Aggies Abroad: 30 Cities in Seven Countries, Faces and Places, Global Citizenship

Aggies Abroad - Student Photo
During a Saint Patrick's Parade in Las Vegas, Nevada, Sophia (middle, holding green flag) is representing Mexico. (Photo Courtesy: Sophia Mares de Juan)

Name

Sophia Mares de Juan

Major and Class Standing During Your Program

First Year, International Relations and Sociology – Organizational Studies, with a minor in Human Rights

Program

Traveled across Europe and North America with Up with People, an Independent Study Abroad program

What motivated you to participate in a study abroad or internship program during your time at UC Davis?

I wanted to see the world through other people’s eyes. I believed that studying abroad would provide this different perspective. I also wanted to make a difference in the country I grew up in (Mexico). For this reason, I wanted to see how other countries managed social problems.

Aggies Abroad - Photo of Student
"This is a picture from a cultural workshop in Belgium. We went to a nursing home to share our cultural experiences and wore traditional clothes representing our home countries. The students that are with me in the picture were also part of the program." (Photo courtesy: Sophia Mares de Juan)

What led you to choose the program you participated in?

I chose a program that focused on global challenges and community service in different parts of the world because I wanted to be a positive agent of change in my own community. I participated in the Up with People program for a year, visiting around 30 cities and seven countries, which gave me the necessary tools to become a global citizen and understand the challenges our world is currently facing. Most importantly, I wanted a program that took me out of my comfort zone and helped me realize what my role is as a global citizen.

What was it like to be you in your host country/region? What did you learn from your experience interacting with other cultures, people, and places?

After traveling, I realized that the entire world has problems; countries just address them differently depending on the needs of the citizens and different implications, such as economic or social problems.

What was a typical day like on your program?

I would wake up at 7:00 a.m. to be ready with the group of 100 people who came from different countries to be in the program. Once we were all together, we would go to different community service sites where we would get involved with the local community to address the different social challenges they were facing on a daily basis. We would participate in community service activities such as, communication and cultural workshops in schools, building houses with Habitat for Humanity, or working with the Boys and Girls Club. The community service we did on that day depended on the needs of the place we were visiting. After working on a community service project, we would all come back together and take workshops related to global issues. We were provided with different tools to help us take action and address the issues that we were passionate about. These workshops connected to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Aggies Abroad - Student Photo
"This is a picture with the 100 people I traveled with during my second semester. We are in Mexico City at the Mayan pyramids." (Photo Courtesy: Sophia Mares de Juan)

What’s one of your most memorable experiences from your program?

I remember a community service project I did in Mexico City where we went to a youth jail and connected with people who were around my age. I remember listening to their stories and thinking, that could have been me if I was born into a different family. We did a workshop called “Take a Stand.” One of the questions in the workshop was, “take a stand if the world would be a better place in 20 years.” I've done this workshop before in other places around the world, and with this question, people usually move to the “Yes” or “No” side, but at the youth jail in Mexico City, everyone said “Yes.” When I asked them why they believed the world would be a better place, they answered that they would no longer harm the world.

What advice do you have for someone considering your program or an international experience in general? What would you like to share with students who may share similar identities or experiences as you?

Traveling abroad is a life-changing experience. We live in a globalized world that sometimes does not have enough globalized citizens. It is our responsibility to make a difference in the world. No matter how small or big the change is, it will most likely start from us as individuals. Being aware of different cultures allows us to understand where we stand in the world and what tools we have to make a difference. Going abroad allows us to meet other cultures, but most importantly allows us to understand where we stand in the world.

What was your biggest concern in regards to the time and cost of your program? Were you able to overcome that concern, and if so, how? What advice would you give someone who has similar concerns?

I thought I was not able to travel because I did not have the money to do so. I realized that money should not be something to stop us from the goals we want to achieve in life. For that reason, I fundraised around $15,000 for my study abroad experience. I did everything that I could to raise that $15,000, mostly through creative fundraising efforts. I would like to say to other students that money is just a number and you should not let it get in the way of your goal and prevent you from achieving what you really want. It should not stop you from having any type of experience because there is always a way.

How do you think your program experiences will benefit you in the future, thinking academically, future career goals, or personally?

My Up with People experience was the year prior to coming to UC Davis. I participated in it as my gap year. During that year, I took communication and management classes as part of the study abroad program that Up with People offers. I received credit for my UC Davis General Education Requirements and was able to transfer units.

I am a different person after traveling because I am more globally conscious in all that I do. Now, every time I am in a new environment, I see both people and cultures. I also know how to communicate effectively taking into consideration the different ways people communicate depending on their culture. I now have a huge network all over the world. I can now attach places with faces. I see a geographical place and I feel empathy for the people that live there.

Since arriving at UC Davis, I have participated in many global learning opportunities including being a Peer Advisor in the Global Learning Hub within Global Affairs, a Global Education for All Fellow, a Global Ambassador, and a member of the Global Engagement Opportunity (GEO) Living-Learning Community.

Aggies Abroad is a student-driven storytelling effort of the Global Learning Blog where students can share their global experiences with fellow Aggies considering a study abroad programSubmit an Aggies Abroad Profile to be considered for a web and/or social media feature. Search all global learning programs and funding across UC Davis.

About the Global Learning Hub at UC Davis

Through the Global Learning Hub, each and every UC Davis student can find global learning opportunities available on campus, in the region, virtually, and internationally. The Hub offers global learning programs, workshops, and resources that enhance all UC Davis students’ academic and career pursuits through four broad areas of opportunities: Community Engagement; Global Skills and Leadership; Internships and Research; and Study Abroad. UC Davis is committed to preparing the next generation of global problem solvers and change makers. As such, we aim to prepare our undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to solve global challenges collaboratively, equitably, and sustainably.

As a part of Global Affairs, the Global Learning Hub aims to inspire global curiosity, understanding, and engagement.

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