities.

Also, my freshman year, I was able to travel to Xicotepec, Mexico, for a Spring Break service trip with Rotary. A part of that trip is through the University of Iowa but I went as a Rotary student.

Alexia Sanchez at the Global Women Leader Forum in Iceland

Alexia Sanchez at the Global Women Leader Forum in Iceland

What kind of support did you receive from the University of Iowa to achieve these global experiences?

To this day, I still remember having one of the study abroad advisors come speak to my class so students could learn about how a study abroad experience could be an option for us. I thought that studying abroad was not an option for me because of the costs, but after listening to her presentation, I felt comfortable and empowered enough to reach out and ask for guidance. I told her I was a first-generation student and was navigating college without much support from home. She shared that she, too, was first-generation and would support me throughout my planning steps. I give her so much credit for empowering me and believing in me to accomplish this for myself. I felt more comfortable meeting with the study abroad office to go through all the steps. Because of her, I was able to travel to Verona, Italy, for Summer 2018.

In November 2019, I was accepted to attend the Global Women Leaders Forum in Reykjavik, Iceland, with the Running Start organization based in Washington, D.C. I was selected through a nationwide poll of applicants and I could not believe it when I got the good news. While there was much excitement to the acceptance, I also realized that I had to fund my trip for the week. I knew that without financial support, I would not be able to attend. The next day, I had the wild idea of reaching out to the Office of Leadership, Service, and Civic Engagement and asked for them to sponsor my trip for November. A day after connecting with them, I was told I was awarded the Tom Rocklin Scholarship for leadership. Thanks to the office, this dream came true and I was able to attend a forum filled with the most distinguished leaders on the international stage. I still get goosebumps thinking about the experience.

What did you gain as a result of your global experiences?

Personally: I love meeting new people as much as possible. I have always been taught that we, as individuals, should connect with others who are different than us whenever we can because it makes our lives that much more rich and our world that much more beautiful. I love being in new spaces with different languages conversing around me, with new foods in front of me, and culture happening all around. To this day, I still connect with the friends I made in Italy, Iceland, and the Dominican Republic! Professionally: Adapting is key! Forming relationships- best skill to have! A kind smile and a hello can go a long way!

Alexia Sanchez in the Dominican Republic

Alexia Sanchez in the Dominican Republic

What are some of your favorite memories from your global experiences?

Italy: I was able to take an Italian cooking class from a small business in Verona. I still make the authentic tiramisu I learned once in a while here in Iowa and share it with friends and family. I also loved the everyday adventures of walking to class and exploring the city after. I refused to get a bus pass in Italy because the walks were too beautiful to miss. I had the chance to volunteer at a children's center to practice English. I love kids and volunteering so this was a great weekly activity for me that I looked forward to after class.

Iceland: the whole conference was inspiring. I was in rooms with women who have pioneered change in their countries through women’s empowerment and gender equality. As one of the youngest attendees there, every conversation was phenomenal. I also got to climb the fourth-largest glacier in Iceland. Something I never thought I would do.

Dominican Republic: Our class had the opportunity to work with a local nonprofit for a beach cleanup day. In Iowa, we don’t see first-hand how beaches on the coast are impacted so this was a new experience in which we were able to do some good along the way.

You recently started as a Running Start Fellow at Senator Cortez Masto’s Office at the United States Senate. Can you share a little bit about the Running Start program and what your work entails?

I was accepted to be a Running Start Congressional Fellow for Fall 2020. Through their fellowship I was connected to work for a woman in political office and intern for them throughout the semester. I was lucky enough to get a position with Senator Cortez Masto this fall as a legislative intern. My everyday looks a bit different but all revolves around my legislative portfolio and supporting my team in a variety of ways. On Fridays, I do day-long professional development programming with the Running Start program. Running Start is a non-profit, non-partisan organization with the mission of getting more women involved in politics and one day run for office!

How did your study abroad experience prepare you for your role and/or contribute to your effectiveness as a Running Start Fellow?

My international experiences gave me the tools and courage to immerse myself into new adventures as much as possible. It gave me the practice of stepping out of my comfort zone and channeling any hesitations into opportunities for growth. Whether it is asking questions, volunteering for different work or projects, or even initiating a new conversation with a person, all of it can lead to great outcomes of success and growth. As our communities become more multicultural every year, it is up to us as individuals to start creating those bonds, reach out to new people, and challenge ourselves to be a member of our growing and changing world.   

Learn more about Alexia Sanchez here.