The University of Iowa

Student Reflections on First-Generation Abroad: New perspective on education

February 27th, 2015

Study Abroad Diversity Ambassador Catherine Martinez is a senior majoring in elementary education at the University of Iowa. Over the 2014-15 winter break, Catherine had the opportunity to study abroad and get direct experience for her future professional career on the UI's India Winterim Program where she took the course Individual Differences in Classrooms: Rehab through Physical and Educational Interventions.

Dear Prospective Student,

Visiting Satya Special Schools in Pondicherry

If you are reading this letter, you may be pondering the idea of studying abroad and trying to decide whether it is something you should do. As a senior in my last year in the College of Education, I debated the idea for many reasons, but the biggest one being the cost. See, my original goal coming out of high school and soon to be first generation college student was to go to college and excel in my academics in order to achieve greatness, but never was it in my plan to study abroad.

However, with any plan there is always room for change and adjustment. The more I talked with my colleagues, especially those older than me, the more they advised me to take a chance and study abroad. Coming into my senior year, I was convinced that studying abroad was definitely something that needed to be added to my plan because I knew that it would ultimately make my college experience that much more richer. I feared discussing with my parents about traveling to India to study abroad for the India Winterim opportunity for the fact that they were not familiar with the concept and to be honest, they are quite strict parents. After much discussion and teaching them about what the trip would entail, my parents agreed to allow me to go.

This winter experience met beyond my expectations. During the three weeks in Pondicherry, I was able to visit several locations of the Satya Special Schools and observe the wonderful work that the faculty and staff do for their students. While I did not directly work with the students or teachers due to language barriers, I was able to gain a different perspective on education for students that have special needs. I also gained insight on leadership style by the work Chitra Shah has done in order to provide education for all students.  At the end of my experience, I left extremely impressed with how one woman, disturbed by an isolated child that was tied up at home by herself due to having special needs, was able to see an injustice and create the change she wanted to see. 

While I could have stayed in West Liberty, Iowa in order to avoid costs and expenses, I know that I would not have attained this enriching experience if I had done so. Taking the risk that my friends and colleagues consistently advised, was what I can sincerely say one of my best college experiences. Now if you have gotten through this letter, I have one last thing to say to you, go ahead and take the risk, it will change your life!


Catherine Martinez 

Learn about the Diversity Ambassador Scholarship for study abroad