Study Abroad Peer Advisors are a fabulous resource for their fellow students interested in broadening their academic horizons and exploring the world. Because they have direct experience on UArizona programs overseas, these students can speak personally about the joys, concerns, logistics, and adventures of going abroad that their peers may have questions about. Additionally, Peer Advisors can speak to how going abroad is lifechanging and can open more doors for every student’s future.
One of Study Abroad’s former Peer Advisors, Topacio Salazar, is a great example of someone who has used her Study Abroad experience as a starting point to pursue new opportunities that will bring her closer to achieving her dreams. Topacio, who studied abroad in Italy as a sophomore in Fall 2018, is now working on her dissertation for her master’s degree in applied animal behavior and animal welfare at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. By going abroad on a structured program as an undergraduate student, she learned how to live overseas and develop the confidence she needed for a more independent experience as a graduate student. Here’s what Topacio has to say about her previous Study Abroad experience, her time as a Peer Advisor, and her life now in Scotland:
Which Study Abroad Program did you Participate in?
I participated in the Arizona in Orvieto program through the Dorrance Scholarship Program. It involved living primarily in Orvieto, Italy, while also travelling to places like Rome, Naples, Venice, Pompeii, Bologna, Florence, etc. learning about ancient Greece and Rome. On my own time, I was able to visit Cinqueterre, Pisa, and Bolsena.
Why did you Study Abroad?
Since high school I had always wanted to study abroad, but I don’t think I would have actually gone through with it if it weren’t for the support of the Dorrance Scholarship Program. It was quite hard for me emotionally throughout the process of applying and waiting for the program to start (and the plane ride), since I used to get homesick easily, but once you’re there, and you get to see how beautiful that part of the world is, the homesickness just goes away.
Do you have a Favorite Study Abroad Memory?
There are so many, it’s hard to choose just one! Overall, I really enjoyed getting to know the culture. Making pasta from scratch as a group, wine tasting in the Italian countryside, sitting on the Spanish steps after dark, and sipping coffee with the professors, are all amazing memories. I think once you get to know the people and the culture, you’ve unlocked an entirely new world that is truly inspiring.
What was the Hardest Part of Studying Abroad?
I would say the hardest part for me was the very beginning and the very end. Like I said, I used to get really homesick, so the thought of leaving for so long, missing out, not having my family, and the dreaded plane ride, made me really anxious. By the end though, I didn’t want to leave. It’s crazy to say, but it was actually really hard for me to leave and I actually cried! I’m very blessed to say that I have been back since and it is just as amazing now.
Why did you Decide to Become a Peer Advisor?
I really wanted to stay in the Study Abroad community because it’s just a different mindset. The Study Abroad Office is full of people who aren’t afraid to go out and explore the world and will encourage you to do it despite what anyone else says or any obstacles that are in the way. On top of that, I wanted to help other students on their study abroad trips by sharing some of my experiences and advice, and it was really rewarding to be able to do just that. Lots of the students that I spoke to felt that it was nearly impossible to study abroad, and it was amazing to be able to show them how they could go about it.
What did you enjoy about being a Peer Advisor?
I enjoyed getting to open up the minds of students who felt defeated with their study abroad search. I know that it can be daunting and discouraging at times, but I was able to help so many students find scholarships and opportunities that they had not thought of. It was also lots of fun just to see all of the study abroad programs that the UA offers, it made me want to do it all over again!
How did these Experiences Impact your Post-graduation Plans?
Studying abroad removed my fears of being away from home and really opened my eyes to how big and wonderful the world is. There are people just like us everywhere, and once you build that community, it seems like you never fully left home, it just becomes wherever you are. If I didn’t study abroad during undergrad, I don’t think that I would have looked at schools abroad for postgrad, but because I did, that was immediately one of my options and I applied for the University of Edinburgh in Scotland which had the program I most wanted to be a part of. Despite it being competitive, I am so glad I was accepted.
How did Going Abroad for Graduate Studies Compare to your Time Abroad as an Undergraduate?
This time around it was really different. The UA does an amazing job of providing all the help you’ll need and a close-knit community as well. It felt very safe as well. Here in Scotland, I really had to navigate everything myself including insurance, doctor visits, course orientations, etc.. Despite this though, it really helped me grow in that independence and learn to trust myself. You truly can do so much when you set your mind to it!
What are you Doing Now and What are your Future Plans?
I am currently doing my master’s in applied animal behavior and animal welfare, and I have met the most astounding professors and academic community while I have been here. I have also been able to conduct some research with the local zoo which was so much fun. I am writing my dissertation on puppy smuggling in the UK, and I hope to start my job hunt before I return to the states at the end of this year. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a great opportunity and stay awhile! It’s all up in the air right now, but that just makes it more exciting to me, the opportunities are endless.
If you’re interested in studying abroad or meeting with a Peer Advisor, check out our Start Your Journey page at https://international.arizona.edu/study-abroad/start. If you’ve studied abroad before and are interested in becoming a Peer Advisor, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org