The U.Va. in Valencia study abroad program celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with a weekend of activities in Spain last month and a breakfast this weekend in Charlottesville as a part of Global Week. Through these events, the community celebrates the contributions of the program’s founders and faculty and spreads the word about the diverse academic opportunities.
U.Va. in Valencia is the University’s oldest study abroad program. Founded in 1983 by University Spanish Prof. Fernando Operé, the first year of the program provided 11 University students with the opportunity to study for the semester in Valencia.
Liz Wellbeloved, assistant director of the U.Va. in Valencia program, said she has enjoyed seeing the progress the program has made over the past 40 years. She attended the program for a whole year as a student from 1985 to 1986 and has worked in the program since 2002.
“Just seeing how much it's grown, both from the time I was a student, and in the 23 years that I've been working with, it was really heartening,” Wellbeloved said.
The program hosted a celebratory weekend in Valencia Sept. 28 through 30 to commemorate the anniversary, offering events such as city walking tours, a paella lunch and a final gala. Beyond the students currently enrolled in the program, around 100 people attended the weekend festivities, from alumni of the program, parents of students currently enrolled in the program and University alumni living in Europe.
To bring the anniversary festivities to Charlottesville, the program held a breakfast in Hotel A on the Lawn Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. as a part of family weekend and Global Week, which celebrates international education. The event allowed former students of the program to connect and reflect on their experiences in Valencia, as well as educate prospective program students on its offerings.
Fourth-year Education student Paige Handy spent a semester in Valencia last spring and attended the breakfast to meet up with friends and connect with students preparing to travel abroad. During her time in Spain, Handy said she particularly enjoyed the exchange family that the program set her up with.
“This program was just very, very well organized,” Handy said. “There's just so many great resources, then once you're actually there, there’s so many staff members there to help you and give you suggestions on where to go get food or to help you with insurance or things like that.”
The event also offered students and their families food, as well as raffle off U.Va. in Valencia 40th anniversary bags and stickers.
Wellbeloved said the anniversary celebrations have allowed the program to demonstrate the progress it has made in expanding academic opportunities for students. In addition to Spanish courses, the program has added engineering and health science curriculums over the years. For the upcoming spring semester, over half of the students enrolled in the program will be STEM courses rather than the program’s original Spanish language and literature courses.
The program initially partnered with the University of Valencia, who provided classrooms and professors, but broke away to become an independent program in 2003. In the past two decades, the program continued to expand to offer classes beyond Spanish language and literature, adding business Spanish, engineering and health sciences courses.
“Part of the goal of promoting this special anniversary is to get the word out around U.Va. that we do have this amazing setup in Valencia where we can offer courses that are direct credit for students at a very reasonable cost, and make sure the content of the course is what a student can expect to have at U.Va,” Wellbeloved said.
Looking beyond the anniversary celebrations, Wellbeloved said the program looks to continue to expand to meet student’s academic needs in the future.
“The plan is to just keep providing programs and services that work for our students and students at other universities,” Wellbeloved said. “That experience of going abroad is an integral part of a U.Va. education and we want to assist as many students as possible in pursuing learning a second language and staying on track to graduate.”
The next cohort of Valencia students will embark on their travels Jan. 9 and return to the U.S. April 27.