Amidst the rolling hills of the Covadonga Valley in Spain, UNC Charlotte history major and Odyssean Scholarship recipient Keegan Cary came to understand the serendipity of encounters with people from different walks of life.
“Looking back I see our paths crossed for a reason,” Cary wrote in a blog that chronicles her experiences. “The reason being is simply because. Because we were meant to share our ideas, beliefs, former life experiences, and future life goals with one another. Because there is no better ice breaker than being complete strangers in a land that is most unfamiliar. Because new friends make new memories. Because we share a passion to travel and experience the world, knowing the people we meet along the way make the world and our adventures that much more interesting. Most importantly, because we know stepping outside our comfort zones is what traveling is all about.”
Cary says she thinks that she was meant to share her ideas, hopes, and goals with those she met. For her, traveling propelled her out of her comfort zone, and into the extraordinary.
As one of two recipients of the 2015 Odyssean Scholarship, Cary earned the opportunity to study through the Semester in Spain Program. The Odyssean Scholarship covers approximately $12,000 toward the costs of a semester abroad. Students can use the scholarship to study on any approved UNC Charlotte study abroad program. Past recipients have studied in the United Kingdom, Spain and South Africa.
“This scholarship is awarded to a student who demonstrates both exceptional financial need and extraordinary academic performance,” said Brad Sekulich, director of UNC Charlotte’s Office of Education Abroad. “It is the hope of the donor and the Office of Education Abroad that this scholarship affords the recipient the life-changing perspective study abroad offers.”
Cary’s stay in the port city of Santander and travels throughout Europe allowed her to reflect deeply, and gain skills to better balance the demands of her life.
“I have had a lot of time to focus on my individual needs, thoughts, feelings, and aspirations for my future,” she wrote. “I no longer feel like I am losing a never ending race against the clock. There is now a new, more positive, warm, and glowing aura that radiates from within me.”
The experience further contributed to her growth as an individual and as a scholar, she said. The program’s collaboration with the Universidad de Cantabria facilitated students like Cary to capture the flavor of the Spanish language, and the essence of the culture.
“I have learned an unbelievable amount of Spanish for the short amount of time I’ve been here,” Cary wrote. “Even though it has been difficult and frustrating at times, I am more confident with my speaking ability than I was on my first day.”
The intensive Spanish language, grammar, literature, and art courses were interspersed with walking tours, and excursions to sites of historic and popular interest. Cary, who also is a Spanish minor, could indulge her love for history, and culture.
“After seeing so many beautiful places in northern Spain, I have completely fallen in love with this country,” she wrote. Cary took advantage of proximity and also traveled to cities in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
These experiences moved her so much that for Cary, the future leads back to Europe. In the short term, she hopes to return to Spain to teach English in Madrid. In the long run, she may pursue her master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at a European university.
Cary’s sojourn in Spain taught her the transformative power of living and studying abroad.
“Traveling abroad has helped me to further realize my value as a daughter, a friend, a woman, a student, an aspiring teacher, and an individual,” she wrote.
Words: Kamakshi Kamath with Keegan Cary | Images: Keegan Cary