The University of Iowa

Student Reflections on Race and Ethnicity: Iowa Regents Hispanic Institute

May 22nd, 2013

Dear Prospective Student,

Jessica Padilla on a street in Spain

Hello, my name is Jessica Padilla, and I am double majoring in International Studies with a track in International Information and Communication along with Spanish as well as working to complete the Critical Cultural Competency Certificate. I’m actually from a small town called Muscatine, Iowa. I have grown up there are all my life and had never really had experience traveling besides Mexico to visit our family. For me to travel to Valladolid, Spain, for a summer was definitely out of this world for my parents and me. Since I am an only child they have always been overprotective of me and it didn’t help I am a female and with traditional Mexican parents. My parents told me it could be dangerous and what if something happened to me and I never came back and asked why I couldn’t take those classes here at the university! My explanation was that I would not get the same once in a lifetime experience. College was my time to explore and learn and that it would be beneficial for me to get ahead in my credits as well as have the opportunity to travel to be culturally immersed with another country. Studying abroad was on my college bucket list. I’m the kind of person that thinks on either now or never and studying in Spain was an opportunity I just had to take and leave behind all the cultural and financial challenges and focus on making this dream a reality.

I knew I had to make studying abroad a reality even though I had the obstacle of being a first generation and underrepresented student on campus. The major worry I had was being able to afford the program. With the help of the Diversity Ambassador Scholarship and others I was able to make this dream a reality. While I was going through the process of ensuring the details of the trip I still could not believe I was actually flying out of North America. It actually did not hit me I was going to Spain until I had arrived to my host mother’s apartment and not my own in Iowa.

I participated in the Iowa Regents Hispanic Institute in Valladolid, a six-week program. At first I didn’t know what to expect from this city but in the end I enjoyed it because it was not overwhelming with tourists and I was able to become familiarized with it to the point I knew how to get around. We also got to go to different excursions in the surrounding historical cities like Segovia, Salamanca and Madrid. For a long weekend trip, I was able to choose to explore Barcelona which was my absolute favorite part of Spain because of the variety of ethnic cultures that made up the city along with its architecture, attractions and beach. I feel this program gave me a good sense of everyday Spain life along with the opportunity to explore different regions of Spain on my own. My last week in Spain was designated for our project which was to plan a week-long trip anywhere in Spain. So two friends and I planned our own itinerary and booked hostels, flights and bus trips to travel southern Spain. We traveled to Granada, Sevilla, Valencia, and then back to Madrid where our luggage awaited us for our flight back to the states.

The last week was my absolute favorite part of the trip because it was the most spontaneous I had ever been in my life. I was always used to structured itineraries and I’m the kind of person that likes to know where I’m going. This trip helped me live up each moment and treasure all my experience as well as adventures and learn that sometimes you have to stretch from your comfort zone to be able to adapt.  I went from riding a bike in the city of Barcelona between tour buses, cars, motorcycles and almost running over a baby stroller but in the end I had the best bike ride of my life through the city. There would be times where I was like what did I get myself into but in the end I was grateful I was allowed the opportunity to study abroad, something that not everyone has the chance to partake in.

Jessica Padilla near a fountain in Spain

GO ABROAD! Take the chance, invest in a once in a lifetime opportunity. College is the time to explore and adventure what is unknown to us. Do not let anything or anyone keep you from taking on this opportunity. I looked at it as a now or never situation because you never know how busy you can get with classes, internships or jobs, etc. If you find a program that is ideal to you make sure you research it and consider the possibilities and know there are people to help and guide you.  When I graduate from the University of Iowa, I know I will feel a bit more complete about my college experience instead of pondering what could have been!


Jess Padilla